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.
True to form, the UK’s tabloid press and other media were 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.
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.