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When Twitter Q&As go bad

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By Benjamin Haslem

Twitter provides a useful platform to talk directly with your stakeholders.

But it also poses huge risks and can leave you bruised and humiliated.

It allows companies, organisations, politicians and others to engaged in a very public Q&A session.

These forums provide an excellent means by which issues can be identified and dealt with in real time, making customers, constituents, suppliers and others feel they are part of the conversation, contributing to solutions and being listened to.

However, as both British Gas and JPMorgan Chase discovered recently, things can go very wrong, very quickly. 

In the case of the UK utility, deciding to conduct a Q&A on Twitter the same day it unveiled a 10.4 per cent rise in electricity prices and an 8.4 per cent increase in the gas tariff was pretty naive.

The hashtag "AskBG" was the top trend on UK Twitter within an hour of British Gas launching its Q&A and generated 16,000 tweets, many directed at BG customer service director Bert Pijls

Many dripped with gallows humour - "Have you started an affiliate scheme with a funeral directors?" asked one tweet.

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US Banking giant JPMorgan Chase helped Twitter launch on the stock market recently but when it comes to using social media to engage with stakeholders its recent effort was a #massivefail.

The bank was forced to abandon a Q&A session with vice chairman James Lee, after Twitter users complied with its request for queries with a stream of abuse.

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British Gas's and JPMorgan Chase's experiences shouldn't stop companies or organisations from engaging on Twitter.

But it's crucial to appear genuine and ensure conversations don't look like PR stunts. 

People are going to talk about you on social media, so be part of the conversation. Make your Q&A a weekly or fortnightly event at the same time for one hour and then shut it down.

The first few times you may cop abuse but the novelty will soon wear off for the trolls. 

However, you need to be honest. If you've made a mistake, admit it and explain how you plan to make amends.

Also avoid humour (what's funny F2F can seem just weird on-line) and keep it polite.

British Gas stood by its decision to run a Q&A on the day it increased prices.

"(It was) the right thing to do because we are committed to being open and transparent with our customers at all times," it said in a statement.

"We also want to make clear rising prices don't have to mean rising bills and there is help available."