#nabfail – viral, done wrong

Full disclosure: Prior to my current role, I worked for the NAB.

Most of my time spent in the business was around the wealth management space, but most recently I had been helping the guys with some work for retail banking customer development. With that in mind, I’m not 100% certain how appropriate it is I discuss the strategy or approach of my former employer.

As a result, if anyone from the bank does feel that this over steps any boundaries, please let me know and I’ll amend or remove.

Again, as always, my thoughts are my own, and are certainly not representative of my current or previous employers.

A long way in 6 months

The NAB has had an interesting history with customer engagement across Social Media.

Generally, like most Aussie banks, NAB didn’t really seem to get this channel or what it means to customers. Yes, there are pockets within the business who understand the relevance, need and importance of engaging with customers through Twitter and Facebook, but like many mature organisations, the Social Media channel took a very back seat to the traditional branch/contact centre approach to servicing and marketing to customers.

The first glimmers of understanding stated with the UBank experiment a couple of years back.

Ubank, while now considered the market leader for customer interaction through online, had a rocky start back in 2008 when a staff member was discovered posing as a customer and contributing positive responses about the launch of its term deposit product.

Parent bank, NAB, whether shaken by this fail or simply apathetic to the benefits of opening itself to a brand new customer interaction channel delayed any real engagement for a couple of years.

Finally, seeing competitors starting to move in the space, the internal politics cooled, and in late 2010 the bank went external to recruit for the position of ‘Social Media Coordinator’.

Finally, the back-and-forth question of whether Social Media was a marketing opportunity, a customer service engagement strategy, or a brand monitoring tool would be centralised under a single role, to sit with the Direct team (call centre and online) inside the bank.

Since filling the coordinator position, activity through these channels has ramped up considerably, with the draft of the NAB internal social media policy, active engagement across Twitter and Facebook, a YouTube channel, and now, attempts at a viral marketing campaign.

Soooooo stressed

By all accounts, NAB’s been doing pretty well thus far. The Twitter team has been excellent in addressing enquiries, and showed real value providing updates during a computer payment crisis late last year.

Early adopter customers – and let’s face it, it’s only a very specific demographic who attempt to perform bank servicing over Twitter – were responding well to informative and responsive updates to their queries.

Then, Friday night at about at 8:30 a disaster, not uncommon to many big organisations testing the Twitter waters, befalls @nab. Someone, logged into the corporate Twitter account, but thinking they were using their own profile, posted a personal message.

Twitter lit up. Schadenfreude from everyone who’s ever made a public screw up projected #nabfail to trending topic status.

Westpac, a prior victim of their own Twitter screw-up almost 12 months ago to the day, even sent a cheeky self-referencing note of support.

It was humanising. There was nothing too offensive or commercially sensitive in the Tweet. Instead it showed that the people behind the banks polished online image were just that, people.

Pity it was all bullshit.

The first sign that all may not be as it seems was the survival of the Tweet well into Friday night. Normally in situations like this, someone informs someone else who tracks down a community coordinator and they wipe the post quick fast. Instead, this offending tweet lingered.

Then, a follow up tweet later that evening:

What did it mean?  Some on Twitter claimed the attached link showed a video on dating, but when I tried to access the channel I found a clip of Lisa Grey (General Manager of the Retail Bank) discussing provisions for flood victims.

Finally, the next morning, @nab’s true agenda became clear:

By following that link, customers discovered a press release extolling the virtues of NAB’s bribing customers to the tune of $700 should they choose to move their mortgage across from NAB’s competitors.

Why this was a #fail

Don’t get me wrong, I understand NAB’s intended approach here. Generate buzz for a product change through viral marketing. Get the community to do the heavy lifting for you, then, as the big reveal, tell them it was all a joke, and BTW here’s something cool we’re doing.

Problem is they chose the wrong channel. @nab’s interaction with customers on Twitter is still too young and far too aligned to the old world, slowly slowly, NAB brand.

Virgin could get away with this. UBank could probably get away with this, but NAB is positioned differently. They need to be seen as stable, as professional, punking your customers (and in this case, your competitors) does not align with the brand proposition.

A bank of NAB’s background and reputation needs to be seen as authentic. This type of “gotcha” crap doesn’t represent the cheeky side of an otherwise staid organisation, but instead displays a total lack of respect for a targeted demographic of savvy and vocal customers.

It also cheapens the hard work the business has put into defining Twitter as an important customer service channel.

I can’t imagine the brand team would have signed off on a direct email campaign to reflect these same messages, yet for some reason this is acceptable on Twitter? In my opinion this will impact people’s receptiveness to continue using Twitter for general customer enquiries.

Interestingly, the original “So stressed out” tweet had 90+ retweets, while subsequent tweets actually explaining what was being delivered barely recorded a mention.

I’d love to know if this campaign had any penetration or built awareness outside of the initial “NAB fcked up” consensus floating around Friday evening.

The right approach

Perhaps it’s not the worst thing in the world for organisations like the NAB to attempt stunts like this. This entire online space is still such a burgeoning realm for big business, and for the most part no one really understands what is going to work and what isn’t. But guys, choose your audience and message next time. As a customer I want to be engaged, involved and informed. Catching me out might generate a bit of short term buzz, but longer term, crying wolf is only going to hurt our relationship

2 Responses to “#nabfail – viral, done wrong”
  1. Melanie Pay says:

    Nice post, I’d have to agree here. I saw the nab tweet as a retweet on Saturday morning and even retweeted the Westpac response and had a bit of a laugh. The end message just didn’t match up with the way they had played it. Like you said, if the brand already had a bit of irreverence and the messaging was cheeky the whole way though they probably could have gotten away with it. Instead it just looks like a cheap shot at publicity.

    I have seen a few tweets talking about the brilliance of catching people out. It has it’s merit, but I think it’s probably time that people learnt that just because a message goes viral, doesn’t mean it will have the desired effect on the brand/product.

  2. kas says:

    It’s like the old saying goes… “No publicity is bad publicity.”

    Linking to NAB’s site from posts like this is what creates buzz and search engine ranking boosts. Whatever you think their motives or reasoning behind what they’ve done is, and whether or not you think it’s worked… you’ve certainly bitten the hook and helped spread the product they were trying to spruik.

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