twitter pr disastersNo business wants to find themselves in the midst of a PR disaster, but it can happen to the best of us. The main culprit for these mishaps? Social media, of course. It doesn´t take long to whip up a Twitter storm, but the time it takes to repair the damage is enough to scare the pants off anyone.

We can all learn from the experiences of others – even if reading about them sends shivers up your spine.

One company that knows as well as any other about the power of Twitter is British Gas. Last year, when it announced a price hike of nearly 10%, the news was met with a furious backlash from angry customers. Faced with more than 16,000 fiendishly fuming tweeters, British Gas took the sensible step of offering a Q&A session with the company´s customer services director, Bert Pijls.

British Gas stated that they wanted to maintain their commitment “to being open and transparent with our customers at all times.” Sounds like the ideal approach to the situation, doesn´t it? Unfortunately, the results didn´t unfold in an equally perfect manner.

One of the reasons this solution didn´t work was that British Gas were unable to give the depth of information tweeters were asking for. While they were able to highlight that the rise in wholesale prices was having a knock-on effect on their prices, they were unable to expand on this.

Twitter is the perfect platform for companies to interact with customers but British Gas were unwilling (or unable) to answer specific questions, meaning the whole exercise backfired. Without a connected strategy, things can go horribly wrong – and they did.

So what could British Gas have done better? Anticipating the type of questions customers might ask and spending time preparing suitable answers would have been a good starting point. Providing a list of FAQs via landing pages would have been another smart step.

It´s one thing to claim to be transparent, but another thing entirely to give value to customers. Businesses need to listen and have in place the ability to respond efficiently and coherently if they are going to get the best that Twitter has to offer.

British Gas took a tricky situation and made it worse. The result was a spooktacular PR failure. What are the other lessons we can learn from British Gas´ hair-raising experience? And how can we embrace the ´spirit´ of Twitter without it creating too much hubble, bubble toil and trouble?

This is the last in our house of horrors series of marketing mishaps. Usual service will resume next week, sparing you the dubious Halloween puns we´ve grown rather fond of…

Ben Hollom

October 31, 2014