This past week we witnessed two failed #Ask hashtag campaigns: #AskBobby and #AskELJames. For those unfamiliar with these campaigns, #AskBobby was for newly announced GOP presidential candidate Governor Bobby Jindal (LA) and #AskELJames was for the author of Fifty Shades of Grey. If you think for a minute or two, you should be able to see quite vividly in your mind's eye what went wrong and, hopefully, what needed to be done to make them successes.
For E.L. James, author of the popular book made into blockbuster movie about an edgy BDSM affair, the questions submitted via the #AskELJames hashtag were entirely predictable. Questions ranging from lewd propositions to asking her why she is glorifying domestic abuse exploded across Twitter in the lead up to her June 29 chat.
#AskELJames Do all these negative tweets sent to you seem abusive to you? I think it's romantic enough to be turned into a novel!- Stephan Krosecz (@Krosecz) June 29, 2015
For Bobby Jindal, his #AskBobby campaign came upon the heels of a ridiculed announcement that he was running and comments he made regarding getting rid of the Supreme Court. As a result, Jindal solicited questions via Twitter at a time when he was being lampooned on the late night talk shows. The results were also predictable, as Jindal drew questions about his Americanized name, whether his call to eliminate the Supreme Court was part of his plan to cut the budget and how his refusal to take a position on climate change, since he is not a scientist, reconciles with his willingness to take a position on reproductive right, given that he is not a doctor.
The bottom line is that if you decide to hold an #AskMe chat on Twitter, you have to be prepared for the worst.
There are many tip articles out there offering advice for those who feel compelled to hold an #AskMe session. PeerIndex offers six questions to ask before starting an #AskMe campaign, including "Is this the right time?" For Jindal, clearly the answer was "No." - it's never a good time for a politician to host an #AskMe campaign when he/she is rolling off of a terrible campaign launch. He would've been better to wait until after the ridicule died down and he'd had a chance to put out some compelling policy of substance that would drive the questioning. For E.L. James, alas, her backlash was not time sensitive at all.
Social Media Examiner suggests among its six tips that you find out what your audience is already talking about. Again, Jindal should have been watching The Daily Show and reaction to its coverage of his launch. If his team was paying attention, it would have seen the lampooning his announcement video received and known that this was a bad time. For James, she would have seen whole Twitter accounts dedicated to the link between her book and domestic abuse (@50shadesisabuse).
We've seen this story before and it's surprising that it keeps happening again and again. A few years ago, Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan abandoned his #AskJPM chat before it even started based on the questions he was getting. He should have anticipated a lot of angry people sending questions his way about JPM's role in the financial collapse.
The bottom line it that #AskMe campaigns are not for the faint of heart. If you or your organization is in any way controversial, questions about that controversy will be asked. If you're a political candidate, you WILL be trolled. If people can turn you, your topic or your product into a joke, they will do so. This should be expected.
If you're going to host an #AskMe chat, you have to go into it with eyes wide open, not shut. As those who have ventured into reddit for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session know, you must be prepared for abuse and snark, as well as for substantive questions. Creating a list of expected questions, especially the tough and snarky questions, and your answers to them is essential. Jindal should have been prepared to invite questioners over for a picnic, or perhaps been ready to ask for tips on how to get his kids to be more engaged at family outings. And, of course, E.L. James should have been prepared with provocative retorts about affairs, as well as definitive statements condemning domestic abuse, to use as the context dictated.
Also, make sure you have coordinated with several supporters to ensure that among the distracting questions are plenty of substantive, on-message questions. The more of these questions you can get into the queue, the better your chat will be. Focus on answering these questions during the chat and you will be able to drive the conversation in the direction you need.
When the event is all over, use a tool like Storify.com to turn the best tweets from the conversation into a reusable package of content. Weave links to campaign videos, key news articles and content from your own website into the story to turn the event into an enduring asset for your political (or marketing) campaign. Make sure you highlight the conversation you wanted to have, not the one that people tried to foist upon you.
Twitter is a wild frontier when it comes to what people may tweet at you. But think of your Twitter account as a safari vehicle - if you stay in the car, the lions can't eat you (James Patterson's "The Zoo" notwithstanding). You choose who to interact with on Twitter, so use that to your advantage as much as you can. But if you can't handle "the truth" that gets tweeted at you (and the lies, as well), then stay clear of an #AskMe chat.