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UBank blog closed after social media outs fake posters

October 16th, 2008 by Lesley White · 18 Comments

Today the blog known as My Future Bank, run by representatives of Australia’s National Australia Bank’s online self-service offering, UBank, was shut down.  A search for the site which was previously at www.myfuturebank.org now returns a 404 error.

The decision ends a week of serious criticism and commentary by Australia’s social media connoscenti, spearheaded by Cheryl Gledhill from Molt:n who took the Bank of the Future to task for masquerading as supportive customers on their own blog.  She later outted someone - who rejected her critique - as having an IP address that came from within the NAB itself. [Edit: this post has since been removed from Molt:n]

The story was picked up and became a Twitter Storm, Laurel Papworth ran it on her Silkcharm blog on Tuesday this week.  

This cautionary tale should not prevent large corporates from engaging in the social media space, however, it is important to understand the rules of engagement.  It is also critical to educate staff who are engaging in social media on the conventions of the new dialogue to create a productive two way conversation.

UBank could certainly recover from this exercise to engage positively with the online community in Australia.  It will do so by understanding how to add value to time-poor and increasingly financially-confused Australians.

For those interested, here is the list of Social Media Online Engagement Rules we practice at Network on behalf of our clients.

1.  Be authentic and personal

2. Be honest and transparent

3. Conversations, not campaigns : This is the battlecry of social media engagement.  Read the Cluetrain Manifesto if you haven’t already.  And keep reading. 

4. Avoid advertising-driven messaging : This is not a cost effective way to foist key selling propositions onto potential customers!!

5. Add value to the community : To paraphrase JFK, “ask not what the community can do for you, but what you can do for the community”.

6. Understand and respect the community’s rules of engagement : Each community is different.  Lurk before you leap in. Rules can change, keep checking.

7. Make no assumptions : Ask your social media expert or a moderator for guidance.

8. Review your concept of control : Marketers who were previously shielded from much brand criticism, except through arms length market research, need to get used to hearing the sometimes harsh truth of opinion in real time. 

Using it to refine marketing strategies, products/services and communications is the intelligent way to handle this information.  Jumping in and trying to shut it down will always backfire.

[Edit/Update:  NAB’s official statement to itnews.com.au states “any unidentified comments on blogs are unauthorised”]

Like building a brand, building trust and reputation online is not an easy and straightforward endeavour.  But the pursuit - executed well - is worth it. Future grass roots support and those, increasingly important, word of mouth recommendations will depend on it. 

Would you add any other rules of engagement to this list?  And how many chances do you believe large corporates will be given in terms of social media engagement, before their reputation is damaged irreparably?

Tags: Lesley White · network pr · freshchat · Digital Communication · Social Media Trends

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lee Hopkins // Oct 16, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    Brilliant synopsis, Lesley.

    I’ll blog about this later today…

  • 2 Myself // Oct 16, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Not to destroy a good headline, but…
    … if you read Cheryl’s blog carefully, you will see that she did not actually “out” anything with respect to the myfuturebank site. No proof is presented there, and the post is essentially full of implied accusations. Let’s watch the quality of what is written before endorsing it.

  • 3 Lesley White // Oct 16, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    @lee thank you
    @myself 1. the site is closed; 2. social media was involved in the debate; 3. very supportive and unusually commercial messages were posted in the comments on the blog; 4. cheryl does her research well in terms of IP locations

    However, if there is any new information that has not come to light which will ’set the record straight’, I’d be more than happy to hear it here.

  • 4 Danielle Warby // Oct 16, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    I just wonder who the ’social media expert’ is that advised them to do this? Some dodgy agency clearly made money on very bad advice. Anyone that works and/or plays in the space knows that fake postings are a no no for starters… and it’s really not hard to spot if you know what to look for even without IP details.

  • 5 Getting the rules of engament right | digitise me // Oct 17, 2008 at 11:19 am

    […] Pretend nothing’s happened (i.e. take the website down) and live with the consequences knowing that it will take a lot of time and hard work to regain […]

  • 6 Gavin Heaton // Oct 17, 2008 at 11:48 am

    The Cluetrain is a great place to start … at least the 95 Theses give a sense of the tenor of social conversation — which makes it a great primer for any marketer thinking of experimenting.

    I am disappointed to see that having built a platform for conversation, that NAB so quickly closed it down after hitting a couple of early hurdles.

  • 7 Lesley White // Oct 17, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    @digitise @gavin I agree with both your comments about the risk of pulling the plug too early.

    Social media marketing or involvement should definitely be viewed as a medium to long term engagement.

  • 8 Rogerio de Paula Assis // Oct 22, 2008 at 10:03 am

    Hi all and thanks Gavin for the quote.

    I think we may all be forgetting how much these companies (banks in particular) can be reigned by lawyers who have absolutely no grasp of what social media is all about.

    I think the issue here is as much about getting the rules of engagement right as it is about social media education within organisations. (huge gap in this area particularly outside of the marketing department).

    My experience with legal (and medical) departments is that we need to take them on the journey from the very beginning, so there’s collaboration and also better understanding.

    Most companies are still involving the lawyers at sign-off stage when things are already decided. The sense of ownership is just not there and these people will have no second thoughts in pulling the pin if they feel uncomfortable at any stage and this may well have been the case with Ubank..

  • 9 Myself // Nov 1, 2008 at 9:49 am

    @Lesley:
    “3. very supportive and unusually commercial messages were posted in the comments on the blog” is this supposed to be proof of tampering ? I reviewed the posts on myfuturebank, and there’s one positive comment. I reiterate: please watch the quality of what you write here, and don’t just repeat someone’s personal gripe story.

  • 10 Making Lemonade « // Nov 7, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    […] http://freshchat.com.au/ubank-blog-closed-after-social-media-outs-fake-posters/ http://beyonddigitalmedia.wordpress.com/tag/ubank/ http://thefinancialbrand.com/2008/10/27/nabs-social-media-failure/ http://www.itnews.com.au/News/86854,nab-shuts-down-controversial-social-media-site.aspx […]

  • 11 Lesley White // Nov 17, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    @myself freshchat reported the story. as it was emerging. the post is fair and accurate and makes no assumptions. i also gave voice to NAB’s official statements and edited this post as news came to hand. we stand by our rules of engagement about openness and honesty. would be interested in your posting here transparently as your ‘real self.’

  • 12 Simon T Small // Nov 26, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    When will they learn?

    I use NAB in all my presentations to show brands what NOT to do in social media.

  • 13 Myself // Jan 2, 2009 at 7:55 am

    @Lesley: I would challenge the accuracy of your post. You report that “Cheryl Gledhill from Molt:n who took the Bank of the Future to task for masquerading as supportive customers on their own blog”. However, that is not correct. Cheryl’s blog has not cited any evidence of that (her only “evidence” was that there was a positive comment, and how could anyone say positive thing about a bank?). And, NAB’s statement says the opposite.

    Also, my identity is irrelevant as I am not purporting to derive any authority or specialist knowledge from my background or experience (in fact I have no authority in this “social media” space which is why I’m writing this. I am disppointed with the self-serving nature of these “experts” who seem to jump on anything to drive traffic whether it’s quality or not.)

  • 14 Lesley White // Jan 7, 2009 at 9:11 am

    @myself great :) .. so I’ll leave you the last comment on this thread before I close off the comments. as your point has been made loud and clear.

    Social media is about the debate and the discussion, so thanks for taking the time to comment here.

    As with traditional pr, there are some very good techniques that companies can use if they are criticised within social media to increase the likelihood that their comments will feature higher within search engine results. I’ll write a post on that sometime.

  • 15 DR MUMBO: 2009 Aussie viral videos much like 2008 - they still suck « mUmBRELLA // Jan 12, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    […] U Bank is back on the social media pony after their calamitous fake first effort. This time they’ve got the strategy right, but unfortunately it’s not actually funny. […]

  • 16 Douche // Feb 22, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    this kind of sums it up

    http://www.scottmonty.com/2007/10/new-media-douchebag-are-you-one.html

  • 17 Liam // Feb 22, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Ubank probably told their staff to go onto the site and post comments like this, wouldnt be surprised if they went into damage control, notice how comments are disabled on thier moneybox videos on youtube, not good business practices

  • 18 LnddMiles // Jul 22, 2009 at 6:34 am

    Great post! I’ll subscribe right now wth my feedreader software!

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