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Twitter Q&As are like London buses – you wait ages for one then 100 come along at once. At least I think that’s how it goes?
In recent months brand marketers must have been busy convincing prominent members of staff to make themselves available on social media, as it seems every day someone else is answering questions via a hashtag.
The main benefit of these Q&As is PR, as the likelihood is that a huge number of trolls will try to ruin the exchange and inadvertently get it trending.
It tends to be the preserve of pointless celebrities and footballers, however every now and then someone of genuine interest agrees to get involved.
This roundup includes seven Twitter Q&As that proved to be useful for one reason or another...
In October Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary took to Twitter to answer questions from the public about his budget airline.
It was a strange decision as O‘Leary has always gone out of his way to antagonise customers, but it appears that the idea was to try and soften his image and that of the company.
It didn’t work as O’Leary made a series of sexist and confrontational remarks which was in keeping with his existing image as a brash, arrogant CEO.
It was also a reminder that brands need to get the basics right when hosting a Twitter Q&A, as O’Leary forgot to put dots in front of his responses so that they were visible to all of the airlines followers and more importantly he failed to use the branded hashtag.
H&M recruited brand ambassador David Beckham for a Q&A back in February this year.
He responded to questions on a broad range of topics including sport, fashion and his own heroes, while H&M’s Twitter feeds from around the world got involved to help promote it in their local markets.
It was a huge coup and obviously attracted a massive amount of attention. It also managed to successfully boost H&M’s image as a cool, relevant fashion brand.
Obviously not all brands can afford to get Beckham involved in their Q&As, but it is a useful demonstration of how brand ambassadors can be used for more than just ad campaigns.
A Q&A organised by utility company British Gas is a perfect example of why timing is so important for PR.
Some bright spark within the company arranged the Q&A to coincide with an announcement that it was increasing prices by 11%.
Our own head of social Matt Owen has already examined the ensuing debacle in more detail, discovering that of the 16,000+ angry responses that British Gas received 145 contained the word ‘death’ and 88 accused the company of being ‘greedy’.
Apparently the Q&A was intentionally scheduled to coincide with the announcement, as Twitter was deemed to be a decent forum to answer customer queries. So the intentions were pure, it was just a horrendous misjudgement of how people would react.
The Guggenheim Museum in New York hosts regular Q&As with its curators to allow art enthusiasts the chance to find out more about its special exhibitions.
The format isn’t always the same as the traditional real-time free-for-all, as the questions are sometimes submitted ahead of time via Facebook, Twitter and email.
Questions are then tweeted by either the Guggenheim or another interviewer, then a different feed will post all of the responses. It means that the Q&A is far more civilised and as the questions are curated ahead of time the answers are probably of more value.
The Guggenheim also takes the time to collate all the questions and answers using Storify, so they can still be accessed on its website.
Personally I think this method of hosting a Q&A works really well for a prestigious museum such as the Guggenheim and is one that other organisations should learn from.
In another example of a brand being entirely ignorant of its own public image, JP Morgan put its vice chairman Jimmy Lee up for a Q&A earlier this month.
After the hashtag #AskJPM was pelted with abuse prior to the Q&A going live, JP Morgan came to its senses and cancelled the event.
Just goes to show that Twitter Q&As aren’t for everyone, particularly not money-grabbing bankers...
Tomorrow's Q&A is cancelled. Bad Idea. Back to the drawing board.— J.P. Morgan (@jpmorgan) November 14, 2013
Bank of England
But the JP Morgan example doesn’t mean that all financial companies should be scared off.
The Bank of England hosted a very successful Q&A in October that revealed some interesting information about the country’s fiscal policy.
It was a good way of making the institution appear more accessible and less stuffy.
British foreign secretary
It’s fair to say that the British Conservative Party divides public opinion, so it was a potential risk exposing foreign secretary William Hague to the Twitterati.
However the Q&A was set up as an opportunity for Hague to answer questions on the ongoing crisis in Syria, which isn’t a great forum in which to be found trolling.
According to the foreign office’s own website, Hague received more than 50 questions on Syria including the humanitarian situation, diplomacy with Russia and China, justice and accountability in Syria, support to the opposition, next steps for the Annan plan, and rights for Syria's communities.
He responded to 24 of them within the allotted hour, including questions from the members of the public, Amnesty International and the Kurdish Federation in the UK. Syrian rights groups also participated and helped promote the Q&A.
Hague’s Q&A is a good example of how controversial figures can still host a successful Twitter Q&A if it is carefully planned around a serious and important topic.