Research by social media analyst Brandwatch found that Apple is the brand most commonly linked to the descriptor '#fail'. The negative hashtag originated on Twitter, but it has gained widespread use across the internet among consumers venting their spleen about companies that have fallen short of their expectations.
In the past month, Apple was mentioned 1204 times in Twitter messages containing the hashtag. The majority were directed at the Apple brand generally, while others contained specific complaints about its products - the iPhone, iPad and Mac.
Brandwatch said mentions of Apple on other blogging sites included hundreds of gripes about the iPhone4's allegedly poor reception.
The research showed that the most complained about brands online are those in the communication and technology sectors. Specifically on Twitter, Facebook was the second-most complained about brand.Nokia ranked third, while the BBC was fourth. Complaints about the broadcaster related to its service generally, as well as its programmes.
CNN, with the fifth-highest number of negative mentions, had complaints directed both at the company and the content of its news reports.
Giles Palmer, chief executive of Brandwatch, said hashtags have added to the language of the web, and brands should be aware of them. 'The hashtags have jumped out of Twitter and are becoming part of the vernacular in other online places,' he added.
Although consumers use hashtags to complain about brands, Palmer said he expects marketers to use the descriptors themselves in their viral campaigns.
He added that marketers could search for hashtags linked with their brand online to help them identify and address consumers' concerns.
Palmer said this opportunity to gain consumer insight was currently largely limited to communications and technology brands, but would open up to companies in other sectors when the use of hashtags moves beyond tech-savvy bloggers and Twitter users.