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JPMorgan Twitter bungle: Here's what big firms should avoid on social media

When JPMorgan Chase found itself in hot water over a snarky savings-related tweet that went viral, Dan Moran saw a marketing opportunity.

Moran, the social media manager at nbkc in Kansas City, Mo., took to Twitter to mock the megabank for the many fees it charges customers. He played off Chase’s original tweet, designed to chide customers for their frivolous spending habits, seizing instead on common fees assessed by some banks.

The episode again demonstrates the peril and promise of social media for banks. JPMorgan’s tweet has been widely panned, even drawing the attention of multiple progressive lawmakers, who used it as proof that big banks are out of touch.

For some observers, it was a simple mistake seized on by a largely liberal crowd on Twitter.

“It was a poor attempt at humor that was blown out of proportion, but anytime a major bank like a Chase, BofA or Wells Fargo takes the smallest misstep, it’s leaving itself open for haters to hate,” said Ron Shevlin, director of research at Cornerstone Advisors. “I bet you $5 that if a fintech startup had tweeted that same tweet it would have been the funniest thing you had ever seen.”

But for others, the JPMorgan tweet is a good example of what to avoid on social media. For example, in addition to coming off as snarky, the original tweet was seen as condescending.

“You: why is my balance so low,” it read with the hashtag #MondayMotivation. “Bank account: make coffee at home. Bank account: eat the food that’s already in the fridge. Bank account: you don’t need a cab, it’s only three blocks. You: I guess we’ll never know. Bank account: seriously?”

Moran said banks can’t afford to come off as preachy. They have to listen to complaints from customers and present helpful information, rather than trying to tell them what to do, he said. It’s not easy, considering how fast social media moves.

“If we do a blog post, you can take more lead time versus Twitter,” Moran said. “To be relevant on Twitter you have to be there like now or within five minutes.”

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Demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street movement gather in front of a Chase bank branch in Times Square in New York, U.S., on Friday, Oct. 28, 2011. Photographer: Ramin Talaie/Bloomberg

Davia Temin, CEO of Temin and Co., a New York consultancy that focuses on reputation and crisis management, said there’s no room for corporations to be snarky on Twitter. Banks must raise the level of discourse, providing content that’s insightful and compassionate in addition to being playful.

“You can imagine that a Monday morning motivator is written by millennials in charge of social media and someone has charged them to be edgy to wake up the younger customers, to be outrageous because half of the internet is outrageous,” she said.

Shevlin would have redirected the tweet’s central message toward something more generic or data driven.

“Like, ‘Hey, did you know that cutting out your Starbucks fix over the course of the year could save you $500?’ ” he said. “Everyone knows that, but it wouldn’t have been as offensive.”

And several observers said JPMorgan Chase knew better. Its Finn app is careful to point out anomalies in spending, rather than judge its users for their spending habits, said Emmet Higdon, a director in Javelin's Digital Banking practice.

At Finn’s launch, Bill Wallace, CEO of Digital at Chase, said in a statement to The Street: "When it comes to money, millennials told us they don't want to feel like they're being judged. So, we designed Finn to put them in charge, no matter where or how they're spending."

Finn allows customers to categorize spending as “want” or “need” and express how they felt about those spends.

“Rather than an internal monologue about what you shouldn’t be spending on, Finn is about knowing how your spending decisions fit into your lifestyle and make the best ones for your finances and live in a way you want to,” said Tyler Brown, research analyst in Javelin’s Digital Banking practice.

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