British Gas – “Freezing pensioners not prices” – the WPR view


British GasYesterday British Gas held a Twitter Q&A with Customer Service Director Bert Pijls. Carrying out an activity such as this on the day they announced a 9.2% hike in heating prices might be considered by some to be naïve. BG later came out and said that the Twitter Q&A was held because of the price hike, rather than in despite of it. Therefore we’d suggest that rather than just naivety, British Gas showed extraordinary arrogance too.

The Social View – Stephen Graham Account Manager

Almost 11,500 tweets were sent yesterday using the hashtag #askBG, as the Twitterati mob mauled British Gas in 140 character blow after blow.

Perhaps naivety could have been forgiven. We’ve seen many a big brand come a cropper on social media before. However, the belief that a 9.2% hike in energy prices could have been argued out of on Twitter was misguided. When a public backlash is anticipated there needs to be a well-rehearsed PR crisis plan in place, and more often than not it shouldn’t include a Twitter Q&A – certainly not in this instance.

To make matters worse, BG ignored a lot of the tweets. It would always have been impossible to respond to the hoard of messages they received but rabbits and headlights do come to mind. Certainly, if the majority of questions are not answered in a Twitter Q&A, it’s also hard to deem it a success, or useful at all.

Too often big brands will trip up on social media when it comes to a PR crisis but there is more to this story than just mistaken tweets. Whilst I’m not sure that British Gas will be able to fill their social media manager role any time soon, there is a Corporate Communications team at British Gas HQ that need to hold their hands up…

 

The Political View – Tom Leatherbarrow Head of B2B

The most extraordinary thing about yesterday’s social media car crash was not that British Gas took to Twitter to defend themselves, but that the decision seems to have been taken without any regard for the macro-political environment in which BG is now operating.

Like it or not Ed Miliband has put energy prices front and centre in the whole cost of living debate and it isn’t going to go away. Maybe a year or 18 months ago you could have used social media to appear open and engaging but not now.

Yesterday, BG made themselves look foolish, the Prime Minister weak, the Energy Secretary pathetic and Ed Miliband look like the Champion of the People. Not bad for one day’s work.

Sometimes in PR, the best tactic is to say nothing and yesterday was one of those days. I suspect there will be many in BG who are just keeping their heads down today, confident this will all blow over when EDF and EON announce their rises in the next week or so. Well they’d be wrong.

British Gas is still the dominant gas market player and winter is coming on. Every OAP death which has even the whiff of an old person turning down the heat or turning it off is going to be crawled over by the media now.

BG may think it has weathered the storm, but this may only be the beginning.

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