Aimee Hudson
28th November 2018 - 8 mins read
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ritish Gas, Seaworld, JP Morgan and author EL James are among those who, to put it politely, have seen their social media chats trend for the wrong reasons.

So, what can we learn from these social media disasters? How can you do it right?

 

Timing

Timing is a key component for social media Q&A success. Holding an interactive session when you are already creating headlines in the traditional media for the wrong reasons is a recipe for disaster.

British Gas was the victim of one of the more memorable scheduling disasters, opting to give customers the opportunity to ask Customer Services Director Bert Piljls questions on the day it announced a 9.2 per cent price hike.


The #AskBG hashtag was used by thousands of customers airing their grievances and those who took the opportunity to poke fun at the energy giant.

The lesson here is clear - these social media sessions should be restricted to when you either have good news to tell or when you are not in the news at all.

 

Right person

In the same way you need the right person for media interviews, you must think carefully about who you are going to put forward for question and answer sessions.

You need someone who is senior enough to make decisions so that bland, generic responses can be avoided.

And some natural humour can be helpful.

But you also need someone who you can trust and who will need little moderation.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary is no stranger to controversy and a Twitter question and answer session a few years ago predictably created plenty of headlines.

Most controversial was his comment of ‘nice pic. Phwoaaarr’ to a question from a female customer, which led to allegations (and headlines) of sexism.

 

Memorable hashtag

Memorable hashtags can promote and create a buzz about your question and answer session. Ideally you want something short but still descriptive.

You should also check the hashtag is not being used for anything else.

And perhaps most importantly of all, make sure it can’t be misread – a lesson the promoters of singer Susan Boyle could have done with before they opted for #Susanalbumparty.

 

Show some self-awareness

Not every post you receive in these sessions is going to be on the subjects you want and some may mock what you are trying to achieve.

The key is to not take yourself too seriously and to respond with similar humour.

Although not strictly a question and answer session, Waitrose responded cleverly when its #WaitroseReasons hashtag was hijacked by posters making fun of its upper class reputation. It said it had found the tweets ‘funny’ and had ‘enjoyed reading most of them’. 

 

Prepare for the negatives

As with media interviews it is important to spend time considering the negative issues which could arise during the question and answer session.

Prepare lines to take which can be given in response and consider creating a page on your website which you can link through to for answers needing more than 140 characters.

 

Wider issues

As well as possible negative topics, it is also worth considering the wider issues which could arise during the question and answer session. These could be issues affecting the wider sector or perhaps some new Government policy which could have an impact on the industry. Currently, you could face questions about the impact Brexit or Donald Trump might have on the sector. Prepare some lines to take for these wider issues.

 

Not suitable for everyone

While a question and answer session may seem like a great way to boost engagement and get positive messages out, it is not a format that is suitable for everyone.

If your brand or area of work is divisive, the session will act like a magnet for critics and keyboard warriors.

When 50 Shades of Grey author E.L James held a Twitter Q&A it is fair to say it did not go to plan. As well as plenty of users taking advantage of the opportunity to question her writing ability, the author was also faced with more serious questions about her books promoting an abusive relationship.

Similarly, when SeaWorld held a #AskSeaWorld session it backfired massively, with people taking the opportunity to bring up animal welfare concerns and ask when the park would be closing down.

 

Promote

You need to promote your question and answer session ahead of the event. Begin posting about it a few days in advance using the hashtag you have opted for - this has the added benefit of enabling you to see any questions which come in early.

Also use your email lists and other social media networks to raise awareness of the sessions and encourage your employees to tell their friends.

 

Don’t be afraid to walk away

About the only thing JP Morgan got right about its infamous Twitter Q&A session was deciding to abandon the idea 24 hours before it was scheduled to take place.

The company found itself inundated with negative posts when it promoted a live chat with one of its executives, which was intended to be about leadership and careers advice.

 

With questions including ‘did you have a specific number of people’s lives you needed to ruin before you considered your business model a success?’ it was clear it had completely lost control of the hashtag.

Sensibly it took the decision to prevent further damage by returning to the drawing board.

 

Crisis plan

If your question and answer session does go ahead and goes horribly wrong, make sure you have a crisis plan in place to limit the damage, including how you will manage the media if it sparks their interest. 



We realise that these examples of social media Q&As could put you off holding one of your own. But that is not the aim. The idea is to make you aware of risks so that you can prepare for them and avoid making similar errors.

We firmly believe Q&As can generate highly productive conversations which can develop excitement around your brand and products. It just needs considered planning to avoid the pitfalls.

Mark Mars, Managing Director of Thirty Seven, said: “Just like an in-person press conference or an open discussion, Twitter Q&As provide a way for the audience to ask questions and hear responses directly from the host. But, all you need is Twitter. And anyone can do it.

"A Twitter Q&A is a great way to engage with your audience as it allows them the opportunity to talk to you in real-time conversation, in a more human way.

"Twitter Q&As are a great opportunity to get insightful feedback and for your audience to know you are taking their views seriously."

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Marketing

How to respond to negative comments about your content

Adam Fisher 26th June 2018 — 5 mins read
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ome will be genuine complaints from customers, others may be from rivals and then, of course, there are the dreaded trolls.

I’m no stranger to online criticism, having previously managed social media accounts for public sector organisations.

People have also, on occasion, taken exception to blogs I have written in my current role, including an ITN newsreader who really didn’t take too well to something I wrote for our sister company Media First.

The key is to accept that you will face negativity at some point and focus on how best to respond.

Here’s what I have learned from my own experiences and the different ways some brands deal with negative comments. 


Keep calm

This is advice I constantly have to remind myself about.

Whenever someone criticises something I have put out, and I don’t think it is justified, my first reaction is to quickly put together a stinging instant response.

But then I think back to a training course I went on years ago where we were told not to send work emails when we were angry.

And I think the same applies here, whether you are responding to a blog comment, a Twitter post or any other form of audience interaction.

The reality is that responding emotionally when your blood is still boiling will typically make the situation much worse. And you really don’t want to get involved in some form of ongoing argument in a public domain.

It sounds obvious, but it is important to compose your thoughts, consider the criticism, and let any heat die away from the situation before responding – even on social media where speed is of the essence.


Avoid the copy and paste approach

One of my hates on social media is when a brand receives some criticism and it responds by continually copying and pasting the same couple of generic lines over and over again.

It is something I see regularly. 

When Nectar was widely criticised on social media for announcing a partnership with the Daily Mail, it stuck rigidly to pre-agreed corporate lines, which it copied and pasted relentlessly.

Here it is: “Hi (insert name), we’re sorry to hear you’re not keen on the partnership. The primary factor in any new partnership is our current customer base. From our data and research, we know that there is a large crossover between our customers and Mail readers. Hopefully, you can take part in other offers which you find more appealing. Thank you for the feedback anyway.”

It looks cold and robotic and only really serves to make the customer more frustrated. It also suggests the brand actually isn’t all that bothered about complaints from customers.

While it may feel a little risky, social media teams should be given the freedom to move away from pre-approved corporate lines when an organisation is being criticised and add a human touch to responses.

If you are facing a real social media storm and don’t feel you have the time or resources to personalise responses, it would be better to stick to regular updates rather than trying to reply to everyone with the same corporate line.


Humour

You need to tread carefully here, but humour can be a great way of turning a negative comment into something positive.

Not only can it diffuse potential issues, but it can also show a fun, lighter side to your brand.

But it is not going to be appropriate in all situations and each one needs to be judged independently.

Virgin Trains found itself in the middle of a social media storm earlier this year when it responded to a passenger complaining about being called ‘honey’ by a train manager with a poorly judged joke.  While Thameslink found itself threatened with legal action after comparing its poor service to ‘Poundland cooking chocolate’.  

My advice would be to run any humorous responses past a colleague just to check that they are actually funny, right for the audience and also tasteful before they are published.


Sometimes a private reply can be better

You are not going to keep everyone happy, even if you follow all of the above advice.

Some people will continue to post negatively, but it is important that you don’t get drawn into an ongoing conversation with them.

The best approach is to ask them to send their contact details to you through a direct message or your email address so you can arrange for someone to give them a call and discuss the issues they are experiencing.

This is something which worked well for me in previous roles and at times resulted in a dissenting voice later going on to post something positive about the organisation.

Even if they persist with their criticism, other customers will be able to see the effort you have made to try to help them.


Don’t delete

It can be tempting to delete negative comments and criticism, particularly if you feel they are unfair.

But this needs to be avoided.

Not only does it show a lack of transparency and suggest the organisation may have something to hide, but it is also likely to encourage the critic to post more negative comments.


You don’t always have to say sorry

Another one of my regular frustrations with the way brands respond to negative comments is they always apologise, even when they have nothing to be sorry for.

Take train companies for example. Any commuter will tell you that these guys have a lot to apologise for. But look at their Twitter accounts and it is one apology after another.

The website Sorry for the Inconvenience shows that rail operators have already issued more than 200,000 apologies this year alone. While many of those are completely justified, some are for really minor issues like plug sockets not working.

The huge rate of apologies only adds to the reputational damage. The key for other companies is to be selective about when to say sorry.

Sometimes a better approach is to take control of the narrative and laugh about the issue, like Joe Dough’s Sandwich shop did in this brilliant example.




Finally

The final point is that a negative reaction doesn’t have to be seen as a bad thing.

I want the content I produce to cause a reaction and even a negative reaction can get other people talking.

It’s far better than talking to a completely passive audience.

 

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

 

Mark Mars
3rd October 2017 - 5 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.