A look at effective PR campaigns, epic fails and lessons learned
In the last few years many businesses and individuals have launched Twitter Q&As for a variety of reasons: to elevate brand awareness, earn new followers and customers, (re)build a reputation, spike organic engagement, and/or earn trust through transparency. Some are able to achieve these goals with resounding success. Other campaigns, however, have gone down as some of the most ghastly errors in social media history. Let’s take a look:
JPMorgan Chase, a company that’s dealt with more than $30 billion in fines and legal costs since 2009 decided to host its first-ever live Twitter Q&A, encouraging the public to submit questions about leadership and career advice from Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee. The Nov. 14, 2013 campaign was literally a PR “Nightmare Before Christmas.” While Twitter users hardly noticed the original tweet, the second reminder blew up the social channel. Within 24 hours, there were nearly 19,000 tweets using the suggested hashtag #AskJPM. Tweeters from around the world hijacked the hashtag, using the opportunity to harangue the bank’s ethics. The public lambasted Lee with so many abusive Tweets that the bank canceled the Q&A one day before it was scheduled to launch.
As part of a massive campaign to rebuild Sea World’s reputation after the 2013 documentary “Blackfish” tarnished the brand, revealing the cruelty and dangers behind killer whale captivity, Sea World hosted a social media Q&A. Sea World’s social team encouraged fans to ask questions about the park, its animals, training procedures, and safety measures using the hashtag #AskSeaWorld. The social session tanked. The March 25, 2015 Q&A quickly spiraled out of control; activists hijacked the official hashtag and created new ones—#EmptyTheTanks and #AnswerTheQ—when Sea World did not respond to some of the harsh criticisms and scathing questions.
Three months after Sea World’s tweet wreck, EL James’ publicity team thought it would be a novel idea (ha, pun) to host a Twitter Q&A, too, with the hashtag #AskELJames. What they got was a tweetstorm. On June 29, 2015, the author of “Fifty Shades of Grey” became the subject of a top-trending hashtag that generated countless biting comments and questions attacking her writing and the overall nature of her books.
Leading up to the Super Bowl, ESPN put football fanatics at the center of their own media day with a series of 12 consecutive Twitter Q&A’s with NFL players and front-office staff. ESPN had never attempted such a large-scale live social media event, but it was such an overwhelming success that the Jan. 27, 2014 campaign—dubbed the Mega Chat—was featured on Twitter’s blog. Participants were asked to follow @ESPNNFL and use the hashtag #ESPNSBChat, which synced to ESPN.com and presented in an easy format for ESPN and the chat hosts. ESPN’s social team was able to manage the event, filter the questions, retweet interesting answers, and more. The #ESPNSBChat hashtag trended for six hours, including the top spot in eight US cities, according to @ITrended.
Shortly after pro tennis player Roger Federer enjoyed a successful Twitter Q&A, he initiated a spontaneous reverse Q&A session with fans on Oct. 13, 2013, to improve engagement, increase followers, and spark a personal connection with fans. The hashtag #AskedRF drove increased mentions of Federer with more than 10,000 tweets with #AskedRF between Federer’s announcement of the Q&A session and its end, according to Topsy.
- – Honesty and transparency are great to aspire to, but if you’re a controversial brand, seriously weigh the risks and benefits such a highly visible campaign. Think Murphy’s Law.
- – Consider the worst-case scenario and be prepared to respond to any situation that may arise in real-time. If you aren’t ready to answer the scary questions, then don’t do it.
- – Twitter is an unfiltered, uncontrolled environment. If you can’t answer questions honestly or choose to selectively respond, you will be publicly reprimanded.
- – Your hashtags may get hijacked.
- – It’s a good idea to walk away from bad ideas.
- – Casual and impromptu Q&As can be just as—if not more—effective.
- – Be unique. Try something out-of-the-ordinary like Federer’s reserve Q&A.
- – Use a simple, unique hashtag to track and analyze results during and after the campaign. Like ESPN, if it’s a planned event, create a buzz by promoting the social session with this hashtag.