Like McDonald's Before It, JPMorgan Suffers a Hashtag Hijacking on Twitter

Amid bad press and federal scrutiny, the nation's largest bank needed a publicity win. But it got just the opposite.

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By Brian Patrick Eha

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Twitter Q&As, usually organized around hashtags, can be a great way to generate some goodwill and free publicity around your brand. But companies with vocal critics risk having their hashtags hijacked by snark.

That's what happened to JPMorgan Chase on Wednesday when it asked Twitter users to pose questions using #AskJPM for a live chat set to take place today. The hashtag quickly became trending on the social network, but it was so overwhelmed by harsh criticism and outright nastiness -- like accusing JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon of eating babies -- that the bank decided to cancel today's live chat with Jimmy Lee, one of its top investment bankers.

"#Bad idea! Back to the drawing board," a JPMorgan spokesman told the Los Angeles Times.

The bad publicity couldn't have come at a worse time for JPMorgan. The bank has been in the news recently for the $13 billion settlement it is being forced to pay the U.S. government to end probes into its sale of mortgage-backed securities. The settlement will be the largest of its kind, but even so U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said he won't absolve the bank of possible criminal liability.

Related: Why Going Big on Social Media Can Backfire

The nation's largest bank is also under investigation in the U.S. for allegedly hiring members of prominent Chinese families to advance its business interests in Asia. And the SEC and the U.S. Justice Department recently widened that investigation to include the bank's activities in South Korea, Singapore and India as well.

Since misery loves company, here are two more Twitter chat disasters (and one close call) from recent history:

  • In early 2012, McDonald's tried to promote itself with the hashtag #McDStories, aiming for heartwarming tales of happy customers and suppliers. But Twitter users had other ideas, sharing stories of projectile vomiting, food poisoning and worse -- all blamed on the popular fast-food franchise.
  • This fall, British Gas announced that it would be increasing prices and would hold a live Twitter chat with its customer service director to address customer concerns. It got ugly in short order, with one person asking, "What is the best temperature to thaw an elderly relative at and what seasoning would you use with one?"
  • When Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary held a one-hour live chat with the hashtag #GrillMOL in October, he must have known he would be fielding some tough questions. Despite criticism, O'Leary hung in there, gamely answering even some of his snarkiest critics. He even broke some news, like the fact that the air carrier is planning to introduce mobile boarding passes.

Related: 7 Ways to Stop Wasting Everyone's Time and Get the Press Coverage You Want

Brian Patrick Eha

Brian Patrick Eha is a freelance journalist and former assistant editor at Entrepreneur.com. He is writing a book about the global phenomenon of Bitcoin for Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It will be published in 2015.

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