Are you about to tell us we've lost all our money?

Are you about to tell us we've lost all our money?

How not to talk to otterly panicked customers

Anyone who’s still thinking about staffing their social media comms desk with low-paid or no-paid juniors might want to think again.

Why? Because almost always, when something goes wrong, social media is the first place people turn for answers, and it’s almost always going to be the first chance you get to talk to your readers, customers or clients.

When disaster strikes, the very first thing you say is extremely important. It sets the tone for how you’re going to manage the whole situation. Handle it badly and you compound the disaster.

Take challenger business bank ANNA’s last seven days as a cautionary example.

ANNA provides online business bank accounts. Their accounts rely on global payments company Wirecard to process transactions, such as withdrawals.

Last week, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) put a stop to Wirecard activity, connected with alleged fraud at the company, meaning ANNA’s payment system was (temporarily) out of action.

Importantly, ANNA customers’ money was always safe. The FCA requires ring-fencing of money in accounts with banks like ANNA, so the money was tucked away in a compliant Barclays account. Although the problem was temporary ANNA customers did not know how long it would take to access their money – the FCA did not specify the length of the hold on Wirecard.

But anyone with money in an ANNA account could be forgiven for panicking when the usually chirpy tone of the company’s Twitter feed lurched into a clumsy instruction for customers to urgently withdraw all their cash.

Cue panic from a whole host of ANNA customers, who of course have no idea about the requirements of financial institutions to ring-fence money (why should they?).

They thought they’d lost their earnings forever.

ANNA’s Twitter also unhelpfully mentioned that customers could use an “FPS” to transfer money out of their bank account if their card didn’t work (most cards were not working). No one knew what an FPS was (again, why should they?). That just caused further confusion.

The social media department of ANNA was suddenly deluged with tweets from spooked business owners asking desperate questions. “Are you about to tell us we’ve lost our money?” “What is FPS?” “What is going on?”

On the turn of a dime, the tweeters at ANNA went from drawing pictures of otters (yes, really) to having to triage thousands of worried customers and educate them on the finer points of financial regulation.

Many of those customers wouldn’t have been so panicked if the first tweet had been properly thought out and well put together.

One good idea would have been to link on Twitter to a full statement, where the first line was: “YOUR MONEY IS SAFE”. Ultimately, that’s all people wanted to know.

Around 10 hours after the first tweet, even ANNA themselves realised how much of a hash they’d made of the situation. Spare a thought for the exhausted soul who typed this at 10pm on a Friday night.

Now, a week after that initial, panic-fuelling tweet, the ANNA team has been working 24/7, at pains to allay customer fears via Twitter, email, in-app comms and live chats with the founders of the company.

In this, a crisis situation, the ANNA response was confused and gave the impression they were unprepared for how to respond when things go wrong. Any company that handles people's money should be ready for any emergency that could knock customer confidence.

Imagine making the new signing fresh from the under-20s the captain of the football team, or asking a junior doctor to perform brain surgery on their first day, and you get the idea of why it's important to have someone experienced and knowledgeable at the helm of your Twitter account (or LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram) during a disaster.

Social media is a key place of communication, especially in a crisis. Good communication requires finesse, planning, clarity. A social media editor should have all the sensitivities and the know-how of a PR manager, along with the writing skills of a journalist. As well as otter-drawing skills.

All of this usually comes with experience, or at the very least, some decent training.

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