Making Social Media Policy Stick: How Arvest Controls Employee Use of New Media

Article excerpt

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Arvest Bank pays three employees to do nothing fish all week.

Of course, they're not casting for largemouth baas. The three troll websites and the social mesh 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 Arrest 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 sue@yourbank.com 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.

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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."

Setting boundaries

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. …