Does social media reward whining?

Don't be the screaming kid who gets coddled by his or her parents, only to grow up spoiled and dysfunctional.

Here's a real-life scenario that most of us have encountered: You're in line at the front desk at a hotel patiently awaiting checking in. There's a couple in front of you ranting and raving about an issue they've been having. They are screaming about wanting to be upgraded to the hotel's "best room." "Wow," you think. "The hotel must've really screwed up." Yet in the end you overhear that the offensive issue was simple: there wasn't an ice bucket in the room.

Thus proven: the customer isn't always right.

Social media is great and the way that some companies are using it is innovative. With Twitter specifically, there've been some big brands who have been using the service for some time to assist with their customer service. We all know them by now -- Comcast, Zappos, Jet Blue, etc. I wonder though, in retrospect if these companies that were early on so praised for their innovative approaches were actually enabling a customer service downfall?

Jeremiah Owyang took a swing at a similar notion in a blog post the other day in which he asks if companies are training people to yell at their friends. He makes some fantastic points about how customer service organizations need to dig deeper than social technologies to solve their service problems. What I don't think a lot of people talk ahout, however, is the investment that companies need to make to manage these socail customer experiences. Many of them (the likes of Pizza Hut, for one) have had to invest in additional personnel to support their Twitter feeds. While there is not an investment made in a social technology, there is a necessary investment made in human capital. And for what? So more people can shake their fists and demand rewards.

Companies are in a tough spot. Now that so many case studies have been published, and influencers have cheered on companies who respond to angry tweets and give free services, there's not much going back. The social Web in its very nature thrives on vanity and entitlement, and it's those same people that you get stuck behind at the hotel who are most likely to bypass normal customer service channels and start beating their chests online.

Again, Owyang makes some great suggestions for companies and their service structures. I think the road these companies have to take is a slippery one -- stopping the enablement while still protecting the brand. But I want to put some of the onus on the consumers: Just because the option is there to throw a tantrum online doesn't mean that you should. I've made that mistake in the past with the kind folks at Jet Blue, but it was also only after all other customer service options were exhausted and I hadn't received a response. In the end, I'm still not sure it makes it right.

Don't be that awful couple at the hotel. Don't be the screaming kid who gets coddled by his or her parents, only to grow up spoiled and dysfunctional. Let the companies evolve and figure out how this social customer service should really grow, and stop taking advantage of them.