Bitter On Twitter

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VIENNA, Va.-In June 2009, a Navy FCU member named Chris started a Twitter account called "NFCU Sucks," apparently using it as a stage to complain bitterly about the credit union's overdraft fees.

The account quickly amassed nearly 500 followers and a collection of hundreds of grievances from other Navy Federal members who use Twitter. "I'm switching to Chase," said one tweeter, while another wrote "Navy FCU problems are becoming more rampant."

The $42-billion CU resisted the urge to fight back against Chris, whom the CU identified as a "major rager," or someone who repeatedly endeavors to denounce Navy Federal, said PR Manager Jennifer Sadler. "We're not going to add fuel to the fire and engage with a rager."

Instead, Navy FCU invited Chris to contact the CU directly, said Sadler. Chris ignored the offer, Sadler said. "Most of the time, the ragers never contact us. They just want a platform from which to bash us. They think they can get us to respond if they use bullying tactics."

Suddenly, in January, Chris' postings stopped. Chris later explained on an industry blog that his complaints against Navy FCU were unresolved, but that he had joined a different CU and was "much happier."

Navy Federal's rules of engagement regarding "ragers" may have helped extinguish the fire, suggested Aisha Rasul, project manager at the CU. "We stay calm. We watch. We don't respond. We're able to avoid knee-jerk replies and in-house chaos because we have a social media policy to stand on."

Chris' Twitter crusade gave Navy Federal its first opportunity to test that social media policy, Sadler continued. More recently, the CU responded by the book to another rager, a short-sale negotiation specialist who used Twitter and other channels to "defame us," she said.

"We use our policy to deal with ragers, and they just kind of go away," said Sadler. "Our book of procedures and training tells us what to respond to and what to track. We don't respond to the bashers, we just track them and publicly invite them to contact us. That's the best you can do in a public forum where sensitive financial information may be involved and you have to communicate in 140 characters or less. We're pretty happy with the way our approach is working."

The CU does interact with small-time naysayers, however, she said. "If a member has had a negative experience, we try to restore the relationship. If people post incorrect information, we use the opportunity to fix the facts and to educate."

At times, the Twitter public responds to an insult or a libelous tweet against Navy FCU more quickly than the credit union. "A lot of people in the community will defend us or make a correction without us even asking them to," Sadler said.

Sadler said she can count on one hand the number of anti-Navy Federal ragers since the CU started tweeting in October. Of the 600 tweets that mention the CU every week, Sadler said she estimates that 80% of them are positive.

Sadler tracks references to Navy Federal across the Web using Cloud Monitor from Bozeman, Mont.-based RightNow; Social Media Software from Lanham, Md.-based Vocus; and Twitter Search and Google Alerts.

"Our management is so excited about Twitter" because Tweets contain immediate feedback about Navy Federal products and services, she said.

Navy FCU's greatest fear about participating in social media, including Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and soon, Facebook, is that "we will be wildly successful. If all 3.4-million of our members started tweeting, that would be scary."

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