Let me preface these remarks with some facts - I get banks and what they do and believe we are pretty lucky in Australia with our banking system; I've even worked for several banks; I don't hate banks (except in that normal way when there is some administrative stuff-up with one of my accounts).
I feel sorry for the brave folks at NAB who tried to get a conservative bank to experiment with social media. But my advice to them would have been along the lines of Sir Humphrey Appleby in saying "... yes Minister, a VERY courageous decision" for a number of reasons.
This adventure had the potential to be train wreck from the start. We are talking about the kind of organisation that does not dialogue with any stakeholders at all in the consumer space. NAB is not different to any of the other Australian banks in this orientation. It is not even a bad thing in itself. But it is problematic when embarking upon a social media campaign.
One of the ground rules of social media is authentic dialogue and NAB did not appear to understand this. Also instead of engaging in dialogue with the bank staff got a bit defensive and there was the whole sockpuppet issue. Moderation of user generated content is one thing but rejection of negative comments is another that does not fit well into the social media milieu.
NAB staff really should have understood the social compact they were entering into by setting up My Future Bank. They said:
"What is the bank of the future? What will it look like? How will it work? How will it meet your needs? Imagine your ideas realized. That’s the plan of the My Future Bank project.
We need your help. Please share with us and our visitors what frustrates you about your bank, and more importantly, what you would do differently to improve your banking experience.
Regardless of the issue: rates, fees & charges, customer service, transparency & integrity or touch points (e.g. ATMs, branches, phone or internet banking), we want to hear from you!"
And then they got upset when people told them answers to those questions, or questioned the way that NAB was interacting online. Then NAB's final response via Corporate Affairs spokesperson Luisa Ford was to just pull the site down with the comment that:
“It was an experiment to gather data, and we’ve gathered all the data we need,” said Ford. “It was always scheduled to run for a few weeks.”
Well that was an experiment that worked! It got a whole lot of negative press; a lot of negative blog, social media and social network chatter; and made people feel like an opportunity for genuine dialogue with a key consumer institution was lost. If NAB had been able to pull this off it would have differentiated them significantly for web savvy consumers.
The sad thing is that if the well meaning NAB folk had understood ideas like those in Who are you? And why should I trust you? they might have known that dialogue means having a two way conversation, that relationships are built upon trust that is built up over time and with many conversations, and that we don't always need to agree to continue the dialogue.
Also a bit sad is that they did not understand how robust the dialogue might possibly become; and that they were not prepared to respond effectively.
I'm sorry that this happened, and hope that other conservative institutions learn lessons from the NAB experience and do not merely turn away from social media. However, it is likely that this saga has merely given the naysayers in banks and other similar institutions more evidence to block any future experiments.
A couple of other blog discussions of this issue include:
Why bankers are wary of social media
Blogger pulls post against NAB’s social media site
NAB (again) flamed over Social Media ineptitude
By Carruthers via Aide-mémoire