During a Crisis, Don’t Tweet about Ponies

Small businesses can learn a lot about how to use – or not use – social media during a crisis, simply by observing the mistakes made by major corporations. Let’s look at the following as a case study in how not to use social media during a crisis.

The Crisis

On Friday, December 4, 2015 – one week into holiday shopping season in the United States – three major banks experienced technical glitches that prevented customers from using their credit cards and/or debit cards. Many customers couldn’t pay for purchases, some complained of not being able to pay utility bills, while others weren’t able to withdraw money from their accounts using ATMs.crisis1

The customers of the three banks – PNC, SunTrust, and Wells Fargo – took to social media to try to find out why they could not use their cards, and why their online banking portals reported their accounts as “Unavailable”. On Twitter, rumors surfaced that the banks were hacked. On Facebook, frustrated customers flooded the banks’ timelines with complaints.

The Banks React (eventually)

Although problems began around 6:00 a.m. Eastern Time, it was only around 10:00 a.m. that PNC posted a notice on its Facebook page. Panicked customers had already been posting comments to the PNC timeline’s most recent post – a December 3 promotional post about the PNC Father Son Challenge.

Over on the timeline for the SunTrust Facebook page, a similar situation was happening. SunTrust’s first status update regarding the technical issues was posted around 10:30 a.m., despite dozens of panicked – and pointedly sarcastic – comments by SunTrust customers on the bank’s most recent timeline post offering tips for guilt-free shopping.

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