Anyone who has spent any reasonable time on Facebook or Twitter probably saw it happen already (or even did it themselves):

  • Someone has a problem with a product;
  • The company producing the product has received a request via official support channels, but can't or won't act on it, even after escalating the request;
  • The problematic client then sidesteps the official support channels, either by complaining about it or asking their social media following if they know anyone who can help (usually both);
  • Someone from the company notices the issue and solves it;
  • The problematic client posts happily that their problem is fixed.

This usually happens in B2C transactions and issues, but it sometimes also happens in B2B interactions. I saw it happen on my Twitter feed today, even.

My main question with this is whether this can be considered ethical in B2B transactions. On one hand, as an employee tasked to fix an issue, the company usually doesn't really care how the issue gets fixed as long as the costs are kept reasonable, so you should use whatever means you deem necessary and prudent. On the other hand, the other company might not be happy that you went public with the issue, because you forced them to fix it or lose face. And from the perspective of the other company, you just set a precedent that if support won't help you, you just complain on social media and it'll get fixed soon.

  • Usually the equivalent when interacting between businesses is to escalate the issue to your contact's boss.
    – David K
    Jul 7, 2017 at 13:54
  • 2
    "the other company might not be happy that you went public with the issue" If they don't fix the issue they're going to lose the unhappy customer and anyone who talks to them.
    – kabZX
    Jul 7, 2017 at 16:57
  • 1
    @kabZX or you lose your jon because your boss is more interested in keeping the B2B relationship alive then in keeping you employed.
    – Polygnome
    Jul 7, 2017 at 19:41

6 Answers 6


It's not against ethics. But, as a representative of a company, you might want to think about the other effects this might have on your company.

Cases like this are usually successful because of publicity. Lots of people get to know about the case and pressure the service provider to give a better response. Is your company going to be comfortable with that amount of publicity? Are they OK with everyone knowing that they are using this service, and what they are using it for? People support these cases because they identify with the 'little guy' fighting a big corporation. Your company might not get that sympathy. Are you prepared for the public saying "Why are you complaining, your company gives much worse service than that", and giving examples? If your posts result in significant negative publicity for the service provider, that's going to affect your company's relationship with them.

In short you should never do anything that is designed to draw public attention to your company without running it by your publicity officer. They will be able to make those decisions. If you are the person responsible for those decisions, go ahead, as long as you are prepared for all the possible consequences.

  • 7
    And often the social media monitoring is up to the publicity/media department. But the "little guy" is talking for himself, while as an employee you are talking on your company's behalf. This is a huge difference in liability. Jul 7, 2017 at 16:39
  • 5
    You also want to be careful in a B2B relationship that you don't spill the beans on anything confidential while you're complaining about the service the other company is providing. Generally, in a B2C situation, the client can only complain about publicly available services because that's what they have access to. In a B2B relationship, you may have access to a pilot project or other "unannounced features" that the other company does not yet want the public to know about. Your company may have signed NDAs about this, and you tweeting their existence (and poor performance) will not end well.
    – Steve-O
    Jul 7, 2017 at 17:59
  • @Steve-O: Out of curiosity, is there much of a precedent of that happening?
    – user541686
    Jul 8, 2017 at 0:38

Ethical? Yes

If I am a customer paying for a service and you are not fixing my problem, hell yes I'm going to cause a stink, especially in B2B scenarios.

That said, the first thing I would do would be to check my contract and SLA. Escalation through proper channels is usually best and this is where I would start. But if I hit a brick wall of incompetence, social media is coming into the equation, as is ambushing the CTO or CEO at a conference.

It may not seem professional, but if I am receiving a less-than-professional service, it's not me that's lowering the bar. In most cases, my problem is miraculously resolved.

  • "especially in B2B channels" - but the question is about side-stepping the B2B channels and airing the stink on FB, Twitter, etc, specifically. Jul 7, 2017 at 14:14
  • 1
    @PoloHoleSet I meant channels as in sales channels rather than the internal channels. That buzzword is too ubiquitous
    – JohnHC
    Jul 7, 2017 at 14:37
  • You are doing yourself no favor. Ambishing people on conferences is a no-no, and reflects more poorly on you then on the one you are ambushing. Furthermore, if an employee discusses an internal procedure on a public channel, he better have clearance to do so, first.
    – Polygnome
    Jul 7, 2017 at 19:39
  • @Polygnome It's a grey area, some people on conference set time aside for existing clients to discuss issues, some are keen to talk about problems faced that they may not be aware of. You're right in that some people really do not like to hear bad things about their company while promoting it.
    – JohnHC
    Jul 7, 2017 at 19:43
  • 1
    @JohnHC There is a difference between discussing problems with a service with the service provider (who might appreciate some honest feedback) and ambushing people to cause a scene.
    – Polygnome
    Jul 7, 2017 at 19:49

You are paying for a level of support with your service - if what you get does not meet contractual obligations, there is no ethical problem here - but if you are using channels that are in plain public view, you use you are in the end publicly accusing a business partner of defaulting on a contractually agreed thing. This can turn into a very serious matter quickly: Even if it all happens on cushy, hip social media, it is still equivalent to one side saying "fraud." and the other "libel.".

If what you are actually getting is within the agreed service level, even if it is lousy - you are on even thinner ice.


Such a practice is not unethical. But it's not necessarily wise.

Social media can expose ALL your company's bad practices to everyone, akin to a user reporting on BBB or RipOffReport. If part of those bad practices is having a lousy "official" support channel, social media can create a whole lot of bad press very quickly. Customers are not required to filter their responses on social media, even when the issues are caused by their own misunderstandings of the products or services concerned; and once those responses are on social media, expect them to be there forever and ever. It can affect potential customers' buying decisions in the future.

Is this a risk your company can accept? Most of the time, I see companies referring social media inquiries back to their own official channels just to minimize such occurrences.


If your systems are not serving my needs as a client, why would it be unethical for me to try other channels? I'm your client, not a shareholder in your company. If the company doesn't want to be embarrassed that a customer had to go outside of official channels to get their issue addressed, the company should provide better support to their clients.

It would be unethical if I was untruthful in the way I represented the problem, but if I have to tweet the head of the company to tell him that my issue has been languishing in your support queue after I've made repeated attempts to get it addressed through proper channels, and that was actually the truth, there's nothing unethical or unprofessional about it. I would argue that it's actually a good thing to make the upper management aware of, and that even unpleasant client feedback is valuable. It would be much worse if I didn't say anything and just cancelled my contract with the company as soon as feasible. Feedback helps you get better and nothing motivates middle management to fix a problem like it being brought to the attention of their bosses' boss.

  • This brings up the interesting possibility that (voting) shareholders or even the outright owners of each company may well be the same people... which is part of why seek permission to do something like this from your own company first. Jul 8, 2017 at 0:16

It is absolutely fine.

If a company has a social media presence that in it because they want to communicate with their customers. As a customer you have no obligation whatsoever to guarantee that this communication is positive.

Of course as with any communication you shouldn't be malicious, deceitful or abusive but if a company chooses to have a public social media channel there is no reason whatsoever you shouldn't use it to resolve problems.

Clearly it is in the best interests of any company to clear up any issues in private but if they can't do that then it is their problem not yours.

Having said that there is clearly a difference between expediting and issue and damaging a company's reputation in public when that haven;t had a proper chance to respond. This especially applies to small businesses and sole traders who may be very keen to keep customers happy but may not have the resources to instantly reply 24/7.

Equally if you go too far or are unreasonable be prepared to reap what you sow and be publicly shamed as a difficult customer or troll. Most businesses won't name names but even so....

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