Saturday, February 12, 2011

Learning from the social media policy mistakes of the Commonwealth Bank

Last week the Commonwealth Bank received a panning for its new social media policy.

Going beyond guidance for staff in their use of social media, the policy made it a requirements that Commonwealth Bank staff tell their managers about any negative comments about the bank they see online. The policy also required that staff do everything in their power to have these negative comments removed from the internet, under risk of disciplinary action or even dismissal.

You can read the CBA policy online, courtesy of the Business Spectator. Pay particular attention to Point 4 "Material posted by others" and point 6 "Breach".

These parts of the policy particularly raised the ire of the Financial Services Union (FSU), one of the bank's largest staff unions, and led to a media storm throughout last week.
"The FSU believes the policy is so broad that it goes beyond conduct which the bank could legitimately claim involved damage to its reputation or interest and/or was such as to give rise to a concern about an employee's implied contractual obligation of good faith and loyalty," the union says.

Reference: SmartCompany - Commonwealth Bank social media policy raises questions over control of employee actions online

Now I applaud the Commonwealth on taking a step all organisations should, having a clear policy and guidance for staff to help them understand how to 'not stuff up' when using social media, how to avoid conflicts of interest and prevent the media portray a staff member's views as reflecting official bank policy.

I also applaud the bank's efforts to listen to social media and address customer issues expressed online. Realistically organisations should respond to customer comments in social media channels in a similar manner to which they'd respond to customer comments in person, by phone, email, fax or other channels. It is even better if they employ monitoring tools to proactively identify and address comments that aren't made specifically to the organisation.

However it is both impractical and highly inappropriate for organisations to ask their staff to monitor and police the actions of their friends or total strangers under penalty of disciplinary action - whether in online social media channels, or offline (at pubs and BBQs).

I'm not sure what steps the Commonwealth Bank took to formally or informally consult staff when developing their social media policy.

I'm not sure whether the Commonwealth Bank referenced best practice examples of social media policies from other organisations, such as the Online Database of Social Media Governance.

I am also not sure whether the Commonwealth bank is mature enough as an organisation to treat its staff as adults, to trust the people they employ and to effectively encourage them to be the Commonwealth's biggest advocates and supporters online.

However I am sure that when an organisation attempts to place unworkable and inappropriate staff policies in place they will fail. Internally and publicly.

Organisations that introduce inappropriate staff policies will reduce their public reputation, reduce their attractiveness to top people and set staff relations back years.

When I attended the Garner Symposium late last year (to speak on a panel with Andrea Dimaio and Ann Steward), I also went to a session on Banks and Social Media to see how they were doing in coming to terms with new mediums for communication and engagement.

The impression I walked away with was that Australian banks, in general, were several years behind the Australian Public Service in their acceptance, adoption and support for social media use by staff.

Sure they used social media tactices for advertising campaigns, however these were at arms length. Social media was not seen as a set of tools that could support and re-energise internal cultures, underpin collaboration and innovation or transform 19th century institutions into 21st century financial powerhouses. In many cases the attitude was "block and penalise" rather than "train and manage".

I hope that, given their relative maturity, government agencies will learn from the mistakes of the CBA in this case and avoid endorsing social media policies that are unworkable, onerous or inappropriate.

Given the experience of the Commonwealth Department of Finance and Deregulation, the Victorian Government, the Victorian Department of Health, the South Australian Government and, also last week, the Queensland Government , I think the public sector is currently in safe hands.

Stung by the public and staff backlash, the Commonwealth Bank has rapidly agreed to work with the FSU to make its policy workable. I'm sure we'll hear more as this progresses.

A non-exhaustive list of articles discussing the Commonwealth Bank's social media policy

FSU posts
Posts by the Financial Services Union about the CBA social media policy

1 comment:

  1. One bank that understand using social media is UBank. An offshoot of the National Bank, apparently aimed at young people, they have been providing excellent publicity and customer service through their Twitter account for some time