Tomorrow at 1pm ET $JPM Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee takes over @JPMorgan to answer your questions for 1 hour. Tweet your Q early using #AskJPM — J.P. Morgan (@jpmorgan) November 13, 2013

Translation: An invitation to snark. Last week, we highlighted the importance of responsive customer service on Twitter. The fact is that customers understand just how powerful a communication tool Twitter is, and no one is more aware of that fact today than JPMorgan.

The banking giant planned a live #AskJPM Twitter chat with vice chairman Jimmy Lee, aimed at students and others interested in finding out what it’s like to be a senior executive with a major bank. Instead, it turned into a crisis management disaster that FastCompany coined as a “Snarkpocalypse.”

Why Doesn’t Twitter like JPMorgan?

The Twitter chat plans followed notable fines and settlements againts the bank over actions that negatively impacted consumers and investors. Just in the past five months, JPMorgan has made headlines for questionable business practices that have left many with bad mortgages, poor investments, and unfairly higher prices for commodities. In July, JPMorgan Ventures Energy was fined $410 million on charges that it manipulated electricity prices in California and the Midwest. In August, JPMorgan was accused of price-fixing in the aluminum market. In September, JPMorgan was fined $920 million for the “London Whale” trading loss that allowed a group to traders to reach $6 billion in losses. The fine was followed by a $13 billion settlement deal for bad loans made during the mortgage crisis.

#AskJPM Invites a Snarkpocalypse on Twitter

Investors and consumer who have lost money or even homes to the bank haven’t forgotten. And they made their disdain for JPMorgan quite clear, barraging the #AskJPM hashtag with thousands of hateful, snarky tweets in a Twitter storm that lasted several hours. Zingers from the chat gone awry include:

Can I have my house back? #AskJPM — Adam Coleman (@AdamColeman4) November 13, 2013

How much blood do your executives consume on a monthly basis? #AskJPM — phreak corps (@freakcorps) November 14, 2013

#AskJPM Is it true that, while you don’t always spit on poor people, when you do, you have perfect aim?

— Charlotte (@LoftusCharlotte) November 13, 2013

Quick! You’re in a room with no key, a chair, two paper clips, and a lightbulb. How do you defraud investors? | #AskJPM @jpmorgan #Anonymous

— V (@TheAnon0ne) November 14, 2013

What’s your favorite type of whale? #AskJPM — Matt O’Brien (@ObsoleteDogma) November 13, 2013

After several hours and thousands of tweets that included anything but economics students interested in career advice, JPMorgan waved the white flag and cancelled their executive Q&A.

Tomorrow’s Q&A is cancelled. Bad Idea. Back to the drawing board. — J.P. Morgan (@jpmorgan) November 14, 2013

But of course, the Twitter snark didn’t stop once JPMorgan cried uncle:

Whenever I feel like a failure about an idea I came up with, I’ll remember the #askjpm hashtag and feel better about myself.

— Jherane (@Jherane_) November 14, 2013

Are you too big to #twitterfail? #AskJPM #askingforafriend @FT

— Adam Coleman (@AdamColeman4) November 14, 2013

What Went Wrong with #AskJPM

JPMorgan’s #AskJPM was clearly a public relations failure on a massive scale. The bank, which has been criticized as eager to step on investors, poor customers, and anyone else they can defraud, paid for their poor reputation with a shower of snark on a very public forum.

Asking the public for feedback only works if you actually want to hear that feedback. And in JPMorgan’s case, the truth may just be too tough to handle. Though connecting directly with consumers is a good idea, doing so publicly in a forum that allows literally anyone to share uncensored thoughts is a really, really bad idea for a huge bank that is perceived by many to be, at least in part, responsible for the economic meltdown.

What We Can Learn from #AskJPM

Fortunately, not every organization is hated as much as JPMorgan. But the Twitter debacle does highlight an important consideration for brands on Twitter: your reputation matters. More than you may realize. Maintain a poor reputation, and people who have a bone to pick with you will take opportunities to air their grievances if you give them a chance. And it may be very painful. Says Boston University marketing professor Susan Fournier:

“… if the brand is a target of derision, if there are websites devoted to sharing tales of your social ills, if you are on the list of least trusted companies, if your sport is to engage in questionable or unethical behavior, stay away from the fire.”

That’s not to say that only brands with a squeaky clean reputation, 100% customer service satisfaction, and thousands of customer evangelists belong on social media. But if you know you have thousands, possibly millions of unhappy customers, it’s far better to address their complaints privately than to invite their opinions while the world is watching.