jpmorganThe Twitter backlash against JP Morgan’s decision to invite its followers to “#AskJPM” this week illustrates the disconnect between some corporate social media teams and the wider general public. The online marketing event was designed to give the public the chance to interact with James Lee, J P Morgan’s vice chairman, in a Twitter Q & A session.

Out of approximately 80,000 tweets sent using the hashtag #AskJPM, it has been estimated that at least two-thirds were negative with many coming from “abuse” and “professional” trolls as defined here. Such responses precipitated a U-turn by the bank and the event was cancelled early on Thursday morning with the following tweet: Tomorrow’s Q&A is cancelled. Bad Idea. Back to the drawing board”.

Given the recent scandals surrounding J P Morgan, such as the London whale scandal, it is surprising that the bank would even contemplate inviting its followers to raise all kinds of potentially controversial subjects on a public online forum. Perhaps the decision was in response to the Russell Brand/Occupy London political rhetoric – currently in vogue with certain younger sections of the electorate – seeking to hold banks and bankers to account for their alleged wrongdoing.

Whatever its motivation, the bank could not have envisaged such a negative reaction which was astounding given that – at the time of writing – JP Morgan has only 9,604 followers. Indeed, the decision to organise the event was even more puzzling following the response British Gas, a company that has likewise experienced a huge amount of negative publicity in recent times, received from its #AskBG campaign last month.

It is clear that corporate social media teams recognise the marketing value of Twitter and therefore persist in trying to find successful strategies to interact with the public. But how can companies respond on Twitter to trolls who are hell-bent on ruining their image?

Deborah Williamson, an analyst with research firm E-Marketer is right to note that “social media belongs to the people. Consumers have control beyond their wildest expectations.” The only qualification to be made to this assessment is that social media is predominantly the preserve of a young and technologically savvy class: a group that has grown up using the likes of Facebook and Twitter and is now well-versed in how these media operate. This group is also fully accustomed to how these platforms can be used to protest and express dissent and will readily take opportunities to do so.

One interesting approach that certain brands, such as Tesco Mobile, have taken in response to trolls is to engage them in banter. For instance, @JayFeliipe tweeted at @tescomobile“Immediate turn off if a girl’s mobile network is tesco mobile” to which Tesco Mobile witheringly replied Are you really in a position to be turning girls away?” Such humour might not appeal to everyone, but the fact that the account has 44,618 followers – over 30,000 more than JP Morgan – suggests that the brand is more closely in touch with the Twitter demographic. Such a statistic is even more impressive considering that Tesco Mobile has traditionally been regarded as one of the most unfashionable mobile networks.

Certain celebrities have also used similar bantering. James Blunt, for example, who was recently referred to by Radio 1 Chart Show host, Jameela Jamil, as the “most hated man in pop” sought to rebrand himself using humour on Twitter, with considerable success. His Twitter fan base has increased by over 20,000 followers in the past two weeks and now stands at 243,988 (at the time of writing). No doubt a small proportion of these are trolls who will continue to try to pester Blunt. It is difficult to believe, however, that a popstar with almost a quarter of a million Twitter followers warrants the unenviable title Jameela Jamil conferred upon him. He must be tweeting right.

To compare JP Morgan with Tesco Mobile and/or James Blunt is perhaps unfair: the three are entirely different. Indeed, a humorous JP Morgan Twitter campaign might be unwise for many reasons. But the point to be made is that social media teams, particularly those of big corporate entities, need to be more alive to the Twitter demographic when deciding how to promote their company’s image.

A recent study revealed that two thirds of Twitter users are aged 34 or under, with 40% of them below the age of 25. Of these many will follow the likes of Russell Brand (over 7 million followers) and be swayed by the way he openly challenges authority and unscrupulous practices, but not necessarily his ambiguous and unconventional political views.

In view of this demographic and the recent controversy surrounding J P Morgan, what response did the bank seriously expect?

Let us not forget that Twitter is a form of social media and most people use the network for social interaction. There are certainly times when serious debate can take place but engaging in a light-hearted manner with your Twitter followers might sometimes be the best way for corporates and individuals to connect with what can be a difficult audience. Cue J P Morgan Twitter lolz.

Rhory Robertson is a Partner and Tom Double a Trainee Solicitor working in the Collyer Bristow Cyber Investigations Unit.