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British Gas' Twitter #FAIL
By: Jennifer Graber
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Scheduling a Twitter Q&A session to interact with your customers is a great marketing strategy. Networking on a digital platform places you on the same level as consumers by empowering them to be part of crucial discourse. However, avoid holding that session on the same day that your company director makes a major announcement — an announcement that negatively impacts your customers’ finances. Apparently, British Gas did not get that memo.
British Gas announced on October 17 that it was imposing a 9.2% rate hike on literally millions of its customers. October 17 also happened to be the same day that the utilities company planned to hold a Q&A session on its Twitter account. Well, let’s just say that did not go as planned and British Gas faced a huge backlash from its customers over the social media site.
Twitter users took the opportunity during the Q&A session to post grievances and sarcastic comments about British Gas’ rate hike. Many felt as if the move was poorly timed with the impending arrival of winter and colder weather. Others were simply mad. Comments about the rate hike poked fun at British Gas and its directors — asking if they warmed their houses by burning excess consumer profit. Further digital digs included asking the company why it could not “convert the misery it produces into renewable energy.” The Q&A session generated thousands of Tweets in a short couple of hours — sometimes reaching almost 200 Tweets per minute. However well-intentioned British Gas’ move may have been, this can definitely be classified as a Twitter fail.
Timing in this instance was, without a doubt, off. That is not to say that there should never be a forum for consumers to air complaints. It should just be executed with slightly more control. So, one certainly has to wonder if there was no communication across departments. Did the social media team know about the rate hike announcement? Did the director know about this particular digital strategy? At a glance there seemed to be no sense of an integrated message or plan of attack. This is a good example of the importance of utilizing integrated marketing communications. All departments, across the board, should be, at the very least, aware of what is going on in other departments. Lack of awareness can lead to a crisis and decreased preparedness. You can never be 100% prepared for anything but it's best to be as well-equipped as possible.
If nothing else, British Gas will learn the crucial importance of communication and careful planning. The company should check its list and check it twice.

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About the Author
Jennifer Graber is a Business Development Manager and marketing enthusiast. Her specific interests include branding, consumer behavior, development, integrated marketing communications, and new & social media.
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