Q&A and #Ask sessions sprout up all the time and are pretty common on Twitter for people and brands alike. But far too often these seemingly short-lived and simple PR campaigns become unruly and unstoppable monsters.
You should evaluate what you or your brand may be risking if you decide to candidly engage in an unfiltered, real-time conversation with the anonymous, opinionated and vocal beings of the Internet. So, is a social Q&A or #ask sesh a useful or meaningful marketing tactic? My short answer is no. Although, of course there are always variations and exceptions where there's a possibility it could go surprisingly well.
Maybe the Internet has gotten meaner, but I don't think any of the following responses were unpredictable. Here are a few cautionary tales of brands that got it so horribly, horribly wrong:
Poor Roger Goodell. The recent, highly-publicized domestic violence in the NFL isn't the first time the commissioner has had a nasty go-round with passionate Tweeters or an association with a less-than-postive hashtag. In May of this year, someone in the NFL camp thought it'd be a good idea to have Goodell participate in an open forum Q&A to... Actually, I'm not sure what the intended goal of this campaign was because it was orchestrated at a time when football-related concussions/traumatic head injuries and racist team names were blazingly hot topics, even outside the not-so-small world of professional sports. The NFL used the hashtag #AskCommish, and the resulting participation was far from ideal. Some tweets were crudely funny, some were completely irrelevant, but most attacked Goodell, the brand and the institution head-on and for everyone to see. Take a look at some of the tweets here. Be warned, grown-up language ahead.
J.P. Morgan almost held its first live Q&A session last year with the hashtag #AskJPM. However, the day before the scheduled event, the hashtag was already hijacked. It failed, and it failed hard with more than 18,000 tweets in 24 hours, not a single one of which was kind. The bank originally hoped the hashtag would connect consumers with a knowledgable executive who would field questions related to leadership and career advice, but the tweets that followed harshly criticized the bank's behavior and ethics. One tweet read, "Do your clothes fit better without the added weight of a soul? #AskJPM." The avalanche of negative tweets was too overwhelming for J.P Morgan, and it consequently cancelled the Q&A session, simply stating it was a "bad idea."
The NYPD is another brand that made a faulty attempt at good PR via social media, and it sure did escalate quickly. To boost perception of and solicit goodwill toward the Big Apple's boys in blue, the NYPD PR and social team encouraged the public to take a picture with a friendly officer and post the photo on Twitter with the hashtag #myNYPD. This was ultimately received as an open invitation to mock the department and publicize several instances of police brutality and misconduct. Twitter was flooded with disturbing photos all united under the #myNYPD hashtag. The campaign backfired in a big way, and several high-ranking officials are still reluctant to admit complete failure or acknowledge the newly unearthed ill-will and resentment.
However, I don't think I would ever advise my friend or my client (or even myself) to bet on such a risky and volatile tactic. The Q&A sessions appear to continually be a popular brand perception tool, but it is not one I would recommend incorporating into a social media marketing plan.
AdAge article here.
Disagree with me or itching for an intellectual debate? Comments open to all.