Do brands belong in Twitter Q&As?

We’re always advising brands that they need to be open, honest and down to earth on social media. That there needs to be a real person behind the account responding to people as individuals and creating a connection with followers.

Question and answer sessions give followers the chance to get their voices heard by someone in charge, and allows the brand to demonstrate how in-touch it is with customers. What can possibly go wrong?

Timing

In October, British Gas announced a price hike of more than 10 per cent, causing outrage in the media and from consumers. To combat this, the company held a Twitter Q&A the next day.

Its customer services director would be making himself available to answer questions. That’s a nice way for a company to show customers that it cares about their concerns, right?

With an emotive topic like price rises, many people aren’t going to be polite or reasonable. Those that take the time to participate in a Q&A will be bristling with indignation and ready to deliver a verbal kicking to the brand, or to make a point, which is what happened with #AskBG.

The timing of this Twitter Q&A was insensitive, and made the company look out of touch, not with customers concerns, but with the reality of social media. How did they think this wasn’t going to be a huge mess, reputation wise?

Likeability

Soon after the British Gas Twitter Q&A, came Ryanair’s turn. Now, Ryanair seems to thrive on getting bad PR, so it’s not that much of a shock that they decided to do a Q&A themselves. Using the hashtag #GRILLMOLL, tweeters could ask the CEO anything they liked.

It started off…not very well.

But then, you know exactly what you’re going to get with the CEO of Ryanair.

 

That doesn’t mean people have to like it (or him):

But some liked his sense of humour:

Ryanair held the Q&A after announcing improvements to some of its rather stringent policies, so this could have been one of the rare occasions where the company bagged some good PR. Instead, it got lots of coverage for its CEO having a bit of a laugh getting people riled on Twitter.

Celebrity Q&As

Celebrities (or, more accurately, their social media teams) tend to do Twitter Q&A’s well, but the one of the best so far in 2013 was that held by the rapper Jay-Z back in July. He managed to answer questions, be authentic and highlight the need for Twitter to introduce a better conversation function.

Even Paul McCartney’s been getting in on the act.

Brands have been known to ask questions during a celebrity Q&A – which is one way of getting noticed on Twitter without the risk of running a Q&A.

Organisations & Government

Organisations like the National Union of Students have held Twitter Q&As, in the case of the NUS, to give new students free advice. The Foreign and Commonwealth office holds Q&As under the hashtag #askFCO.

And of course, there’s President Obama’s famous Twitter Q&A of December 2012.

Businesses shouldn’t get involved in social media without knowing why they’re doing it. What’s the goal? What does a win look like? Twitter Q&As need to be approached with the same questions. In the case of British Gas, it looks like the aim may have been to offer some accountability and try to mitigate the reputational damage – but it just made things worse. As for Ryanair – well, your guess is as good as mine.

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