Is this the weirdest attempt at newsjacking so far this year? British Gas faces backlash over David Bowie tweet

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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.”


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.

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.


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 the how the team dealt with the fallout.


“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.”

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Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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  • James

    I think people on the internet give a few too many sh*ts about things that don’t really matter that much

  • Jan Deane

    This highlights all that is bad about social media – trivia becomes news.

  • Rohan Baker

    Paul should have signed out with the #MAGA

    That would have caused meltdowns on an epic scale.

    2017 is shaping up to be epic. #popcornfutures