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Published February 5th 2014

Before you start an #Ask campaign ask yourself these 6 questions

Social media, and Twitter in particular, has brought celebrities, governments and brands closer to the public. The #Ask hashtag has become a popular and often effective way to engage with fans, civilians and customers. But the openness of these public conversations means they don’t always go according to plan. So before you invite the general public to #Ask you anything – ask yourself these six questions.

1. Is this the right time?

You want to schedule your Q&A for a time when you will have something to talk about. This could be:

  • A product or content launch – build excitement around something new you’re releasing before it comes out. Forbes did this when they published their ’30 under 30′.
  • A big event – offer your expertise on something people are already talking about. For example, the #AskTeamGB hashtag that was started in the build up to the Olympic Games in London.
  • When you can solve a problem – if you’re in a position to help people during a crisis, be a hero! Eurocontrol increased their following by nearly 2400% in a week by answering flyers’ questions during the Ash Cloud with the wonderfully named #AshTag.

 


 

Too often, brands are setting up an #Ask hashtag because they’ve seen it done effectively before. But simply doing it in the hope of a bit of publicity will seem cynical and that’s when the crowd can turn on you. Pick a time which makes sense and gives a focus to the conversation.

And whatever you do, don’t pick a time when people are already angry with you or when you are experiencing a lot of negative press coverage. This might seem obvious but British Gas somehow managed to let their #AskBG hashtag coincide with price hikes. What followed was surely inevitable…

2. Have we made any enemies?

No-one is completely safe in a Twitter Q&A. But some people really should know better than to stick their head over the parapet.

You have to feel sorry for the Michael Carricks of this world when their chats descend into abuse. But how much sympathy can there be for a team like QPR? Their manager Harry Redknapp certainly didn’t deserve the nasty comments about his appearance. But his dodgy accounting was sure to be a source of ridicule during the #AskHarry session.

 


 

#AskJPM had to be cancelled before it even began. JP Morgan had good intentions, they planned to talk about leadership and career advice. But the public were more interested in the criminal investigations surrounding them.

 


 

3. Is this the right strategy for us?

Brands generally are generally self-aware when it comes to ads. Building visually stunning content around extreme sports makes sense if you’re an energy drink like Red Bull. But would it work for a financial publication? Probably not. But more often than not, when a brand’s hashtag gets hijacked, it’s because they misjudged their own suitability for such a campaign.

The awful #AskBG episode was poorly timed. But could it have worked even before they announced price hikes? What questions could people have possibly had for an energy company like them?

Think about what your brand could have to offer in a Q&A before you launch yourself into a Twitter disaster. For some it makes more sense than others:

  • Tech Companies/Car Makers/Engineers – Talk about how your products work. How you researched them. What developments you have planned for the future.
  • Movie Studios/Art Galleries/Festivals – Get your creative talent to discuss their processes and inspirations. Discuss the issues that a project or show raises.
  • Brands with a quirky or fun public image – Embrace the silliness and perfect your banter!

4. Who’s going to answer questions?

The most effective #Ask events work because there is a person behind them that people are excited to interrogate. Give your campaign some weight by getting your CEO or someone else people recognise to man the keyboard. And share some photos to make it seem like the real deal.

NASA did this fantastically by inviting fans to pose questions to astronauts Mike Hopkins and Rick Mastracchio. They answered questions on fitness regimes with the hashtag #AskNASA… from space!

5. Do we need to do more than one?

Part of the reason #Ask hashtags get hijacked is because they’re a novelty. People don’t generally spend all day trolling a brand but they can often see #AskUsAnything as an invitation. This novelty generally wears off if the hashtag is a regular feature.

Look at Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. His #AskBoris Q&A received hundreds of tongue-in-cheek questions when it first started. But since then it has become a regular event and is generating some productive discourse between the Mayor and the citizens of London.

 


 

Some brands have gone even further. Seeing the need to regularly answer customers’ questions they have set up a whole account just for the purpose of answering them. @AskAirAsia answers flyers queries 24/7. The account has tweeted over 75 thousand times and has nearly that many followers. KLM went a step further and display the average waiting times for getting back to customers on their Twitter photo.

6. Do we need to do our own at all?

Arguably, the best publicity any brand has got from a Twitter Q&A was not by answering questions but by asking them. Brands like Coral are able to delight us because they know what’s happening when it’s happening. And they’re always ready with a clever contribution.

 


 

This sort of thing is effective because it is truly social. It’s done by people who understand how Twitter works and enjoy using it. This is the real key to running a successful #Ask hashtag at the end of the day. Naively or cynically trying one out because it seems to be working for others just won’t convince a discerning Twitter public.


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