Today I have deeply reflected on the hugely devastating impact a single employee’s reckless behaviour on social media can have to the extent that it may result in bringing down a brand.
A friend put up an exasperated post on FaceBook about his extreme indignation that his bank, where he’d been a customer for the past 15 years, had as a result of ambiguous information, gotten him into a situation where a cheque he’d issued bounced.  For the sake of this post, we shall refer to my friend as Mahrin. In Mahrin’s frustrated post, he indicated he was now shopping for a new bank with the intention to close down his account. As you may imagine, there was lots of empathy and there were lots of proposals from his friends of banks with excellent service that he could immediately switch to. Mahrin’s flabbergast  was arising from the fact that he’d issued a cheque and received a notification alert that it had been paid out and he had a balance of -321Ksh, meaning  his balance was rendered negative as a result of this transaction. I would like to mention at this point that the overdrawn amount was so minimal in comparison to the cheque amount that should one care to do thee mathematics they’d need to multiply it by a hundred and sixty six.
Another friend in Mahrin’s friend’s list from the banking industry, and for the purposes of this post we shall refer to her as Nurah, came to the bank’s defence and explained to Mahrin that indeed it was his fault that he had insufficient funds to service his cheque.  I would like to point out here that this information was not put across politely. In response to her, many friends explained that banks have indeed changed their interactions with customers and that the least the bank could do in this case was to call up their dear customer and explain the circumstances and allow Mahrin to correct the anomaly or find a win-win situation. Nurah responded in quite a defensive manner that this was not the bank’s responsibility and that what was being demanded was not procedural and in fact in her words ‘a favour’ from the bank. This was then met with a volley of stunned responses commenting that banks are nowadays in partnership with their customers and Nurah’s postulation was quite the opposite. One friend quite aghast at this quickly looked up the bank that Nurah works for and indicated that he would soon publish on social media the atrocities she was spewing. And to my utter amazement Nurah responded to this suggestion and I quote “You may go ahead and go viral if you wish!”

I would like to proceed on here to report, that I noted with concern that indeed I wasn’t the only one who thought her behaviour and responses rather out of order. And when more comments appeared to confirm the same, the respondent continued on and on to explain technical details of why one must have sufficient funds in their account and not expect their bank to be their money monitor. And I once again reiterate – quite impolitely.  The friend did indeed fulfill on his promise and in 34 seconds had published the name of Nurah’s bank on the post thread.  As the bank is not one of the mainstream banks, one friend asked what bank that actually was and I couldn’t help but indicate that I didn’t know what bank it was but I was now aware that their employees had wanton audacity online. And like I am sure everyone on the conversation thread did, I looked up the bank’s website and noted with utter dismay that their brand promise is ‘Banking with a Smile’. I can assure you that I wasn’t smiling and I made a mental note to myself to never go near that bank under any circumstances. The said Nurah in various places further along the post kept putting out details quite impolitely,  of why the bank was ‘right’ and Mahrin was ‘wrong’.
At this point I cannot help but swing into my brand strategy management persona and point out three distinct things. One Mahrin’s fundamental complaint was that his bank did not value him despite long sustained customer loyalty, enough to communicate with him about his rather minor cheque situation; two, the bank sent a notification alert to indicate the cheque was paid out when in essence it wasn’t , a fact that the bank was unable to elucidate when he demanded an explanation; three, no amount of explanation on the technicalities of what happened was relevant, the complaint was about lack of and miscommunication and that was the only subject at hand.
So, Nurah’s reckless posting on social media has served to paint her bank in an extremely bad light, create a negative aura around it and have people who have never interacted with it completely switch off and dismiss it without a glance.  As a result of her being bullish, defensive and impolite, her bank has also been banded together with her and is now seen through this lens. For the readers of the FaceBook post and their numerous friends and friend’s friends – you may extrapolate as needed – the negative reflection remains. As we all are aware, brand reputation is built on positive word of mouth and recommendations. This is the most powerful tool a brand can use to build positive brand equity. If a random poll was conducted amongst the sample group roped into Mahrin’s post, the brand performance on the warm -feeling -meter would be in the negative realm. And yes, all of this as a result of one employee’s social media activity.
So what‘s the lesson to learn from all this? In one organization I worked for, employees had to read the company’s social media policy and as part of the employment guidelines and sign that they wouldn’t participate in damaging social media activity that would link them to the brand. We are naturally associated with the brands we work for and we serve as either brand ambassadors or destroyers. What factors do those responsible for brand custody need to build in place to ensure that brand damage is not caused by internal customers?  As with this case, it is pretty apparent that the efforts made to protect brand reputation externally should be equally applied inwards, to the extent that employees are so loyal to the brand that they guard its reputation almost with their lives. How does a brand attain this level of internal brand engagement and subsequent passionate brand loyalty?
This is a subject for debate amongst the brand gurus for it is one thing to develop strategy and advocate for internal facing initiatives, and it is another to inspire the people to deliver on the brand promise – Always.

And yes – I will leave this debate for another day………………