Bank of America Rage Goes Viral

Bank of America’s online woes

The nation’s largest bank by deposits, Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC) is, well, huge. They have 243,000 employees and a $137.5 billion market cap. I’ll put it this way, they’ve got enough money that they cut a $45 billion check to the government this week to repay their share of the bank bailout. Partially because of its size and high visibility, it is an easy target for online detractors who are outraged by recent financial industry practices. I want to be clear here that Bank of America is not the only one getting its share of heat ... other big banks such as Chase (Stock Quote: JPM), Wells Fargo (Stock Quote: WFC) and Citi (Stock Quote: C) have their critics as well. But for this article we are focusing on five videos critical of Bank of America. Some are from customers and one from a disgruntled former employee. We also sought official comment from Bank of America executives. We asked them to check out the videos in question. We also wanted to hear about how the bank typically deals with negative online coverage—do they actively reach out to those who post videos? Do they have some sort of social media strategy in place to respond? Their response is included later in this article, though Bank of America declined to respond specifically to any of the videos mentioned here. They did, however, suggest a more effective way for you to get your issue resolved—without posting a video of you tearing your hair out, and causing all sorts of bad PR for them. But first, the accusers… Photo Credit: neubie


“Why Bank Of America Fired Me”

This video has already been viewed more than 160,000 times. As reported by Huffington Post, “Bank of America fired Jackie Ramos after she took a stand against the bank's $15 ‘convenience’ charges and $39 over-the-limit fees so she could sleep better at night. ‘There was something inherently evil about my job,’ the 23-year-old said in a YouTube video she uploaded on Nov. 27, two days after her termination.” Ramos also claims she “helped people get on programs that they didn't necessarily qualify for but who definitely needed the help.” I’m no bank apologist, but neither do I work for a bank, which is why I can publicly call their policies abhorrent if I want. Ms. Ramos, on the other hand,  took a job at a for-profit bank. If she can’t play by their rules, she doesn’t belong there. She charges that BofA is not concerned about their employees’ well-being. She also gives no indication that she took the job in order to serve as some sort of internal moral compass for the company, so it seems strange for her to complain about getting fired. That’s the whole point. Her firing exposed the “evil” practices — shouldn’t she be happy about that? If she wanted to do social work, perhaps a publicly held financial institution was not the best place for her to be. In this day and age, complex bank practices are no surprise to anyone. Sadly, profits come first, Main Street second — or not at all. Photo Credit: YouTube


“Bank of America Walkout”

This particular video has been viewed more than 24,000 times already. In it, user roydeyoung09 expresses frustration over sudden increased credit card rates (he claims his own rate almost tripled) and encourages viewers to “close your accounts at BOA and walk out the door this week. Tell them goodbye, and that we are not going to bend-over for them anymore and take this crap!” as he writes in the video’s description. Unlike Ms. Ramos, who sounds like she was breaking company policy, we always have the right to vote with our wallets. Get an unfair interest rate increase? Try to negotiate. If that fails, take your business elsewhere. Photo Credit: YouTube


“Fire CEO Ken Lewis”

I think this video’s title says it all. It already has more than 50,000 views and uses clips from various television news and talk programs to make its point. Ken Lewis is on his way out already — although this video can’t be credited for that one! You see, Mr. Lewis opened a whole can of worms when his company acquired Merrill Lynch, and Countrywide before that. The bank is seeking a new CEO, but they’ve been having some trouble with that lately. Photo Credit: YouTube


“Bank of America Fraud in Collusion”

This one has more than 3,000 views – not exactly a viral sensation, but not horrible either. To be honest, I have no idea what its argument is, but it looks like the filmmaker attended at least 10 or 15 minutes of Michael Moore Ambush Journalism University before picking up his video camera. Seriously, guys. If you have a gripe with an institution as large as Bank of America, don’t make your video complex and obscure. Make your grievance crystal-clear, eloquent and entertaining if possible (think the Declaration of Independence meets Taxi Driver). It won’t go viral unless people actually understand what you’re saying. I’m a financial reporter and I don’t even know what this video is trying to prove. What’s the average YouTube surfer supposed to make of it? Photo Credit: YouTube


“DEBTORS REVOLT”

Ah yes, this is how to do it well: As we already reported, Ann Minch created something of a national sensation when her YouTube video went viral. In it, she says the bank “jacked up my interest rate on the credit card to a whopping 30% … I could get a better rate from a loan shark.” “They weren’t willing to negotiate anything … basically Bank of America’s message to me was tough s**t.” Crude, yes. But viewed 486,000 times on YouTube — and picked up by many national media outlets. The bank eventually agreed to reset her interest rate to the original 12.99%. Photo Credit: YouTube


The bank responds

What does Bank of America make of all this? According to spokeswoman Tara A. Burke, the bank realizes that any platform is going to have “positives and negatives.” She said the bank “follows the protocols of social media”—that means embracing that there will be “opportunities and challenges” with any online discussion of the company. They said they listen to all of it, but they have chosen to engage customers on Twitter primarily—which they joined in January. Check out their Twitter page here. When contacting Bank of America through this communication channel, do NOT initially include personally identifiable information or account numbers in your tweet. This is for security reasons; just state your problem in a general way ("I'm confused about a fee on my checking account"). They will follow up with you, typically requesting that you direct message (DM) them with your contact information. Their Twitter feed is “monitored by Senior Vice President David Knapp and the Twitter servicing team.” A better shot at success than wading through a phone menu, perhaps. In addition, posts from users of the Bank of America Twitter page have already reached more than 1.7 million. Photo Credit: Twitter.com/BofA_Help


They need to do more

So, even though they spoke with us, their response to these five videos in particular is essentially “no comment.” We’re accustomed to this at MainStreet… big corporations often refuse to respond directly to specific instances of bad press, but frankly we think it is unfortunate that they’re not giving an opinion on this. We sent them the links. Presumably they viewed them. Presumably they’re human—don’t they have opinions? The fact of the matter is that this kind of critique through social media exists, it’s not going anywhere, and it’s highly effective. Just look at Ann Minch’s newfound fame and lower interest rate. Bank of America, by refusing to take on specific grievances in the public sphere except on Twitter, is not helping itself. Guess what, BofA. Angry people with high interest rates are not going to disappear any time soon. In fact, one of these days they could drown you out. No amount of friendly, meticulously orchestrated television commercials will make the YouTube videos go away. So you might as well start dealing with it… and a Twitter feed probably isn’t enough to make all of your customers happy. Although it is a start. MainStreet, obviously, would be another great place to continue the conversation with stressed customers and we’re eager to do that with you in the near future. Photo Credit: kathika


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