Poor old NAB & their latest social media debacle

Let me preface these remarks with some facts – I get banks and what they do and believe we are pretty lucky in Australia with our banking system; I’ve even worked for several banks; I don’t hate banks (except in that normal way when there is some administrative stuff-up with one of my accounts).

I feel sorry for the brave folks at NAB who tried to get a conservative bank to experiment with social media.  But my advice to them would have been along the lines of Sir Humphrey Appleby in saying “… yes Minister, a VERY courageous decision” for a number of reasons.

This adventure had the potential to be train wreck from the start.  We are talking about the kind of organisation that does not dialogue with any stakeholders at all in the consumer space. NAB is not different to any of the other Australian banks in this orientation.  It is not even a bad thing in itself.  But it is problematic when embarking upon a social media campaign.

One of the ground rules of social media is authentic dialogue and NAB did not appear to understand this.  Also instead of engaging in dialogue with the bank staff got a bit defensive and there was the whole sockpuppet issue. Moderation of user generated content is one thing but rejection of negative comments is another that does not fit well into the social media milieu.

NAB staff really should have understood the social compact they were entering into by setting up My Future Bank. They said: 

“What is the bank of the future? What will it look like? How will it work? How will it meet your needs? Imagine your ideas realized. That’s the plan of the My Future Bank project.

We need your help. Please share with us and our visitors what frustrates you about your bank, and more importantly, what you would do differently to improve your banking experience.

Regardless of the issue:  rates, fees & charges, customer service, transparency & integrity or touch points (e.g. ATMs, branches, phone or internet banking), we want to hear from you!”

And then they got upset when people told them answers to those questions, or questioned the way that NAB was interacting online.  Then NAB’s final response via Corporate Affairs spokesperson Luisa Ford was to just pull the site down with the comment that:

“It was an experiment to gather data, and we’ve gathered all the data we need,” said Ford. “It was always scheduled to run for a few weeks.”

Well that was an experiment that worked! It got a whole lot of negative press; a lot of negative blog, social media and social network chatter; and made people feel like an opportunity for genuine dialogue with a key consumer institution was lost.  If NAB had been able to pull this off it would have differentiated them significantly for web savvy consumers.

The sad thing is that if the well meaning NAB folk had understood ideas like those in Who are you? And why should I trust you? they might have known that dialogue means having a two way conversation, that relationships are built upon trust that is built up over time and with many conversations, and that we don’t always need to agree to continue the dialogue.

Also a bit sad is that they did not understand how robust the dialogue might possibly become; and that they were not prepared to respond effectively.

I’m sorry that this happened, and hope that other conservative institutions learn lessons from the NAB experience and do not merely turn away from social media.  However, it is likely that this saga has merely given the naysayers in banks and other similar institutions more evidence to block any future experiments.

A couple of other blog discussions of this issue include:

Why bankers are wary of social media
Blogger pulls post against NAB’s social media site
NAB (again) flamed over Social Media ineptitude

Australian Technology Showcase, helping innovative tech companies

Attending the Australian Technology Showcase session in Sydney tonight. ATS describes itself as a “promotional and networking government program targeted at small and medium sized Australian business enterprises with innovative, cutting edge technologies.”

They actually introduced themselves as “we’re from the government and we’re here to help”, strangely enough I suspect that this is actually true.

Some interesting innovative technology companies participate in the program and it is great to see them getting this support. One outcome of this program is the building of a community for these hi-tech companies in Australia.

Of real interest to many tech businesses is the strategic export assistance that ATS can provide. There is a real focus on getting Australian businesses exporting and providing support to enable export.

More businesses should know about the Australian Technology Showcase so tell anyone you think might be interested – the ATS contacts are here.

3 simple ideas for assessing a web page

I have been out visiting regional areas in NSW and talking to small business owners about their websites, online marketing, social media and social networking recently. It has really clarified three things I think a website needs to tell a new visitor within the first few seconds:

  1. who you are
  2. what you do
  3. what you want them to do on the site

Lots of websites don’t do these three simple things and so I click away and, very likely, many others do the same.

It is a simple idea and it is worth having another look at your website in the light of these three items.

“Press on: nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” — Calvin Coolidge (1872 – 1933)

Blog Action Day: poverty is a strange thing when you think about it

There is plenty of stuff in the world overall, it’s just distributed unevenly. And poverty is around us even in rich countries like Australia. 

A real question for those of us living comfortable lives is what can we do to make the world a better place?

Now I’m not advocating a socialist nirvana. But I am thinking about some positive steps I can take that could help other people to move out of poverty.

My current thoughts are around education since it is an area I’m passionate about and I know that fewer educated people live in poverty.

This is the question that it is worth considering on Blog Action Day

Some well meaning job loss advice is wrong …

Lots of sites are starting to dish out ideas about how to handle losing your job. This one in the Washington Post is a good example, suggesting that the best thing to do is to wait until you’ve lost a job and then “Start the climb back by rebuilding your self-image.”

Nice advice, but I think wrong.  Your job is your passport to living the life you want. The resource that enables you to get a job is you, together with all your skills, competencies and experience.   

But the work starts long before you lose a job – and it starts with: 

  • taking an inventory of your skills and capabilities
  • keeping your resume up to date with recent achievements 
  • joining appropriate industry bodies & networks
  • identifying knowledge gaps & planning to fill them
  • participating in networks & forums both online and offline
  • getting to know other people in your industry

If you wait until the moment you lose your job to do all of these things you are at a disadvantage. Even if lucky enough to get a good redundancy payout the negative feelings associated with losing your job still hit with force.  Also you might not have the financial or emotional resources to undertake these activities after a job loss.

Far better to be prudent and be ready – ready to take advantage of new opportunities as well as dealing with a job loss.  As they say “Always plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”

[* Richard C. Cushing ]

Differences between Australia & the rest of world – a Fable

Sugar Glider eating a grasshopperI don’t know the provenance of this fable, but it does illustrate some key differences between Australia and other parts of the world …

The Squirrel and The Grasshopper

The squirrel works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building and improving his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks he’s a fool, and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the squirrel is warm and well fed. The shivering grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the cold.


The squirrel works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks he’s a fool, and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the squirrel is warm and well fed.

A social worker finds the shivering grasshopper, calls a press conference and demands to know why the squirrel should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others less fortunate, like the grasshopper, are cold and starving.

The ABC shows up to provide live coverage of the shivering grasshopper; with cuts to a video of the squirrel in his comfortable warm home with a table laden with food.

The Australian press informs people that they should be ashamed that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so while others have plenty.

The Labour Party, Greenpeace, Animal Rights and The Grasshopper Housing Commission of Australia demonstrate in front of the squirrel’s house.

The ABC, interrupting a cultural festival special from St Kilda with breaking news, broadcasts a multi cultural choir singing ‘We Shall Overcome’.

Bill Shorten rants in an interview with Laurie Oakes that the squirrel got rich off the backs of grasshoppers, and calls for an immediate tax hike on the squirrel to make him pay his ‘fair share’ and increases the charge for squirrels to enter Melbourne city centre.

In response to pressure from the media, the Government drafts the Economic Equity and Grasshopper Anti Discrimination Act, retroactive to the beginning of the summer. The squirrel’s taxes are reassessed. He is taken to court and fined for failing to hire grasshoppers as builders,
for the work he was doing on his home, and an additional fine for contempt when he told the court the grasshopper did not want to work.

The grasshopper is provided with a Housing Commission house, financial aid to furnish it and an account with a local taxi firm to ensure he can be socially mobile. The squirrel’s food is seized and re-distributed to the more needy members of society – in this case the grasshopper.

Without enough money to buy more food, to pay the fine and his newly imposed retroactive taxes, the squirrel has to downsize and start building a new home.

The local authority takes over his old home and utilises it as a temporary home for asylum seeking cats who had hijacked a plane to get to Australia as they had to share their country of origin with mice.

On arrival they tried to blow up the airport because of Australians’ apparent love of dogs.

The cats had been arrested for the international offence of hijacking and attempted bombing but were immediately released because the police fed them pilchards instead of salmon whilst in custody.

Initial moves to make then return them to their own country were abandoned because it was feared they would face death by the mice.

The cats devise and start a scam to obtain money from people’s credit cards.

A 60 Minutes special shows the grasshopper finishing up the last of the squirrel’s food, though spring is still months away, while the Housing Commission house he is in, crumbles around him because he hasn’t bothered to maintain it. He is shown to be taking drugs.

Inadequate government funding is blamed for the grasshopper’s drug ‘Illness’.

The cats seek recompense in the Australian courts for their treatment since arrival in Australia.

The grasshopper gets arrested for stabbing an old dog during a burglary to get money for his drugs habit. He is imprisoned but released immediately because he has been in custody for a few weeks. He is placed in the care of the probation service to monitor and supervise him.

Within a few weeks he has killed a guinea pig in a botched robbery.

A commission of enquiry, that will eventually cost $10 million and state the obvious, is set up.

Additional money is put into funding a drug rehabilitation scheme for grasshoppers.

Legal aid for lawyers representing asylum seekers is increased.

The asylum seeking cats are praised by the government for enriching Australia’s multicultural diversity and dogs are criticised by the government for failing to befriend the cats.

The grasshopper dies of a drug overdose.

The usual sections of the press blame it on the obvious failure of government to address the root causes of despair arising from social inequity and his traumatic experience of prison.

They call for the resignation of a minister.

The cats are paid $1 million each because their rights were infringed when the government failed to inform them there were mice in Australia.

The squirrel, the dogs and the victims of the hijacking, the bombing, the burglaries and robberies have to pay an additional percentage on their credit cards to cover losses, their taxes are increased to pay for law and order, and they are told that they will have to work beyond 65 because of a shortfall in government funds.


PS: the image is an Australian Sugar Glider, not quite a squirrel, eating a grasshopper

Is it time for web 2.0 to grow up?

For a while now I’ve been uncomfortable with the direction of much of the stuff referred to as web 2.0. It seems to be full of amusing trifles that don’t offer any real substance in terms of sustainable business models.

For example, while I dearly love Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed and the hyperconnectivity and community they enable, I still have no idea how they plan to make any money to sustain these services.

Late last year Steve Rubel was stating very strongly that Web 2.0 World is Skunk Drunk on Its Own Kool-Aid (a view that I was in sympathy with at the time). And as he said: “I am sorry to be a party pooper on conventional wisdom, really. But I miss the days of 2004 when the class that includes Flickr, del.icio.us and others started. They really were about changing the web, not making a quick buck (they did so only because they added value).”

This idea of adding value, or at least of being self sustaining is important.  Especially if we want to transfer the genuinely revolutionary web 2.0-ish ways of building systems and new cultural approaches to software into the enterprise.  Thus we need to become serious agents of change.  

A good example of this is the fact that waterfall software development gives us failure upon failure and we need to find a better way to deliver enterprise software.  Putting software built using rubbish processes into the cloud is not the right answer.  Instead we need to take the cooperative and iterative development methods we’ve used to build cool web 2.0 stuff and show that agile and scrum are scalable and real solutions for the enterprise. 

One of the reasons we have so many user friendly, functionally rich web 2.0 applications is that they were not built the same way we’ve always done software.  One of the most revolutionary things we can do is transfer this kind of capability into the enterprise. This will enable us to build better systems that are not just for fun but which are better for people and for business.