Beware lack of Plan B in a Twitter hashtag chat #AskJPM

Tomorrow's Q&A is cancelled...

Using Twitter as a channel to engage in public conversation is a tactic that’s been employed by a number of large organizations in high-profile examples over the past few weeks.

Focused around a hashtag – a word or single-word phrase starting with the ‘#’ symbol – such ‘tweet chats’ can be an effective method of articulating perspectives and opinion on topics of interest to you and your audiences, be they customers, investors, employees, the mainstream media, etc.

They also let you surface issues that interest your audiences as well as concern them, serving as useful barometers of opinion to complement other or formal methods of analysing online opinion related to your company, people in your company, your brand(s) and topics that interest you.

A tweet chat can be hugely useful in creating and strengthening connections between an organization, its people and tweeters and their communities out there as the Bank of England experienced recently.

But is it very much a double-edged sword where things can very quickly spin out of anyone’s control – no matter how hard you try to exercise control – as British Gas and Ryanair discovered last month; and as investment bank JP Morgan found out to its cost last week when it tried to conduct a tweet chat around the hashtag #AskJPM.

It was a classic example of being not in control of the message where it was hijacked during a relentless, unceasing storm of hostile tweets using that hashtag.

Yet it’s deeper than that. It seems to me that the exercise was one of futility for JP Morgan. While I have no idea of the specific and measurable goal they set out to achieve by holding such a tweet chat, it’s clear there was no structured plan that included one all-important element:

What is our Plan B if things go awry? If we get aggressive questions or hostile opinions about our business, corporate and individual behaviours, our culture, our plans, anything that isn’t what we want everyone to talk about, namely a Q&A session with Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee on career advice and leadership?

Within minutes of announcing the tweet chat, the hashtag was overwhelmed with hostile and amusing/sarcastic tweets in almost equal measure, causing the bank to throw in the towel on the exercise.

But the reputation hit was immediate as mainstream media around the world revelled in stoking JP Morgan’s discomfort and highlighting its failure – gleefully in many cases – with commentary and opinion that has one thing in common: portraying JP Morgan as totally clueless in its plans for using Twitter in this way.

#AskPJM media headlines

While this is a ‘good’ example of the consequences that may result through not having a Plan B (assuming there is a solid Plan A), there’s a more fundamental aspect of JP Morgan’s effort than that.

I would argue that a tweet chat for the reason understood – that of a Q&A with a senior executive of the bank – was probably a terrible idea given the landscape and climate surrounding big banks following the role many played in the financial crash of recent years; and the public hostility online about specific banks, such as JP Morgan.

(In contrast, take a look at the positive results the Bank of England experienced in its recent tweet chat. Although at the heart of the financial crisis in common with other central banks, this is a largely untarnished financial organization, enjoying positive sentiment partly due to a new man at the helm, Governor Mark Carney.)

It doesn’t matter whether such poor sentiment and hostile opinion of JP Morgan is justified or not. It doesn’t matter whether the criticism of JP Morgan and highlighting its apparent cluelessness is fair or not.

All that matters is that the organization ventured out onto the public social web to engage with people and quickly learned that the landscape they wished to survey is a pretty hostile one, for which they had no plan of defence, and have suffered a reputation hit that is still in the news (and will be in Google search results for a long time to come).

So the first question they should have asked was:

Is this tweet chat a good idea, or not?

And that should be the start of Plan A.

“Bad idea, back to the drawing board,” declared the JP Morgan official tweeter upon cancelling the event. I hope we see the outcome from that drawing board.

Meanwhile, if you want review JP  Morgan’s discomfort, take a look at “J.P.Morgan shows us how NOT to do Twitter #AskJPM,” an excellent Storify curation by Gabrielle Laine-Peters.

There is some genuine learning there.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Chip Griffin (@ChipGriffin)

    I, too, would be interested in knowing the internal goal behind the idea, but once they started the ball rolling, they should have stuck with it. Canceling the chat doesn’t change anyone’s thinking. Their actual response(s) might not either, but I would use it as an opportunity to address the concerns that folks have (as well as directly answering some of the legitimate questions asked about careers and leadership — the original purpose of the Q&A). If they did so in a reasonable manner that came across as human and sincere, it would help to marginalize the ignorant haters while trying to engage the constructive criticizers. Those who say that they should not have tried to converse on Twitter because the audience wouldn’t be receptive miss the point that JPM isn’t going away and needs to communicate publicly, even when it might be uncomfortable.

    • Neville Hobson

      I broadly agree with you. Chip, re sticking with what you start. But that assumes you have a very clear plan of engagement and a very good idea of what you’re going to be measuring in your subsequent analysis.

      In the case of JP Morgan, I think it would have been a bigger mistake than the one they committed by not understanding their landscape. I would not attempt to engage with anyone on Twitter in addressing some of the really hostile questions and comments – JP Morgan would have been on a hiding to nothing.

      What they could have done would have been to be clear and firm about what they would address and talk about in the tweet chat, offering alternate ways and places where people with genuine grievances or intelligent opinions can air them. But as I said, that assumes there is a very clear plan in place.

      On balance, I think they made the best decision under the circumstances – to cancel it and take the consequent media hits. Hopefully that drawing board where they’re now at will enable them to do a better job next time. And they must be a next time, a redemption, once they have a plan.

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