How Arvest controls employee use of new media
By Steve Cocheo, executive editor,
Arvest Bank pays three employees to do nothing but fish all week.
Of course, they’re not casting for largemouth bass. The three troll websites and the social media scene for mentions about Arvest, and for communications by Arvest employees that, perhaps, ought best be kept off the web.
“And when they catch a fish, it’s normally a big one,” says Tammy Kee, Arvest senior vice-president and group compliance director. Arvest, an $11 billion-assets bank headquartered in Fayetteville, Ark., doesn’t kid around.
Fish caught online
The bank’s “anglers” look not just for external parties’ badmouthing or worse of Arvest, but also for postings on social media sites or other web formats by Arvest employees that are inappropriate, embarrassing to the bank, or explicitly barred by the company’s social media policy.
A blatant example, Kee told bankers at ABA’s recent Regulatory Compliance Conference, was “One Hot Party Girl.” This mortgage lender was promoting loan rates through her Facebook page. Her page update promised, “I can guarantee you a mortgage loan rate at 5.25% email me at
or my home onehotpartygirl@hotmail.” (These are not the real addresses.)
“Party Girl” crossed the line in multiple ways, beyond a questionable internet handle. Her marketing message lacked disclosures triggered by wording and data, potentially exposing Arvest to regulatory issues. And her Facebook page was decorated by a shot of herself in a bikini.
“ ‘A small bikini,’ I might add,” said Kee.
Normally, an Arvest employee who went that far afield of the company’s employee social media policy would be at risk of losing their jobs. “We have fired people, and we will fire people” who violate policy, said Kee.
“Many of our people are young, and cool, and aggressive,” said Kee, “and they are on commission and they are open to anything that is out there” to advance their business goals.
Kee said that her bank once thought it didn’t need a social media policy. Now, it has one and she urged listeners to adopt one.
The bikini banker has since been put on a short leash, and knows that Kee is watching. The only reason she wasn’t fired is because, lacking a policy when she made her move on Facebook, there wasn’t anything explicit she could be held in violation of. Now, employees must sign the policy to signify that they have read it and agree to abide by it.
“The policy comes into play when you have a problem,” said Kee, “and, believe me, you will have a problem.”
Kee added that the periodic need to terminate violators resonates.
“When the employees see people get fired over this,” she said, “the news spreads like wildfire.”
The company’s policy establishes some boundaries, and one is that once an employee puts the bank’s name, a bank email address, or a bank phone number into a social media communication, “they belong to me,” said Kee. That means whatever they do must meet the rules and must be in compliance, if they are allowed to continue.
Some banks attempt to rein in employee social media participation—due to concerns over the risks or simply because they want their full attention on their job—by blocking access to social media sites on bank computers. This won’t work. Kee pointed out that any employee who owns an iPhone, or other personal gadget has all they need to use social media.
This freedom can lead to social media gaffes ranging from the merely embarrassing to significant compliance violations to the error in judgment that verges on dangerous.
Kee gave numerous examples. Employees may chat about customers they serve, down to names and foibles, e.g. “OMG I just hate waiting on Sue Jones she stinks.” Or they may blow security, as in, “OMG—come into the bank at 4:00 when Joe comes to load the ATM, he is sooo hot…”
While politics makes strange bedfellows, banks frequently prefer employees to not mix their political affiliations with their bank persona. Arvest draws a parallel between its requirements for the workplace and those for cyberspace behavior, according to Kee.
Just as the bank wouldn’t permit an employee to put a candidate’s bumper stickers on cubicle walls, it won’t permit them to add political elements to their bank-connected internet presences.
Likewise, Kee encouraged an awareness of employee political associations that may show up on the web in a context linking the employee, their views, and the bank. She explained that if the employee identifies their bank employer, “it puts the bank in a ‘should have known’” position if compliance issues later arise. Arvest policy prohibits making statements on personal social media pages that are intended to represent the views or positions of the company.
Saving good, avoiding bad and ugly
Overall, said Kee, Arvest social media policy is designed to allow the company to take advantage of social networking’s marketing value while not getting tripped up.
Kee explained that Arvest sees much utility to social networking. Blogs, for instance, can provide a channel for immediate access to customers, say for alerting them to a scam. Arvest’s website, www.arvest.com, receives 95,000 hits daily, and the bank maintains a blog (http://www.arvestblog.com/) as well as official Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ArvestBank, more than 15,000 fans) and a Twitter account (@arvestbank, more than 1,300 followers).
What’s critical for staff is to recall the status of web postings.
“A computer page is an advertisement,” said Kee. “There’s no difference between that, and placing an ad in the newspaper.”
Arvest does permit employees some DIY social media in connection with work, subject to protocols established under policy. And they venture into those approved activities, Kee added, “knowing that we will watch.”
“You don’t want to cut them off at the knees, you want them to be creative,” said Kee. However, there are limits. Kee said that the bank finds it difficult to track Twitter tweets. Thus, policy warns individual employees that “thou shalt not tweet about the bank.” â–
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, executive editor, ABABJ,
[This article was posted on July 8, 2010, on the website of ABA Banking Journal, www.ababj.com, and is copyright 2010 by the American Bankers Association.]