Can you say #awkward?! On Monday, author E.L. James hosted a Q&A on the social media channel Twitter as a way to engage diehard followers of the widely popular Fifty Shades of Grey story and pique their interest in the most recent book to be published in the series, Grey.

Yikes! Where It All Went Kaput

Sounds tame enough, right? Wrong! During the Twitter chat, James and her team assumed that fans would ask the famed author questions about the intricacies of her writing and what inspires her stories, among other topics. But these “other topics” took on a whole new meaning. Instead of asking the author light-hearted questions like who her favorite character is, people dove much deeper—pushing the envelope in calling her stories out for misogynistic themes, and sticking it where it hurts in insulting her writing abilities:




Obviously, this publicity stunt did not go well for the author or the brand. While your company’s Twitter chats will (hopefully) not go this poorly, it doesn’t hurt to be armed with some solid tips on how to prepare for and handle a similar situation:

1. Create Your Own Questions

Prior to the Twitter chat, compose a handful of appropriate questions that are pertinent to the discussion and which you believe would interest your audience. As a marketer, you know your audience well, so this step should be as easy as pie. Throw in some fun, borderline edgy questions into the mix so that you’re showing that you’re an open book. Then, recruit colleagues and industry influencers to tweet these questions out (and include the designated chat hashtag, of course) throughout the chat. That way, appropriate questions will be injected into the hashtag’s feed, thus influencing other chat attendees and swaying the conversation in the direction you want it to go.

2. Recruit a PR Wingman

It’s a good idea to have a PR-minded professional or two sitting next to you during the chat. That way, if sour questions start flying your way, you’ll be equipped with the right message to send back. PR people are masters of messaging and branding and will provide you with responses that not only help to protect your image and the integrity of your brand, but also help to steer the conversation in the direction you originally intended. Without having this support around you to field the ugly inquiries, you may get flustered or angered and tweet something back that you would later regret. PR people, on the other hand, are able to keep their cool and focus on the task at hand: getting the situation under control.

3. Learn to Laugh at Yourself

In addition to a PR person, you should also consider having a comedian by your side (or, a witty, quick-thinking co-worker will do!) If the Twitter chat starts going awry, this person can come up with funny—but still appropriate—replies to offensive questions, thus injecting an element of humor into the conversation. Tweeting out such replies will not only show your audience that you can laugh at yourself, but that you also can beat them at their own game. In doing so, your punchy response tweet will also overshadow the ugly question and minimize its 15 minutes of fame. At the end of the day, you’ll come out on top and impress your audience with your quick-wittedness and composure.

All-in-all, using Twitter chats to communicate with your audience is a great way to extend your brand’s reach and accumulate more followers, which can definitely translate into more customers (can you say “cha-ching”?!) So, don’t be afraid to explore the use of Twitter chats as a part of your marketing strategy. When executed well, Twitter chats can generate lots of positive buzz and interest in your brand.

Now it’s your turn! What are your tips for taking control of a Twitter chat when the audience starts to turn on you? Let us know in the comments below!