#AskBG and the perils of not framing hashtags

Hell hath no fury like a customer scorned. Just ask British Gas, whose recent foray into social media via a Twitter Q&A using the #askBG hashtag to explain a 9.2% price hike met with undisguised contempt from its customers.

#askBG

True to form, the UK’s tabloid press and other media were only only too happy to watch BG trip up and to record in excruciating detail the public dismemberment of a corporate carcass on social media.

Much has already been said about how BG could better have handled the conversation, notably that it should have been better prepared to respond to the wide range of questions and allegations thrown its way.

Quite so, but while this sounds fine in principle it can be tricky to achieve in practice. 16,000 tweets is a lot for any organisation to cope with.

One option would have been for BG to have fronted a team of executives from different parts of the business rather than a single customer services spokesman. Not only would this have created far greater response capacity, it would also have enabled the responses to be more helpful, insightful and authoritative.

Yet fielding a bigger team may not have been necessary had British Gas thought more carefully about its hashtag. As we saw with McDonald’s infamous #McDstories (spectacular backfire) and #Meetthefarmers (neutral to negative reaction) sponsored promotions, the broader a discussion is cast, the more likely people are to talk about things you may not expect or want them to.

#mcdstories

#meetthefarmers

By choosing a hashtag explicitly related to the issue at hand, BG would have had a better chance to contain the parameters of the discussion and shape its outcome.

Of course, the bigger question is whether BG should have hosted a Twitter Q&A in the first place. With a reputation for unwarranted price hikes and third-rate customer service built up over many years, there was always a risk that a public discussion on a highly topical, contentious and political topic hosted on a channel tracked by ranks of Tweetdeck ogling journalists could go astray.

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3 comments
  1. My feeling is that they were perhaps unwise (certainly brave) to host a Twitter Q&A. Brands such as utilities are important to consumers (because they take a lot of money from them) but don’t generate particularly positive emotions – and indeed are only likely to generate emotions when things go wrong. They will therefore find it hard to engage in a positive way with consumers via social media and should perhaps limit themselves to being reactive.

    This blog post (excuse the self promotion please) explains this idea in a little more detail:
    http://mobilesocialconsumers.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/british-gas-and-that-big-social-media-fiasco/

  2. Thanks Jeremy and I think your reasoning is sound, though I wonder if BG may too often stray into the high emotional bracket given people’s frustrations over customer service, pricing etc. Hence, there may be scope for them to find the right topic, but its unlikely to be tied direct to their product/service offer. I also think it was a poor move given the din in Westminster over energy pricing, which presumably BG would have seen coming. Of course, you could also suggest this was a clever move as it played nicely into the subsequent political debate by suggesting the price increase was not in their hands. A disingenuous thought, I appreciate! BTW, I like your planning model and think it applies well to social media.

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