BC tip: Wells Fargo - Facing the abuse

An under-fire US bank responds to its critics on Facebook.

The Feature

It has been a troubled few weeks for Wells Fargo. After owning up to some highly questionable sales practices, including setting up fake bank accounts, it agreed to pay a settlement of $190m; fired 5,300 employees implicated in the scandal; and its CEO resigned after a ritual grilling by Congress.

Adopting fresh leadership and a new ‘commitment’ to customers, the company has also launched a reputation-building communications campaign across channels – offline, television and online, including social media.

In September it posted three messages on Facebook announcing the ‘new actions to strengthen culture and rebuild trust’. These posts prompted a string of negative and occasionally abusive comments. Unusually, the company has adopted a policy of responding to many of these directly, with personal messages from named company representatives.

The Takeaway

Although there is a trend towards greater corporate responsiveness on Facebook, it is still relatively rare to see big companies engaging directly with irate followers. The policy of most seems to be to ignore the abuse until it goes away.

In Wells Fargo’s case, a scan of their Facebook page shows they were responding directly to enquiries before the scandal hit, so probably decided that going to ground would not look good, even if it might have been the safer policy.

Scanning the comments, the Wells Fargo responses can at times seem disjointed and overly cool, even if they may be genuinely trying to help. For example, there the comment from Gigi – ‘They pulled that … with me too, that’s why I switched banks a few months ago. They kept robbing me.’ This elicited the response: ‘Hi Gigi. If you have any concerns that you’d like us to review, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us (no account numbers). We’re here to help.’ – Nate’. They also seem to leave the most vitriolic comments alone; probably a good idea.

There may be legal reasons for the cautious approach, and each company will have its own limits on how fully it can respond, or not. The main lesson is that companies with a Facebook presence need a plan of action for when big problems arise, and even if the plan is to do nothing, to have a sound reason behind it.

When drawing up your own Facebook rulebook, it’s a good idea to watch what happens when companies like Wells Fargo come under fire.

www.facebook.com/wellsfargo