The fact that ordinary people are bashing and criticizing celebrities and athletes directly and openly on Twitter has been a major subject in the media lately. For example, take the Alabama kicker who missed two field goals and had one blocked in the now famous Auburn game. After the game, people lashed out against him, some even threatening his life. Fortunately, a Facebook page was eventually created in his support.

While there are so many benefits of social media, these passive-aggressive Twitter attacks raised several questions. As consumers, are we abusing Twitter in the way we use it to engage with brands? How should brands respond to the passive aggressive tweets about their product or service?

We all know that what happens on Twitter doesn’t always stay on Twitter. Therefore, here are a few guidelines to help you avoid this passive-aggressive epidemic from impacting you or your brand:

1. Know the difference between tweeting to solve a problem and tweeting to complain. One of the benefits of Twitter is that it helps you solve issues in real time. However, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. Engaging with a brand on Twitter to help you solve a customer service issue is one thing. Bashing that brand for an hour and a half on Twitter makes you either look like a jerk or a diva. Don’t be part of the problem — look for a way to solve it.

2. Relax, because it happens to the best of us. The thing is, every business has had its fair share of customer complaints, and every leader has been criticized. The worst thing you can do in response to a passive-aggressive tweet is to respond in anger. Here’s one example of how not to respond to customers on Twitter.

3. Respond when you’re attacked, then take the conversation offline. In most cases, it’s good to respond quickly in the same venue where the attack was made by sending a brief, temperate message recognizing you saw the attack. Then, if appropriate, try to follow up in a more private way that can extend beyond 140 characters, such as a phone call or email.

Often times what we say and do online is in some ways more real, more impactful and more lasting than what we say in person. For consumers, try not to let your Twitter account become negative or hurtful. For brands, remember to always respond positively and promptly to anyone who complains, but consider what value would come with taking the conversation offline. And finally, try to look at complaints as a way to improve customer service. We always have something to learn.