Thomas  Tudehope

Big end of town still playing catch up on social media

Sometimes, just sometimes, you have to feel sorry for the big banks. Normally on the receiving end from frustrated homeowners or point scoring politicians this last week saw a new but equally venomous critic - the social media user.

The Commonwealth Bank’s recently released social media policy came in for a good old whacking by Facebook users and Twitterers alike.

The policy was intended to govern social media usage for employees within the bank. It has been roundly criticised by industrial relations experts and technological advocates.

Most notably the policy has been lampooned for requesting employees report ‘negative’ comments about the bank, even from friends of employees on platforms such as Facebook.

In detail, the policy encourages employees to report; "inappropriate or disparaging content and information stored or posted by others, including non-employees, in the "social media environment". More specifically the policy notes  “your friend could post an inappropriate comment about the group on your Facebook page or create a blog about the group”.

The policy goes on to say that “failure to comply with this policy is a serious disciplinary matter and may result in disciplinary action being taken against you, which may include the termination of your employment".

The Commonwealth Banks’ approach to social media is as flawed as it is simplistic.

By limiting, policing and requesting employees to ‘share’ information about the bank they are undermining the very foundations of how social media operates – friends talking to friends. Friends share information because they believe it to be within an authentic, sincere and at times within a confidential conversation.

The policy also drastically underestimates the power of social media, especially sites like Facebook and Twitter, to be an effective communications tool. A tool that can quickly and succinctly ‘get out a message’ on mass, without disruption. One only has to look at the way in which the Queensland Police used Twitter during the floods to see how invaluable it can be in a time of crisis. 

Rather than insisting that their staff act as a kind of digital secret police the Commonwealth Bank should be encouraging them to use social media platforms in an open, transparent and positive manner that not only allows them to feel comfortable in the workplace but may also improve the perception of the business online. Employees should be brand champions not brand wardens.

The Finance Sector Union has demanded the policy be scraped or significantly altered. The Union’s spokesperson Rod Masson said that conversations about “the colour of the tea cups at the workplace, who is winning the footy tipping competition, or what day of the week CBA employees are permitted to wear casual clothes are examples of conversations that would constitute a breach of the policy as it is currently worded."

In response, the bank protested that negative comments online could damage its reputation. A fair point, and one that is echoed by many corporations across the business community. But limiting and policing social media is not the answer. It is a draconian approach that may in fact present more permanent challenges that it seeks to resolve.

Importantly, the Commonwealth Bank has offered to amend the policy to ensure that their staff are treated fairly.

Whilst this episode certainly is embarrassing for Australia’s flagship financial institution they will be comforted to learn that many corporations and even government departments are in a similar position. Many are yet to implement a social media policy, don’t plan on implementing a policy, don’t know why they should implement a policy or don’t know what social media actually is.

Throughout the Australian business community the landscape is littered with social media failures. Harvey Norman, Qantas, Telstra and even Stephanie Rice are discovering the pitfalls of selling and communicating online.

Business, just like individuals, need to understand the space in which they operating before the engage in a wholesale strategic onslaught. A policy is a good start but that is all it is, just a start.

A social media audit is one way in which business can better understand the realm in which they seeking to participate. What are consumers, employees and competitors really saying about you online?

Social media can be a significant asset to a business. It can boost sales and find consumers in new markets as easily as it can improve a corporate image. But, social media is at it most successful when it operates in a harmonious environment free of constraints


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Thomas  Tudehope SR7 Social Media Intelligence and Risk Management Thomas Tudehope
Company: SR7 Social Media Intelligence and Risk Management
Position: Director
Thomas is a freelance social media consultant. Thomas was Digital Director for Malcolm Turnbull for five years from 2004-2009. He worked with Malcolm Turnbull when he was a backbencher, a Cabinet Minister and Leader of the Opposition Read Thomas 's full bio

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