Two recent studies furnish what seem like contradictory results: One found that 26% of consumers say they have complained while 58% report they've praised a brand on Twitter; the other study found that 48% of tweets about brands were negative while 16% were positive. It's possible that people's perceptions of their complaint-to-praise ratio are incorrect, or it could be the complainers are very active at complaining. Either way, the message is that organizations must strive to stimulate praise and helpful user-generated content while minimizing reasons for gripes. That should come as no surprise to anyone, which is why it seems odd so few brands acknowledge the praise and help they receive in social media.

Social media professionals focus a great deal of attention on influence, sentiment and the authenticity of peer-to-peer communications, so you would think that acknowledging and rewarding people who praise and support our brands would be among our highest priorities. To the contrary, it seems the opposite is true; in social media, the squeaky wheels get the grease while the cogs that are actively driving brand engagement are ignored.

I've experienced this firsthand. I've praised restaurants, car dealerships, radio stations, auto brands and other service providers and have rarely received an acknowledgment of any sort. For some small businesses, this is (barely) excusable because it can be tough to find time to monitor social media, although acknowledging consumers is an excellent way to create a strong personal connection for a small local brand. For example, several months ago, Bohanan's thanked me for checking in, and I've been back six or seven times since. And for a great case study of a small business driving tremendous success through social media engagement and acknowledgment, check out AJ Bombers, a burger restaurant in Milwaukee.

While small businesses may struggle with the time and resources for social media, it is a different story for large organizations with considerable social media resources. Even among large brands, there seems to be focus more on complainers than fans. A month ago, I was stranded in a very hot elevator, and after my release I tweeted, "When trapped in an elevator in San Antonio, you definitely want an AT&T phone and not Sprint. No signal on Sprint; AT&T saved me." Given AT&T's reputation issues with service reliability, you'd think a tweet such as this would be welcomed and appreciated, but I heard nothing. It's not that AT&T isn't present in social media--the company responds to dozens of complaints and service requests each day via @ATTCustomerCare--so why turn a deaf ear to compliments?

People who advocate on behalf of your brand or furnish content for your brand deserve acknowledgment. The time has come for smart brands to reward positive, brand-building behavior from anyone who takes the time to share a positive review, a tweet of praise, a recommendation on Facebook or traffic-driving content.

Of course, that word--"reward"--comes with a lot of baggage. If you start furnishing anything of value that creates a material relationship between the brand and the fan, you've crossed a line in terms of FTC endorsement guidelines and authentic marketing practices. That's why the best rewards are also the cheapest and the easiest. Here are three brands that do it right (and yes, I need to disclose that I work for one of these organizations--USAA--or else I'll be breaking those very same FTC regulations):

Tripadvisor lets consumers know they have impact:  I've praised Tripadvisor before for the way they close the Imageloop with people who complete reviews. This seems the most basic and easy way to reward people who create content--simply make them aware that their content matters. I received an email from Tripadvisor today that informed me over 1,000 people had viewed my recent reviews. This simple notice let me know the time I spent writing the reviews wasn't wasted and brought Tripadvisor top of mind.

Yelp does something similar, informing reviewers how many compliments and votes as Useful, Funny, and Cool they receive. While some feedback is better than no feedback, I've never understood these random adjectives. "Useful" is certainly valuable, but why do I need to strive for "Cool" or "Funny" in my reviews? Should I be completing my Yelp reviews with an eye towards being helpful and accurate or instead work in vain to have others perceive me as hip and hilarious? Yelp does a good, but not great, job of closing the loop with reviewers.

USAA acknowledges all Facebook comments:  I'm very proud of the way the community managers on my team atImage USAA represent the brand on Facebook. During work hours (and frequently at other times), USAA responds to virtually every Facebook post. We don't simply look for opportunities to offer service to our members when they have problems; we also thank them when they take time to post to their friends their appreciation for USAA's service and products.

You wouldn't think this sort of responsiveness would be that earth shattering, but if you survey brands on Facebook, you'll find that consumers who praise do not get the same level of attention as those who carp. What sort of behaviors are we motivating when we leap to respond to each complaint while ignoring compliments?

Wheat Thins writes personal thank you notes:  Have you ever been thanked by your crackers?  Me neither, but Wheat Thins found a way to surprise people in a very personal way:  They occasionally write thank you letters to the people who post and tweet about the brand--and it doesn't hurt that they include a box of Wheat Thins as part of the thank you.

If you need a brush-up on how to accept compliments, Lifehack has a good article. In short, when you receive praise, be gracious, be appreciative, and when appropriate, involve the person giving the compliment in your success.  And when people furnish content that makes your site or Facebook wall a more interesting place, let them know you appreciate it!

If someone were to compliment you or offer you a gift in person and you ignored it, that would be considered rude. Why is it so hard for brands to recognize, acknowledge and thank people for their compliments and gifts in social media?