Written by • Published 15th November 2013

It’s every PR’s worst nightmare (or at least in the professional sense). That and being in City Spy for the wrong reasons. JPMorgan Chase this week cancelled a planned question and answer session on Twitter after being faced with a barrage of tweets attacking the bank. Jimmy Lee, a senior banker who worked on Twitter’s IPO, was all set to take over JPMorgan’s Twitter handle with the now infamous hashtag #AskJPM. Ready to engage and make new friends. And then the floodgates opened…


More than 8,000 tweets came swarming in, and it’s fair to say that not all of them were full of praise. “How many puppies have you murdered today?” asked one post. “How many homeless people did you create in ’08?” politely enquired another. And they were two of the milder barbs. It wasn’t long before JPMorgan responded with a tweet to say that the planned Q&A had been cancelled, acknowledging that it had been a ‘bad mistake’.

It’s hard not to feel a bit of sympathy for the social media team behind the event, not least because for us PR people, it’s rarely good to actually be the story itself. And certainly, not one that creates headlines across the world, from the Financial Times to the Wall Street Journal and CNN.

All big businesses and brands now invest heavily in creating positive engagement with their public and building relationships, but sometimes forget that all it takes is one misstep – such as #AskJPM – for it all to go wrong. In the case of JPMorgan, their mistake lies in not properly anticipating the backlash that came their way, and perhaps a naivety in thinking that they could positively direct the conversation. The case of #AskJPM joins the ranks of other social media fails, such as the infamous #McDstories backlash of 2012 (aka #McFail) to be included in every PR’s ‘how not to’ guidebook.

Contrast this to John Lewis this week, who were fleet of foot on Twitter in responding to the American university professor who goes by the same name of @johnlewis. As many of you will have seen, he came to light this week after being mistaken for the retailer by countless customers on Twitter, many of whom were keen to praise him for his amazing, tear-jerking ‘Bear and Hare’ Christmas advert. ‘I am amazing, and not just at Christmas. Though perhaps you were referring to the retail store. @johnlewisretail’ was just one of his many good-hearted messages in reply.


Mr John Lewis, from Blacksburg, Virginia, began making headlines for his courteous and witty messages to each and every enquiry, presenting John Lewis (the retailer!) with the perfect opportunity to get in touch on Twitter and offer their namesake with a present as a thank you.

Cue further brilliant PR for John Lewis (retailer…) in a week in which they have dominated the media – on every platform – with their multi-million pound Christmas weepy (although judging by popular opinion, not quite so weepy as last year’s Snowman). The point is that successful consumer engagement – across all channels – requires being responsive to the discussion, joining the conversation but not dictating and more often than not, showing a sense of humour and awareness.

I’ve never been in City Spy, just for the record. Yet.