MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Remember when the best way to complain to a company was with paper and pen, or maybe a typewriter? Not anymore. Now, we send emails, fill out web forms, and complain even more publicly on social networks, like Facebook and Twitter.

“I think that’s why people choose to complain publicly, because they want somebody to pay attention,” said Jennifer Kane of Kane Consulting.

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Kane knows all about online complaints. Her firm advises companies on how to handle them.

“If a person is very angry,” she said, “they should publicly acknowledge hearing them, and try to move to a private channel.”

Heidi Bobier is the Social Media Coordinator for Supervalu’s 10 grocery chains, and she’s been involved in Facebook for more than a dozen brands.

“If our customers want to share feedback with us in the online space,” she said, “that’s where we need to be.”

Together, Kane and Bobier gave WCCO a behind-the-scenes look at the best ways to complain online.

“You should research first to see where the company is most active,” said Kane. “In other words, if they’re not active on Twitter, don’t waste your time sending them a tweet.”

There are more than 900 million people on Facebook, so that’s where most brands spend their time. But wherever you post the complaint, your language matters.

“You want to make sure you’re not saying anything inappropriate,” said Bobier.

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Kane suggested going one step further.

“I wouldn’t swear,” she said, “because they may have in their policies that they can go ahead and delete posts with offensive language.”

Placement also matters. Post on the company’s Facebook page, and they’ll definitely see it. Vent in your own status bar, and you’ll need to “tag” it.

“If you’ve got an experience you want to share with us, please tag us,” said Bobier.

When she’s talking about “tagging,” she’s talking about making sure the company actually sees your message. On Twitter, it’s easy. Type @ and the company’s Twitter handle, and they’ll be notified.

You can (and should) do the same thing on Facebook. Type an @ sign before their name, and click the dropdown menu to make sure the name is highlighted. If it is, your personal post will still show up in their notifications.

“If they don’t tag us, and it’s a private page, we might never know” said Bobier.

And that’s part of a bigger issue. Minnesotans aren’t very comfortable complaining, which can cause problems. Our experts say don’t be shy. Become part of a company’s Facebook community before you’re mad so you can give constructive feedback. And when you have a serious complaint, be direct, and spell out exactly how you want them to fix it.

“The person on the other end may be dealing with various comments on various channels all day long, so tell them what you want,” said Kane. “They’re not a magician. They can’t read your mind.”

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One other point: If you have a big ticket complaint — maybe something where you’re looking for a refund — try to move the conversation to email as quickly as possible. That way you’ll have a full record of previous responses already attached to your messages at the bottom of the email stream.

Amelia Santaniello