What Standard Bank should have done instead of going after FNB on Twitter

Much has been said about the recent online spat between Standard Bank and First National Bank (FNB). If it really can be called a spat, since FNB hardly reacted to the attack. Both the official FNB account @rbjacobs and the FNB CEO @michaeljordaan chose to “remain above it all”.

In truth, the actions of Standard Bank seemed to mobilise an army of avid FNB fans who condemned the actions of the bank. The allegations were rebuked with seeming religious fervour and harking back to the old days of IRC, I stood amazed at the virtual flaming of @StandardBankGrp.

If you missed it all, here’s a quick recap:

Late afternoon Thursday, Standard Bank announced via its Twitter feed that it had instructed its lawyers to approach the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to lay a complaint against FNB for false advertising. It then followed up with specifics regarding a print ad that appeared in the Sunday Times about FNB claiming to have a few “firsts”, such as free internet banking and free accounts for low-cost earners.

It said (and this seemed hard to swallow for many people on Twitter) that it was doing this because it had the public’s “best interests” at heart. Come now, who really believes that?

So what should Standard Bank have done?

Even though Standard Bank has more Twitter followers than @rbjacobs, a fact it bandied around as proof of its superior social media strategy, FNB is far more engaging with its clients. Simply read through both tweet-streams and you’ll see the difference in interaction. Standard Bank remains professional, it’s almost aloof, while FNB makes the point of building a relationship with the people it interacts with — the very essence of a social media strategy.

FNB has Standard Bank waxed on many levels

  • The ease-of-use of its online banking app is beyond world-class. I’ve played with the apps of a few UK and US banks and find the FNB app far superior. Standard Bank doesn’t even have an app.
  • FNB has an easy to understand pricing-structure for accounts — a fixed fee per month for almost everything you need — even my maths-based engineering brain can’t figure out Standard Bank’s fee structure.
  • FNB offers its Gold and Platinum clients discounted tablets and smartphones with 0% interest loans to encourage transactions without needing to go into a branch. Standard Bank has no such offer.
  • FNB give you access to your own branch or you work directly with a Relationship Manager. Standard Bank insists you work through a call centre — every time you call, you have to talk to a different person, and explain everything all over again.
  • With FNB you can do everything over the phone, email, or Twitter. With Standard Bank you have to go into the branch for something as simple as changing a PIN.

My point is that it’s really quick to draw up a list areas Standard Bank can improve in — especially when working with a group of techno-savvy upwardly mobile customers — who are based on Twitter. It’s exactly what it should have done.

The irony is that the true issue from Standard Bank’s point of view, the false advertising, was completely lost as more and more people pointed out the bank’s short-comings.

Standard Bank went about this completely the wrong way — if you’re going to take on your competitors in a field they are completely dominating — then make sure that the product or service you provide exceeds theirs. And if it doesn’t, rather keep quiet and work on it.

Making a statement the way it did made Standard Bank look petty. Whether its claims are true or not is for the ASA to decide, but what is rather obvious is that, no matter what the result, Standard Bank comes out looking like sore losers.

I have spoken to a few FNB clients since the incident. They all told me they felt compelled to personally defend the bank. Every FNB Client who is active on Twitter has had some interaction with @rbjacobs who feels more like a person than a corporate Twitter account. It seemed as if the big corporate bully was picking on a friend who had helped people out of difficult situations — and friends protect friends.

So what’s the lesson for us all here?

Interacting on social media is unpredictable. I don’t think anyone at Standard Bank expected the highly zealous reaction from FNB clients. It tried to look like our “Banking Saviour” and, to put it bluntly, ended up looking a bit like the village idiot.

It’s also worthwhile considering whether or not Twitter is the right medium for such an announcement. It’s not easy to get a succinct message across without losing the plot in 140 characters. If you’re going to make announcements on Twitter, surely it would be better to provide a full press-release on your website or blog post and use Twitter to link directly to that.

The tweet is simply too short a message form to handle any really complex argument. The message can easily get lost and confused in the tweet stream, something which was made abundantly clear last week.

If your competitor online is doing something better than you — rather look to yourself. How can you improve your product or service? How can you turn clients into brand evangelists? It’s a strategy that has worked incredibly well for FNB — and it’ll work well for your business too.



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