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How social media can influence high-stakes business decisions

Kim S. Nash | Sept. 30, 2014
Social media is more than just amassing likes. Companies are using advanced social techniques to rehabilitate corporate reputations, uncover ideas for breakthrough products, and figure out what competitors are up to.

Last year, Wells Fargo opened a social media command center in San Francisco, with a secondary center in Charlotte, N.C. Two more Wells Fargo employees in the Philippines monitor the action after the West Coast shuts down for the night. In the San Francisco office, marketing and customer service staff sit in front of eight monitors, assigned to follow different channels. Legal, compliance and special "social care bankers" are on call in case any complicated customer situations or crises arise.

Every morning, the team walks through its planned posts to assess them against events in world news and the financial services industry, as well as news specific to Wells Fargo, Brown says, to avoid "the wrong voice if there's a tragedy somewhere."

From the command center, the bank executes proactive strategies, such as Twitter and Facebook posts during the FIFA World Cup this summer. Wells Fargo sponsors the Mexican National Team, in part to reach Hispanic customers and potential customers. The bank responded in real time during popular matches, posting pictures of players and cheering for teams. The work garnered 8 million responses, such as retweets, in the course of three major games, Brown says.

Just as important as real-time marketing is having the right timing and tone when responding to controversy. In March, Wells Fargo faced a surprise online assault regarding a branch in New Mexico. An American flag had been thumbtacked to a wall there for several months. When a property manager mentioned to the bank manager that the flag could be displayed more appropriately, it was removed. A few days later, the flag was hung on a pole near the entrance. In the interim, a local TV station aired a story in which a customer alleged that other customers had pressured the bank to take down the flag, implying that Wells Fargo had bowed to anti-American sentiment.

Conservative websites and blogs soon joined the fray, some saying Wells Fargo had banned the U.S. flag and others calling for customers to drop their accounts. Many simply copied and pasted errant stories from other sites, generating comments from followers outraged at the bank.

"A symbol like the American flag takes off in a news cycle," Brown says. "It was such an inaccurate story that it made it tough for us not to sound defensive." But the bank had to address the controversy. In a Facebook post, Wells Fargo said, in part, "We have standards of how to display the flag with the appropriate respect. In this case, we made a simple change to adhere more closely to those standards."

Even events outside the bank's control put its social media team on alert. After the Target data breach, for example, Wells Fargo customers on social media were concerned about passwords and whether their debit cards were linked to their Target accounts. Wells Fargo decided not to issue statements because the worries weren't widespread. Always, the team has to consider when to respond to social media activity and when not to, Brown says. "We have to be both transparent and accurate and not oversharing or undersharing."


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