Written by Jonathan Scott on October 18, 2013.
Yesterday, British Gas attempted to... actually, I'm not really sure what they were trying to do here. They started a Q&A session on Twitter using the hashtag #AskBG on the day they raised prices by 9%.
We're here with Customer Services Director, Bert Pijls, who will be answering your questions until 2pm. Tweet your questions using #AskBG— British Gas (@BritishGas) October 17, 2013
To look at British Gas's Twitter profile, it looks like a pretty typical PR exercise, chosing the questions they can answer easily and attempting to make themselves look like they're bravely trying to keep prices down but unable to.
Because of how Twitter works, many users were watching the #AskBG stream rather than the British Gas profile. This meant that British Gas had created a highly visible platform for people to express their anger and had no way of controlling it. In a more typical Q&A setting these questions would never have been published but on social media there's little British Gas can do.
Hi Bert, which items of furniture do you, in your humble opinion, think people should burn first this winter? #AskBG— Lee Vincent (@LeeJamesVincent) October 17, 2013
#AskBG Are you hoping the freezing pensioners will be saved by global warming?— Paul Bernal (@PaulbernalUK) October 17, 2013
#AskBG My bedroom has a window where the sun comes in and makes the side of my body really hot. How much do I owe you?— StuartAnthonyBradley (@TheyCallMeFaKey) October 17, 2013
And there are many, many more. I had to cut some from this post because there are far too many to show.
The backlash then hit the blogs and news sites, including The Daily Mirror, The Guardian (twice), The Independent, The BBC, The Telegraph, etc. etc. The Q&A gained a lot of publicity for British Gas but not the kind they expected when they devised this social media experiment.
Despite the Q&A session ending yesterday at 2PM. The questions haven't stopped coming.
#askbg Looking after our world or your profits?— James Cleeve (@jamescleeve) October 18, 2013
This situation is a bit unfair really, because there's nothing the British Gas social media team could have done in this situation to placate those complaining. In a more typical Q&A (such as those on /r/AskReddit) the open format really highlights questions which the interviewee doesn't want answered and stops them avoiding them. When the interviewee is on the defensive from the beginning, there's only really going to be one outcome and again I have no idea what the British Gas social media team was thinking when they decided to do this.