Twitter Users Love to Have a Gas – Just Ask BG

British Gas is the latest poster child for corporate social media disasters, following its #AskBG Twitter chat, held on the same day as it announced a 9.2% price rise.

While tens of thousands of Twitter users posted humorous questions, or sarcastic insults, most references during the day (17th October 2013) made reference to the #AskBG chat being a social media disaster.

Twitter Users Love to Have a Gas – Just Ask BG image askbg paperbillsTwitter Users Love to Have a Gas – Just Ask BG

Twitter Users Love to Have a Gas – Just Ask BG image askbg itwasfunnyTwitter Users Love to Have a Gas – Just Ask BG

Many have claimed that the company committed corporate suicide, but social media marketing professionals perhaps have a more measured view of the event.

Was British Gas wrong to hold the Twitter chat?

The first question any company should ask themselves – was it the wrong thing to do? The company is a big target and it will always attract criticism. You could argue that they opened the door so they set themselves up for a fall.

However, among the many sarcastic and insulting tweets, there were several praising an article by The Drum, which gave a dispassionate evaluation of the #AskBG conversation.

Article author Craig McGill said, “Looking at the whole thing purely from a communications perspective, I think it’s good that they did it. I also admire them for doing it on the same day as the price hike.”

He also said, “It will live on as a case study but I think from the larger comms perspective they’ve done OK out of it. They knew they weren’t loved as a brand, people still don’t like them, I doubt it cost them customers. It’s been the online equivalent of a no-score draw.”

Can you have a serious conversation in a pub?

Having a conversation on Twitter is like being in a pub. A small group of business people might be able to sit in a corner and have a meeting without being disturbed. When you do something, though, that involves a larger crowd, you have crowd behaviour to contend with.

Twitter Users Love to Have a Gas – Just Ask BG image askbg barrygibbTwitter Users Love to Have a Gas – Just Ask BG

Assuming everyone will sit still, wait their turn and be polite is naive. When you are British Gas, a brand that has plenty of detractors, you are a big target. Someone only has to say one sarcastic thing and it’s then open season on you.

One bright spark even set up a Twitter account called @AskBG to poke fun at the Q&A session.

Twitter Users Love to Have a Gas – Just Ask BG image askbg askbgaccountTwitter Users Love to Have a Gas – Just Ask BG

Amid the clamour to bait the company and among the mud slingers and the comedians, there were people looking for a sense of order.

Twitter Users Love to Have a Gas – Just Ask BG image askbg c4stirrersTwitter Users Love to Have a Gas – Just Ask BG

Of course, part of the problem for British Gas was the fact that this event had instant momentum. It sparked a large amount of articles and posts, which were then promoted on the hashtag. The most popular has perhaps been this post by LiberalConspiracy.org.

The challenge for a company’s PR department is to not bend with the wind. Stick to the plan, ride out the storm and trust that a lot of the noise is only temporary.

British Gas could have made its price hike announcement and stayed away from social media. By doing what it did, it has faced a full frontal assault, which is likely to gain it some respect.

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