Social media and social networks — that universe of blogs, Facebook and the Twitter — have proven time and time again to be a minefield for unwary companies and organisations.
And introducing the most recent company to underestimate the potential for web-based backlash: Citi.
From that Feb 24 blog post, titled “citibank is so not fabulis“:
In a bit of strange and disturbing news, fabulis discovered today that someone(s) at Citibank had decided arbitrarily to block fabulis’ bank account due to what was described to us on the phone as “objectionable content” on our blog. In fact, the account — it turns out — was blocked a few days ago without anyone letting us know about it by phone or email.
…we can’t find anything “objectionable” on our blog besides some good humor, some business insights, and some touching coming out stories from some great and fabulis gay people.
And wtf. When did Citibank start reviewing blogs to decide who can bank with them?
Calls into Citibank tonight resulted in a temporary lifting of the block while a compliance officer is asked to re-review our website on Thursday.
On Thursday, Goldberg posted an update:
A few minutes ago I spoke to an account manager at Citibank. This manager let us know that a compliance review occurred, which Citi says is a standard procedure, and the review officer determined the “content was not in compliance with Citibank’s standard policies.” They requested the account be terminated.
“Content was not in compliance with Citibank’s standard policies.” Yes, that quote is indeed correct.
Goldberg also said he would be “taking our banking elsewhere. That is for certain.”
Another update followed not long after:
I guess this is how big companies try to defuse social media stories.
A manager from Citi just called to apologize and to say that all 3 of the citibank individuals who over the past 24 hours each individually claimed that fabulis’ account was to be terminated for compliance issues around the content of our site, were all wrong to have said what they said.
Hmph. Something smells.
We are inclined to agree with him on that latter point.
The latter featured a comment from Goldberg in which he described Citi’s behaviour as ‘moronic’ rather than malicious or homophobic:
Do I think Citibank or Citigroup is a homophobic malicious company? No. Do I think some compliance officer is a moron who made a really stupid decision? Yes. Three hours of trying to sort this out provided even more comedic insanity than I even revealed on the blog post. Including a bank manager who didn’t want to talk about this because she was uncomfortable talking about the content of our blog over a recorded phone conversation. Oh, and we’ve learned that the account was marked to be a cancelled by said compliance officer for this “objectionable content.” wtf.
As at pixel time, no one from Citi had returned calls seeking comment.
[UPDATE] Citi emailed the following contrite-in-the-best-corporate-fashion statement at 16:38 ET:
Citibank sincerely apologizes to Mr. Goldberg for this misunderstanding. This situation had nothing to do with the content of his web site and any comments by our staff to the contrary were incorrect; we are reviewing what happened. This was a technical issue about missing documentation that is required for new business accounts. Once we resolved the situation, we unblocked the account immediately. Mr. Goldberg is a valued customer and we appreciate his business. Also, Citi is strongly committed to diversity, including support for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, and other organizations promoting diversity. In fact, this week Citi has announced the financing for the True Colors Residence, a housing facility for homeless GLBT youth in New York City.
How corporate? Well, the sentence starting “Also, Citi is strongly…” appears almost verbatim in the ‘heartfelt-apology’ emailed by a William Brown to Goldberg and posted on his blog. The following sentence also appears, as is. Now that’s sincere – sincere PR.
Inside the Citi circus – Fabulis blog
Twitter fail on Twitter Fall at the Telegraph – #Telegraphfail? – FT Alphaville
“The only chapter we’re focused on…is chapter 1″ – FT Alphaville
Facebook revolt forces HSBC U-turn – FT (2007)