US Insights

#AskJameis and 5 tips for a winning Q&A


SVP, Head of Digital Analytics & Advertising

Social 08.26.2014 / 09:30

Twitter wall

The list of Twitter Q&As gone bad grows by the day

In mid-August, Florida State University's Athletics Department hosted a Twitter Q&A with Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston using the hashtag #AskJameis.

"#Noles Fans:" the tweet read. "Do you have a question for our starting QB Jameis Winston? Tweet us using #AskJameis."

As you can surmise by the title of this article, it did not exactly go according to plan. While there were a few genuine questions, the vast majority of the responses mocked Winston's recent off-field legal troubles.

Although FSU's sports information director Elliott Finebloom told ESPN that he knew "there was going to be some negativity going into it," I cannot imagine they expected this level of blowback - and they were certainly not prepared to handle what came their way. Furthermore, judging by the fact that they haven't posted a recap or answers to any questions, I think they are trying to move past the event. It begs the question: How did they fail to see this coming?

The list of Twitter Q&As gone badly grows by the day. Just look at #AskJPM and #AskCommish. Some activist groups have even used the shortcomings of the concept to inflict reputational damage to a brand (See Greenpeace's recent #AskChevron campaign).

Given the public nature of these failures, many brands may write off Twitter Q&As as a poor forum to solicit questions online. But that's the wrong approach. Brands and individuals need to engage with the public and their biggest supporters. Answering questions online can be an invaluable mechanism to demonstrate authenticity and show the inner workings of an organization. Brands just need to be strategic about how they do it.

Here's how you successfully ask questions online:

  1. Focus on a specific theme  - The open book approach is admirable, but soliciting questions without any parameters is asking for trouble. Suggest a specific topic on which you will be answering questions to drive the conversation into an area that you're more comfortable discussing.
  2. Moderate the questions publicly available -  Although Twitter is a democratizing force for communication, it can also be the Wild West when it comes to controlling the conversation. Have people submit questions by email or via an online form to limit which questions appear publicly. If users know that their submissions will not appear automatically, they will be less likely to submit a snarky question.
  3. Allow the community to select the questions - Reddit AMAs have been successful for this exact reason. Although any user can submit a question, the ones that receive the most upvotes are the ones likely to be answered. Simply put, the good intentions of the broader community keeps trolls from overtaking the conversation. As a result, we've seen somewhat controversial figures such as President Obama be successful with Reddit AMAs. On Twitter, this can involve encouraging fans to RT or favorite the questions they want answered. If you provide users tools to pick the questions that get responses, they will vote for genuine questions.
  4. Be willing to participate  - The one thing uniting all of the worst Q&As is that the organizations freeze up and go quiet as soon as negative responses appear. If you are going to answers questions online, you have to be ready to answer the good and bad. Identify the negative questions that people might ask you and plan out responses to them. You might not need them, but at least this way you are prepared if the conversation goes awry.
  5. Be yourself  - Q&As provide a great opportunity to show fans and supporters an authentic side of your brand. While you should stick to your talking points, you don't have to respond with stiff, rigid answers. Embrace the style and voice of your brand. Your supporters will appreciate your open approach and reward you with trust and affection.

Source: Hill+Knowlton Strategies

Editor's Notes

This article originally appeared on the Hill+Knowlton Strategies website on August 24, 2014.

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