#AskJPM Chronicle of A Social Media Disaster

It started on November 7, 2013 with a harmless tweet from @jpmorgan proudly announcing a #TwitterTakeover, i.e. a live Q&A session on Twitter. Jimmy Lee, a senior vice-chairman of the bank was scheduled to answer questions about life & careers in banking. Date and time were set to Thursday, November 14, at 1:00 pm. The hashtag was #AskJPM.

#AskJPM Twitter Q&A Invitation

The invitation did not trigger much response. The community manager @jpmorgan kept tweeting it again at regular intervals, using small variations, introducing the speaker, and answering a few questions.

Four days into it, on November 11, however, came a first sign of trouble, albeit a weak one, with a tweet in a joking tone that was immediately followed by an apology:

@jpmorgan Is it true “JPM stands for “Just Pay More”? #AskJPM 😉

@jpmorgan Oh, come on. I was teasing! #AskJPM 🙂

From then on, tweets started taking a definitely more negative turn, with fake, ironical questions and the spreading of critical information on JP Morgan. For example, on that same day :

#AskJPM What is the maximum amount of material wealth that a person can accumulate and still be allowed into Heaven?

Anyone thinking of doing #AskJPM might want to familiarise themselves with Jamie Dimon’s rap sheet: http://www.scribd.com/doc/130290952/Gf-Co-Executive-Summary-JPM-Out-of-Control

At this stage, @jpmorgan did not seem to worry, or at least did not show it publicly. Laura Dimon, one of the daughters of Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan’s CEO, even chimed in with a tweet asking a communication manager (who will remain unnamed. He may have lost his job by now) to confirm the time of the Q&A session.

But on Wednesday, November 13, the day before the scheduled event, around 4:00 pm, the few negative tweets changed into a rapid stream of always more aggressive questions. Worse, tweets started to come from more influent Twitter users: instead of regular users with a few hundred followers, they were now journalists and activists with many thousands followers, like @kevinroose and @alexisgoldstein. Quickly, the various twitter accounts of the Occupy Wall Street movement took over, with  OccupyWallSt (192 000 followers) and @OccupyWallStNYC (158 000 followers), just to name two.

The wrath was fully unleashed. Nothing could stop it. A few examples (and I’m not choosing the most virulent ones) of the tweets :

    At what number of Billions of Dollars in fines will it no longer be profitable to run your criminal enterprise? #askjpm

How many homeless people did you create in ’08? #AskJPM

Hey, @jpmorgan: What’s it like knowing that you’ve escaped punishment for securities fraud again & again? #AskJPM http://other98.com/dont-negotiate

@amy10506: Every time another person loses their home to an illegal foreclosure, does a bell ring? #AskJPM

RT @amy10506: Did you have a specific number of people’s lives you needed to ruin before you considered your model a success? #AskJPM

At this stage, many observers seriously questioned JP Morgan’s social media initiative:

So @jpmorgan really created a hash tag (#AskJPM) where anyone can tweet them ANY question? I’m guessing they’re regretting that about now.

This included @aspignal , a correspondent for The Economist :

How are you planning to spend the savings made from firing your social media team? #askJPM

Many tweets, like this one, were retweeted and favorited many hundreds of times.

Within an hour, all was lost.

Within 2 hours, the press was in on the case. At 6:00 pm The Huffington Post reported on JP Morgan’s social media debacle.  Around 7:00 pm the entire financial community from @ ZeroHedge (176 000 followers) to @AmerBanker was reporting and tweeting about it.

Soon after, during the night, @jpmorgan cancelled the Q&A session :

#AskJPM Twitter Q&A Cancellation

It did not stop the outpouring of anger, criticism, and insults. The day after, on the day originally planned for the TwitterTakeover, every news site, from the Financial Times to Mashable, had a post on JP Morgan’s failed PR stunt.

How to avoid using Twitter to shoot yourself in the foot

There are lessons to be learned from this fiasco.

  • Don’t let interns run your social media strategy. Whoever launched the #AskJPM campaign does not understand social media. Whoever approved it, does not realize how powerful and strategic it is.
  • Don’t live in a bubble. JP Morgan is going through one of the worst phases in its history. Scandals have piled up: accusations of misleading investors on subprimes, trading losses of the London whale, possible corruption of Chinese officials, illegal foreclosures, exchange rate manipulations… JP Morgan has paid $30 billion in damages and penalties since 2009! How could managers ever think they could have a conversation on a public social media like Twitter without these issues being raised?
  • Listen. This was a disaster foretold. Several tweeters saw it coming right away and said so. More generally, if JP Morgan had treated Twitter as channel to understand the public and not as a traditional channel to push their message through, this wouldn’t have happened.

As one tweet puts it :

How detached from reality do you have to be to think that an #AskJPM hashtag is going to elicit anything but anger and mockery?

Now, a few execs at JP Morgan may be less detached from reality. They certainly have learned the hard way how powerful social media can be.

PS. I published a version of this article in French on Culture Banque.

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