Social media crises – Lebanon’s Fransabank and the email banning employees from attending Friday prayers

A second post this week focusing on social media and the digital world. And, similarly to the STC story, this article is also about a crisis. However, the background to what happened with Lebanon’s Fransabank is different to that of the public backlash against STC and its alleged poor customer service.

On the 22nd of July a picture began to circulate on social media channels of an email allegedly sent from an administration assistant banning male employees at Fransabank from going to Friday Prayers. A little context here for those who don’t know Lebanon. Unlike in the rest of the Middle East, Lebanon’s weekend is Saturday and Sunday and not Friday. For Muslims, the weekly communal prayer is held on a Friday at noon, and according to Lebanon’s constitution regarding freedom of religion all Muslim employees have the right to attend Friday prayers during their working day.

The connotation behind the alleged email was that male Muslim employees were not returning back to work after their prayers. You can see a screenshot of the email below.

This is a copy of the email allegedly written by a Fransabank employee and then leaked to the net

This is a copy of the email allegedly written by a Fransabank employee and then leaked to the net

As with many other religious issues in Lebanon, a country that is home to a complex mixture of religions and ethnicities, the email set off a storm of commentary on Facebook in particular. The issue reached back to Fransabank and their communications team acted to take control of the situation.

On the same day they issued a statement, in the form of a letter in Arabic, reaffirming respect for all of their employees and their religious duties. In addition, the letter (which is a fairly long crisis statement), also noted that the email was not authorized to be sent by the Bank (which would imply that the email was sent by an actual employee).

This was the first response from Fransabank on the email leak.

This was the first response from Fransabank on the email leak.

All well and good you’d think, but it didn’t stop there. Unfortunately, the first statement was signed but no one knows by whom as there was no name underneath the signature. Secondly, the letter was printed on a plain piece of A4 rather than a Fransabank letterhead. Cue the second letter, which you can see below.

Which was followed by a second statement from Fransabank, this time on an official letterhead

Which was followed by a second statement from Fransabank, this time on an official letterhead

There are obvious lessons here for all of us in communications. Firstly, get your internal communications right and make sure that your employees are aware of your values and your obligations. Legally, no employee should have shared an email regarding stopping their colleagues from performing their religious duties. From the perspective of values, would any Muslim employee want to work at an institution that doesn’t respect their right to pray on a Friday? While there were allegations of employees not returning to work after prayer, was such a response the right reaction? If values and compliance were communicated internally well and the issue of non-attendance handed in a different manner, maybe the email would never ever have been written, let alone leaked via social media.

Secondly, the response. Kudos to the Fransabank team for responding promptly on the same day after becoming aware of the issue (one question I have is how did they come across the original email post). But was the response adequate? Was a letter the right way to do it, especially a letter with no name attached and which is not printed on the bank’s letterhead? Could the team have responded differently, through a video message from a senior executive or a briefer holding statement that goes to the core of the issue about respect for religion and respect for their employees’ right to pray on a Friday?

The Fransabank story is another reminder that social media can bite you at any time. Every employee will have access to the internet, if not on their company computers, then through their mobile phones. Every employee will also have access to a camera, thanks to those same internet-enabled phones. Any content can be uploaded which can harm a person’s reputation. Was Fransabank ready for the crisis? And are you ready if something similar leaks online?

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