Social media crisis management for retail banksBY JOHNNY MCGINLEY
In February we reported how the Asia Pacific region is set to lead investment in retail banking technology globally. We discussed how this is likely to drive and lead to a deeper penetration and usage of Social Media by retail banks not just in Asia but globally.
Recently an industry analyst mentioned to me that he felt the current operating environment for retail banking made it more difficult than before to drive a deeper penetration and engagement of Social and Digital Media. Specifically, what she was referring to was the occupy movement and the increasing public focus on bonuses in banking as well as so termed “responsible capitalism”. The bonus issue in banking is certainly one that is something of a “hot potato” in parts of Europe at present, particularly London.
The difficulty and challenge for retail banking is that at a time when the Asia Pacific region is set to lead investment levels in retail banking technology, the global public perception towards banks is arguably not conducive to facilitating and fostering the creative and innovative opportunities that undoubtedly exist to make Social and Digital Media an integral part of that technology drive. The environment for cultivating a deeper and more meaningful engagement with retail banking consumers through Social & Digital Media has been made more dynamic and challenging. Indeed, a senior banking executive recently said to me he believed negative comments on Social Media channels was a barrier to deeper penetration and usage of Social Media within the retail banking sector.
In light of this I decided it would be a good idea for this months feature article to do an exclusive piece on specific strategies for Asian retail banks in responding effectively to both negative comments and complaints as well as attacks by activists on their Facebook pages.
There are two main strategic approaches that a retail bank may wish to consider;
The first strategic response is the short and contained response:
A retail bank may decide to allow an initial negative comment by an individual. The representative for the bank will then respond to that negative comment in line with the banks policies. At the end of their response the representative for the bank then leaves an email address that the individual can use to contact them if they have any further questions. The representative may then choose to block that individual from making any further comments under the administrative controls within Facebook if this action is deemed to be required.
This does two things. By leaving an email address it encourages the complainant or activist to use that email address because it has been given to him or her. That together with blocking the user (if deemed necessary and appropriate of course) can help take the conversation offline and away from the Facebook page of the bank. Of course, the individual may still email the bank now he or she has an email address. In that case the bank can again state its response and deal with any questions raised. While the complainant may not agree with the response by the bank, or its stance, the bank has still responded to the query and concerns rather than ignoring it.
The second thing this approach does is that it shows visibly to others who may have seen the comment on your banks Facebook page that you have not “shied away” from addressing the issue. By responding fully to the comment in the way outlined you have arguably shown that you and are willing to discuss it along with any further questions with the user offline. Another advantage of this particular approach is that the bank in question cannot be accused of “comment censorship” on their Facebook page. This is because they have allowed the negative comment and responded to it. By leaving an email contact they have showed they are still willing to listen to any further complaints, but offline, which they have the right to do. A bank or organisation does not have to respond to negative comments and complaints on their Social Media pages. They also have the right to decide to resolve such queries and complaints offline away from their Social Media channels.
The second strategic response rests in the user engagement policy
I would argue strongly it is absolutely vital for banks and organisations to have from the very creation of their Facebook page a user engagement policy. This policy sets out the terms and conditions for engagement on the Facebook page by users. In the “info” section of their Facebook page. a bank can set out what sort of queries and complaints it can deal with via Social Media. It can also set out when it may be necessary for reasons of confidentiality or otherwise to resolve the individuals account queries and complaints offline. The bank should also give consideration to writing something along these lines “all comments are welcome but the management of bank XYZ reserve the right to remove abusive language or comments. By posting and interacting on our Facebook page you are deemed to be agreeing to the terms and conditions outlined and listed here”
Organisations targeted by activists and angry customers understand that at the root level their anger and frustration is driven by emotions. It is the emotions within the person which generate the negative comments they may post. The more angry and annoyed they are, the more aggressive their postings will likely be. The management challenge is therefore one of managing the emotions around the issue and aiming to calm the individual down.
If in the “info” section of the banks Facebook page there is a statement that says abusive comments or comments containing foul language will be removed, and that is one of their terms of usage conditions, then it gives the bank the legitimate means to delete those comments if they want to. They can then private message the user asking them to contact them offline and explaining why their comment was removed making reference to their usage policy. In this situation the bank can say legitimately in its defence that they accept all views and were not blocking the views of the person, rather what they were blocking was the abusive language and tone of the comment. There is a subtle, but important, difference between refusing to allow a person to express their negative views on your Facebook page and allowing them to post abusive or offensive language on it which should be covered in the engagement policy for the Facebook page of your bank.
Of course the individual may then decide they still want to make a comment and have their voice or opinion heard. However, the difference is this time in order for them to do so they know that for their comment to be posted and taken seriously they have to tone it down and not be abusive in it. I mentioned earlier that psychologically aggressive or abusive comments are driven by emotions inside the individual. It can therefore for that very reason be difficult for some individuals or activists to “tone down” their abusive comment as they may feel so strongly and angry about the issue.
In order for an individual to post a non-abusive comment they are then forced to think about the wording of their particular comment. They have to think how to word it in a non-abusive way. That in turn can help encourage them to think through the points they want to say in their mind and also how they will word it in a more logical and rational way. The psychological and mental process of doing that can sometimes lead to a less emotional approach to the comments. It then becomes easier for a bank or organisation to respond effectively to a “calmer” (yet still negative comment) than it is for them to respond to a “heated and abusive” comment. That is sometimes the real “trick” and value behind having a Social Media engagement policy.
Finally, it may be useful for me to mention at this point that research based global advisory firm Altimeter Group analysed 50 social media crises that have occurred since 2001. They found that those reaching mainstream media have risen steadily through the past decade. In all 50 Social Media crises cases analysed some form of change was seen at the organisations involved. Indeed, 52% of the Social Media crises analysed resulted in significant change by the organisations concerned.
The lesson that Asian and global retail banks can learn from this research is that it is important to always be ready to respond rapidly. In advance you need to have a flexible and responsive staffing resource model in place to cope effectively with a sudden and unexpected influx of negative comments from stakeholders and the public on your Social Media channels. I personally would recommend that the employees in charge of Social Media in a bank should have a solid understanding of all aspects of the bank and its operations. It may even be beneficial to consider some form of foundation level training in Social Media, customer service and even public and media relations. It is always vital to understand the need to respond effectively and quickly to calm the situation, prevent it from escalating and ultimately “cool” and resolve the Social Media crisis.