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
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
Here's how you successfully ask questions online:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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