Westpac has been criticised by social media experts after it was found to have been censoring comments made on its Facebook page by irate customers, after the bank raised mortgage rates despite the RBA keeping the official cash rate on hold.
The incident has once again raised the debate over whether businesses should censor disparaging comments made on their Facebook pages, or allow them to remain in the interests of open discussion.
James Griffin, co-founder of online reputation management company SR7, says while it depends on the context as to whether a business should censor messages, most of the time it’s not a good idea.
“It’s true that it entirely depends on the situation, and the context in what you’re doing and what’s going on,” he says.
“Obviously most good Facebook pages have fairly well written guidelines, so the usual stuff like profanities need to be deleted, that’s fair. But when it’s regarding rate rises and so on, that’s a more complex issue.”
Users of the Westpac Facebook page have noticed some negative comments being deleted within minutes of being posted. Some users have complained these comments were only criticising the decision by the bank to raise interest rates – as of this morning, several negative comments remain.
This comes alongside reports Westpac has introduced a new social media policy that would prevent employees from making negative comments about the bank on platforms such as Facebook or Twitter.
Westpac was contacted this morning for comment, but no reply was received prior to publication.
However, it has told Fairfax the decision was made so that “partisan views” could not affect customers looking to investigate financial products.
Griffin says a situation where a business is the target of massive criticism can be harder to deal with, but it requires excellent internal planning.
“This is a situation where it becomes critical the people looking after the Facebook page need to be communicating with the corporate communications people, along with the risk management team and so on.”
“They need to understand what every message is before they delete a comment, or respond, or make any sort of action.”
Griffin says although the details of the situation are still up in the air, he believes “it’s a bit of a stretch” for Westpac to delete commentary from customers who are simply complaining about the service.
“If you own and operate a Facebook page and you increase rates, then you really just have to be ready to get your message right and explain to your customers what’s going on.”
For other businesses, Griffin says when accepting criticism, the best strategy is just to accept it and leave it up.
“No one is prepared to acknowledge risks in this sort of thing, yet in the real world, you have to think about how you’re going to deal with that all online.”