Does your startup have a social media bible? If not, this might convince you to get one

A social media team member at British Gas has gained unwanted attention overnight after an awkward tweet that mentioned the one year anniversary of the death of David Bowie.

An employee known as Paul signed on for his shift answering customer queries about gas services on Tuesday, but before he let punters know about the service’s opening hours, he took a second to reminisce about the departed British icon.

“Morning all. A year today we lost a pop icon David Bowie, time flys [sic] don’t [sic] it?” he tweeted.

“We’re here till 10pm if you need anything. Thanks, Paul.”

Morning all. A year today we lost a pop icon David Bowie, time flys don’t it? We’re here till 10pm if you need anything. Thanks, Paul #RipDB

— British Gas Help (@BritishGasHelp) January 10, 2017

Customers immediately expressed confusion at the tweet, with some replying directly to it saying they just wanted to know how to change gas meters.

Others were less than impressed by the reference to the star’s death in a customer service tweet, with several asking Paul to correct his grammar and stop being insensitive.

@BritishGasHelp A really brazen attempt to hijack a Hashtag that has nothing to do with your business. Paul – you should be ashamed

— GrumpyMcGrumpface (@grumpyoldchris) January 10, 2017

@BritishGasHelp how easy it is to change from meters?

— Katie Weston (@klouweston) January 10, 2017

@BritishGasHelp Bad taste, bad grammar and bad spelling. Very unprofessional from @BritishGas

— michelle Benato (@michellebenato) January 10, 2017

Over the following hours a cast of staff members from the gas company jumped in to defend Paul, highlighting that he didn’t intend to be insensitive and simply wanted to pay tribute “to a master songwriter”.

“Paul is a good guy and meant no harm,” said customer service representative Georgie.

Hey, David Bowie meant so much to me. I didn’t mean to offend anyone & I only wanted to pay tribute to a master songwriter & true icon ^Paul

— British Gas Help (@BritishGasHelp) January 10, 2017

However, with the British media picking up on the Twitter faux pas, these staff members have been telling customers it’s turned into a busy 12 hours for the gas company’s communications team.

Paul signed off his shift this morning in what appeared to be high spirits, complete with an Anchorman meme, as customers started to find amusement in how the team dealt with the fallout.

@BritishGasHelp night Paul xoxoxo

— Brojan Reid (@hulkbrogan) January 10, 2017

“All the best, Paul mate,” one Twitter user said.

Keep a social media bible

It’s not unusual for businesses to be caught out by inappropriate social media moves at this time of year, says social media expert Catriona Pollard.

But the key is to keep sensitive topics and customer care separate, she says.

“The issue is what people will read into that is that the brand is taking advantage of something negative that happened to somebody else,” she says.

“While you can talk about popular culture and things that people are interested in, you have to understand the context of it. A death a year ago does not relate to customer service.”

However, Pollard believes it’s an organisation’s responsibility to help protect their staff members by making crystal clear guidelines for social media content, especially if many people operate one account.

“You need a really, really, really robust social media bible,” she says.

“One of the things in there would be don’t mix flippant commentary with customer service or something that is a positive brand outline. It’s really critical – it’s a no brainer really.”

This article was originally published on SmartCompany.

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