Dorothy Crenshaw November 18, 2013 | 10:59:28

How to Prevent A Social PR Backlash: Lessons From JP Morgan

Poor JP Morgan. Its foray into social media – in the form of a planned Twitter chat with a senior bank executive, is a perfect PR case history in what not to do. It obviously seemed like a good idea to someone, but instead of softballs about what Jack Dorsey’s really like, or what bankers eat for breakfast before an IPO, the chat suffered a premature death by snark. Just a few hours and thousands of nasty tweets after #AskJPM was announced (for the following day), it was scrapped. We brand-watchers never even had the chance to see how it would have handled questions.

Here’s my take on what went wrong, and what brands and businesses should bear in mind before considering a live social media marketing event.

Listen. PR pundits have slammed JP Morgan’s timing, and it did turn out to be bad. But in one way, the timing made sense. The bank had participated in the hugely hyped Twitter IPO, so it’s easy to see why it moved to capitalize on its involvement. The real sin was being tone-deaf to public sentiment after its $13 billion mortgage fraud settlement. If it had its ear to the (social) ground, it might have realized the depth of disgust with bankers seeming to buy their way out of trouble and the continued Wall St./Main St. divide.

Prepare for the unexpected. Social media is by definition a two-way channel. Any business that opens itself to a social mob, even a friendly one, needs to understand this fundamental fact. If you’re not prepared to deal with questions you don’t like, you shouldn’t go social. A company in JPM’s category, let alone its shoes, should have anticipated at least a few nasty tweets. Of course, it probably didn’t expect the mere announcement of the chat to cause a backlash, but see above.

Know your audience. IPO or not, a platform like Twitter isn’t the best for a Q&A at a sensitive time or in an unpopular category. On Twitter, anyone can hijack a hashtag or a trending topic. The stream moves at lightning speed due to the 140-character tweet limit, and Twitter is home to a wildly diverse universe of users. It’s also no stranger to snark. JPM might have done better to look at a more business-oriented or curated community like LinkedIn, or to stick with Twitter but limit its content to a live-tweeting on the first day of trading.

Leverage your allies. JPM never had the chance to marshall friends or allies, but it’s helpful to do so. As a veteran of many Twitter chats (though none as exciting as #AskJPM almost was), I’ve found it useful to tap followers and others who are knowledgeable about the topic (and there should be a topic), predisposed to ask smart questions, and, well, friendly, or at least civil. It pays to have socially savvy community members at the ready, whether to kick things off, jump in when things slow down, or join in a tricky moment.

Set limits. In fairness, the tone of the tweets became very harsh very quickly, and problems were likely unavoidable. But a more thoughtful announcement, including a description of prearranged topics, and more color about the executive, or in this case, a different and truly relevant executive, might have drawn a more respectful response. And if the chat had taken place, it should have involved a strong moderator and a set of prepared answers to likely questions, including rude ones.

Admit mistakes. Here’s where JP Morgan did the right thing. On its Twitter feed, the bank announced it was bumping the chat before it even started. “Tomorrow’s Q&A is cancelled. Bad Idea. Back to the drawing board,” was the smartest tweet of the day.

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