One Facebook post with nineteen words is all it took for Gerri Cannon, a mortgage loan services officer at the $158 million MTC Federal Credit Union, to lose her job.
Actually, it was most likely one word in particular that got her canned: the n-word.
During the early evening hours one Sunday, Cannon says she was home scrolling through Facebook when she read a comment from a prominent Black Lives Matter activist and rapper Tef Poe: “Dear white people, if Trump wins, young n***as such as myself are fully hell bent on inciting riots everywhere we go. Just so you know.”
Cannon says this tweet appeared in her Facebook newsfeed, to which she replied, “N***as better watch out… White people are sick of your racist attitude. We will not sit back and watch.”
Before breakfast the next morning, people were already lining up to skewer Cannon and the credit union she worked for.
By 2:00 pm that afternoon, Cannon was fired.
Why? Because you can’t have someone who approves and denies home loans tossing the n-word around. Duh!
This was immediately obvious to the public, too. As one Facebook user wrote, “It makes one wonder if she is in a position to approve loans, how many people of color has she denied due to her unfavorable views?”
“Is this a racist company or do you just employ racist people?” asked another.
Unfortunately for the credit union, the damage had been done. The rating on MTC’s Facebook page dropped to an average of 3.6 (on a five-point scale), with about a third of all reviewers giving them a one-star rating — the lowest possible score. Now anyone who visits their Facebook page will be inclined to think MTC is a mediocre credit union. And the review section of the page is littered with all kinds of awkward and unflattering language that no brand manager wants to hear.
To make matters worse, any minority applicant who had a loan denied by Cannon may be inclined to file a discrimination case against MTC, which would only yield more bad press.
What’s Up With These Racist Mortgage Lenders?
As Michelle Obama delivered her speech at the recent Democratic National Convention, Lisa Greenwood took to Twitter to share her racist perspective on the First Lady of the United States:
“@FLOTUS Beautiful? Seriously she is an ugly black b***h.”
That was Monday, July 25th, shortly after 10:30 pm. Twitter users were quick to find Greenwood’s Facebook page, and figured out who she worked for. Nothing is a secret on the internet.
Less than 12 hours after Greenwood’s tweet, she was fired. But not before a few thousand people blasted her employer, Home Point Financial, a nationwide mortgage lender.
@HomePointLoans Do you intend to review the loan decisions that Lisa Greenwood was involved in?
— Torraine Walker (@TorraineWalker) July 28, 2016
Bank of America Faces the Fire
No one can be quite sure what — if anything — was going through Christine McMullen Lindgren’s mind when she decided to let loose a racial tirade on Facebook. In a incoherent but nevertheless repugnant post laced with f-bombs, the bigoted Bank of America employee unleashed her hatred of black people for the world to see.
It didn’t take long for someone to make the connection between Lindgren and BofA… three minutes to be precise. And just like that, the story went viral. Thousands of people immediately hammered on BofA, with hundreds of them threatening to close their accounts.
Now it would be bad enough if Lindgren had been a janitor at the bank. But she was a “Personal Banker.”
Personal Banker?!? Guh…
“Service doesn’t always come with a smile,” said Black Entertainment News in a post. “She should have never been near our money.”
Lindgren’s bosses found out about her post on Wednesday, and investigated the racist rant before she was fired on Thursday.
We are aware of an unacceptable post on Facebook. The comments are reprehensible. We have terminated the employment of the individual.
— Bank of America News (@BofA_News) June 2, 2016
None of this was good for a bank already beleaguered by accusations of racial discrimination. In recent years, Bank of America has been forced to settle at least three major discrimination lawsuits involving minorities, including one alleging they were biased against black job applicants. The post from Lindgren just reopened these wounds, and made minorities even more prickly towards BofA. And these are the kind of wounds that linger, leaving scars people tend to remember. This is a brand backlash that a mass-market big bank doesn’t need.
You may think it’s easy to spot a racist, but they don’t always look like they just stepped off the set of ‘Deliverance.’ Pictured left to right: Gerri Cannon, Lisa Greenwood and Christine McMullen Lindgren. These women look like any typical employee at any bank or credit union.
What Financial Brand Managers Must Do
It may sound anti-American or unconstitutional to suggest curbing people’s speech, but that’s not the case. The U.S. Constitution’s free speech protections restrict the government’s ability to squelch your voice, not the ability of your boss, your neighbors or strangers to make you seriously regret saying anything.
So muzzling would-be bigots is precisely what brand managers must do. Work with your HR, Training and Legal teams to mitigate the reputational risks posed by employees who post objectionable material in social media channels. You should update your employee manual and/or your code of conduct to make it clear that anything anyone says — online or off — that could be construed as hate speech may be grounds for immediate termination. You’ll definitely want to cover all the standard “protected classes” (e.g., race, religion, nationality, those with mental/physical disabilities), but you might also consider covering a wider range of commentary, since anything from a sexist remark to a joke about the elderly could result in blowback.
“People’s personal behavior online can reflect on their employer,’’ says Meredith Olmstead, founding partner and social media/inbound marketing consultant of Social Stairway. “For this reason, your employee social media policies must include some language covering this area of employee conduct.”
Situations like these also elevate the importance of using social media monitoring platforms to scan for mentions of your brand online and in real time. You can go a step further and make the case for having someone from either Marketing or PR responsible for “social listening” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You don’t want to leave a problem like this unaddressed for even one day.
Your financial institution fought hard to win the relationships it has today, and hanging on to those relationships isn’t easy. You are already in a war of attrition with competitors, and the battle for customer loyalty never ends. The last thing you need is some ridiculous and ugly scandal to blow up in your face because you appear flatfooted or tone deaf. You could not only find yourself subjected to a nasty PR problem, you could have an angry mob coming after you with their online pitchforks.
There’s no need to weather a prolonged onslaught of account closures, bad press and negative publicity. Simply get your employees to sign an agreement acknowledging that they realize they will get axed immediately for using offensive language like the n-word. Heck, you may want to get those who are in positions to approve/deny credit to sign a few copies, just to make the point (we’re joking, of course). But if anyone complains about your “unfair policy,” they probably aren’t the kind of employee you want around your organization anyway.
Or as one journalist suggests, “If you are going to be a complete moron on the internet, you probably shouldn’t include your place of employment on your social media pages.”
But of course, you can’t accuse a racist of having any intelligence.