Social media is not the answer to all communication dilemmas


What could possibly go wrong?

Basketball star LeBron James takes questions all the time on Twitter and people don’t always like him. Just ask Ohio. And actors like Gary Sinise answer Twitter questions live and there’s not a problem there either. Who can forget the Oreo tweet read around the world when the lights went out during Super Bowl XLVII? People in PR and marketing circles still talk about how genius it was.

JPMorgan Chase learned a valuable lesson this week when it reached out on Twitter and solicited for questions to pose to an executive – using the hashtag #AskJPM.  The company said, “We’ll host our 1st live Q&A on leadership & career advice w/a leading $JPM exec on 11/14. Use #AskJPM to submit a Q.”

The response turned out to be anything but favorable for the company – a company facing investigations and a negative public image. People took to Twitter to share their displeasure with the company with such questions as:

“When you locked people out of their homes & ruined their lives, did you still send them credit card invitations just to rub it in?”

“Any plans to return illegally foreclosed homes to their rightful owners? If not, how do you justify your continued existence?”

This overly negative response forced JPMorgan to cancel the Twitter forum Wednesday night. The New York Times’ DealBook reported that: “The original idea — which had been kicked around the firm over the last few weeks, according to a person briefed on the matter — was to come up with an out-of-the-box way to use social media. The target audience was students, with Mr. James B. Lee Jr., vice chairman and top deal maker, expected to focus on career advice.”

Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and all other forms of social media are great tools. The hope is that this situation will not scare companies away from using social media to build their brand and share their message. Companies should not ignore social media. But remember that it is a tool.

Social media is not to be used in every situation. It is not the answer to a problem when you can’t come with anything else creative to do. Just like you would not put your vice chairman on a talk show and open up the floor to questions from the general public on anything or everything, you shouldn’t do the same thing in the social media world – particularly when your reputation is not in a positive place.

Secondly, it is naïve to think that you’ll only reach one type of audience on social media when the tools get used by all generations today. If companies want to use social media then they need to understand how the tools get used and work with professionals with experience in using them. They must also understand what the public perception is of them before they open themselves up in this format.

If they wanted to solicit questions on career advice from young people, they could have found a business class and asked for career-specific questions and then answered those career questions on Twitter. That way the questions could be screened and the information could still be out there. Do not assume people will be nice to you just because you were “cool” enough to break down the wall between the public. Break down that wall only if you know you’re going to like or be able to handle what is on the other side.

In one last attempt of levity, The New York Times reported that JPMorgan’s spokesman responded in an email about the Q&A forum: “#Badidea! Back to the drawing board!”

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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