Not so long ago, you had few options for expressing your dissatisfaction with a product or service. You may have told your friends and family about your experience. Maybe you filed complaints with state and federal regulatory agencies, the Better Business Bureau or the local consumer-watchdog reporter. Similarly, if you were really happy with a purchase, there were few ways of getting your recommendation out there.
But all that has changed, according to Consumer Reports Money Adviser. Whether it's a slap-happy review of your new flat-screen TV on Amazon or a scathing critique of a car dealer on Yelp or Facebook, there are plenty of online outlets where you can post your opinions. And companies are paying attention.
Consider this 2010 exchange from TripAdvisor, a travel website where consumers share their experiences at hotels, restaurants, vacation rentals and attractions. A guest at the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., posted a complaint about a checkout clerk who gave her a difficult time over a 20 percent discount she was entitled to at the hotel restaurant.
The complaint caught the attention of the hotel's general manager, who posted her own message saying that management confronted the employee about the incident. She urged the former guest to contact her.
"I would like to invite you back as our guest in the near future," she wrote. "Please accept my apologies and give us another opportunity to provide you with proper service."
Consumer Reports Money Adviser rounded up the best places to lodge your complaint and how to do so effectively. Here are some of them:
*AirlineComplaints.org. Airline-related complaints or suggestions for improvements.
*Amazon.com. Reviews and ratings of products and Amazon merchants.
*AngiesList.com. Reviews and ratings of local services.
*ComplaintsBoard.com. Complaints about products, services, companies and professionals.
*Consumerist.com (published by Consumer Reports). Reviews and complaints about products, services and companies. Includes news and consumer tips.
*Epinions.com. Ratings and reviews of products and services.
*RateMDs.com. Reviews and ratings of doctors and dentists. Includes access to medical board records and top 10 lists.
*TripAdvisor.com. More than 45 million reviews and ratings of hotels, restaurants, attractions, vacation rentals, cities and towns, and more.
*Yelp.com. Reviews and ratings of local companies and professionals.
Where to post
Your own "social pages." If you have a blog, website, Twitter account or Facebook page, you've got your own outlet for opinions or reviews. Its effectiveness will depend partly on how many people follow you or find your comments through an online search.
Company sites. Many manufacturers and retailers, such as Amazon, allow customer comments on their websites, and they often let the bad reviews stand along with the good ones. Consumer Reports Money Adviser has seen some companies, including Walmart and General Electric, address consumer complaints posted on their Facebook pages.
When posting a comment online, it's important to establish your credibility. Sure, a prolonged rant could make you feel better, but such cyber chest-pounding might not be taken seriously. Plus, your post might be blocked or removed.
When critiquing a company or product, first check the site's frequently asked questions and terms and conditions to find out what's allowed. Make your comment as brief as possible, and include facts. If you're being critical, mentioning the good along with the bad lets readers know you're a consumer, not a competitor out to drive up your own sales.
Be careful not to get sued: Companies and professionals have sued individuals who make comments they don't like, including a San Francisco man who was sued in 2009 by his chiropractor for criticizing billing procedures on Yelp.
Remember that once you post something, it will probably remain online for a very long time. Even if a site lets you modify or remove your comments, the initial post might get picked up by search engines or other websites.