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Bank of America: Google+ Transaction Denied

on Tue, Nov 15, 2011 - 10:25 pm

There are several popular phrases that roll easily off the tongue for anyone—company or customer—involved in business. “Caveat emptor” or “Buyer beware.” “There is no ‘I’ in ‘teamwork’.” “The customer is always right.” In this age of ‘zero moment of truth,’ it may be time to add another phrase to the business/consumer quote book:

“Ignore social media at your own risk.”

News has spread around the web, rapid-fire, of a colossal social media ‘fail’ on the part of Bank of America. As mentioned in a story from Talking Points Memo, users across the web started to catch on to a Google+ brand page ostensibly representing the financial institution. TPM points out that the fake—or ‘brandjacked’—page appeared to have been created on November 8th[more]

When contacted about the situation, the article says that a Bank of America representative sent a note to TPM that, quote, “We shared our concerns over the imposter page with Google, and it has since been taken down.” This took place November 15th, when Google finally deactivated the imposter page.

Now, Bank of America may be busy with over 30,000 in staff cuts, but surely someone at that organization should have noticed a blip on some radar—over the period of eight days—that their brand was being falsely represented on Google+. In fact, many companies jumped at Google+ the moment the business floodgates opened on November 7th, setting up an outpost on the social network being touted as a Facebook alternative.

Not Bank of America, though—and for a period of eight days, while companies, organizations and personalities such as Ford, The New York Times, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, and more scrambled to enter the frontier that is Google+, Bank of America appeared to have been blissfully ignorant of Google+ users ‘helping’ the financial institution’s presence on the site. Though not helping in a way their PR or marketing staff would have appreciated.

The fake Bank of America page was +1’d 342 times, and had over 1,000 followers before it was finally deactivated. The wall postings and material painted the organization in a negative light, suggesting that its CEO and officers were partying in homes foreclosed by the bank. For over eight days, the bogus page posted damaging statements to followers that included:

"When you want an ice cream cone, you go to a store. When I do, I foreclose on an ice cream shop and repossess their inventory."

"Living under a tarp? I am too. My TARP is much bigger, however, and billions of dollars more expensive."

"Big company party in foreclosed house #2340087 tonight!"

That’s potentially one-thousand-plus Google+ users sharing negative, damaging information—and possibly resharing via Facebook, Twitter and other sites—increasing the damage with every share, +1 and “like” across the social media spectrum.

And on the 8th day, Bank of America saw what Google+ users had created, and said that it was ‘concerned.’

If a company or brand is to engage customers across social media platforms, then they should address the bad with the good. A quick check of Bank of America’s other social media presence—mainly, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—shows no mention of the Google+ page hack, nor any attempt to address concerns or put a positive ‘spin’ on an otherwise negative situation. Their most responsive Twitter feed (out of—count them—five accounts) is their @BofA_Help feed—and that makes no direct mentions of issues, merely asking Twitter users to ‘DM’ their concerns, offering vague apologies for instances where customer service apparently went awry, and quick chimes of “glad we could help” to customer requests.

What should Bank of America have done?

  • First, they should have had some monitoring of their brand in place. (Something as simple as—wait for the irony—a Google alert. One can even create custom searches—previously known as Sparks—from within a Google+ page.) If you have a business and are involved with social media or an online presence in any way, you need to eavesdrop on the chatter about your company or brand.
     
  • Second, if Bank of America is truly, quote, “live in social media” and “here to stay in touch and serve you better”—then perhaps all the hype leading up to Google+ brand pages, the 40 million-and-growing users of that platform, and the official opening of the business floodgates on November 7th should have tipped them off to the importance of having a business presence there. It’s not like Google+ brand pages suddenly sprang forth with no warning on November 7th.
     
  • Third, Bank of America should rethink their approach to social media. Instead of addressing negative comments and the impact from a false Google+ page, Bank of America chose to promote current business deals and employees volunteering at food banks. The company could have turned a negative to their advantage—taken the opportunity to point out beneficial financial planning programs, or the importance of preventing—ahem—identity theft.

 

Simple steps that Bank of America could have—and should have—followed. Keep tabs on their brand. Develop outlets for the company across multiple social media platforms—including that new one, Google+, all its competitors and clients were rushing to join. Engage its customers, and be willing to address the negative as well as the positive.

With proper monitoring of their brand, Bank of America could have alerted Google earlier to the unauthorized page… and avoided eight days worth of negative publicity. After all of the coverage regarding their ‘brandjacking’ on Google+, the company now has an official, Google-verified brand page on the site.

The Bank of America Google+ page is still awaiting its first official post.