Nestlé Social Media Nightmare

19 03 2010

I’m watching what’s happening at Nestlé with a lot of interest. I think we should all be watching carefully.

If you’re not up to speed, here’s what’s happening.

Greenpeace has targeted Nestlé in a campaign against palm oil. Here’s the Greenpeace Orangutan web site. And here’s some good background on the story.

Twitter is aggressively and gleefully helicoptering in enormous vats of gasoline to pour into the anti-Nestlé firestorm.

And, precisely on cue, the Internet’s townspeople have gathered their pitchforks and torches to storm the castle.

Here’s the Nestlé “fan” page on Facebook. Yikes.

Some of the snarkiest anti-Nestlé voices are from self-appointed social media experts. There’s a little too much glee for my tastes about picking on a company that has found itself in trouble.

Has Nestlé handled this unexpected attack flawlessly?  Perhaps not. But none of us are perfect. And that goes double when the stakes are high.

Before You Break Out Your Own Pitchfork…

The attack on Nestlé is not entirely fair.

They are not the only company on Earth that buys palm oil. Palm oil is widely used in the production of food and cosmetics.

And it’s not like they’re callously ignoring the issue, either.

As The Guardian points out, like Unilever and Kraft, Nestlé is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a consortium of buyers and producers promoting sustainably produced palm oil.

It’s all unfolding now, but a few lessons seem clear:

  • Social media gurus advocate “giving up control of your brand” and “conducting business transparently”.  This can be fun when people are on your side. Nestlé is learning that it’s a lot less fun when they’re not.
  • When you give up control of your brand people may not treat it the way you would like.
  • Transparency means people will see you naked sometimes. You will not always look good naked.
  • It’s a bad idea to “engage with consumers openly” when it suits you, and then slam down the castle gate when the mob turns ugly.
  • When the crowd turns against you, all the “sharing” tools you have given them can — and will — be turned against you too.
  • There are a group of people who relish “sticking it to the man”. They will always be first in line handing out pitchforks and torches.

I’m not suggesting that companies should avoid social media entirely.

What I am saying is that companies that do go there need to go in with their eyes wide open.

 Social media is like anything else in life. There are risks and rewards. And it’s not always easy going.

Lastly, beware the advice to abandon control of your brand. You are responsible for your brand’s success or failure, and you can’t crowdsource the job or make excuses when things get tough.

To borrow a line from an old song, “it’s a thin line between love and hate”.

Nestlé is a great company in a tough spot. I’m rooting for Nestlé to get this right, in every sense: not just the crisis management issue but the longer-term product issue.

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3 responses

20 03 2010
Beate

not fair? is the killing of oran utans an the destroying of rain forests fair???? nestlé is on of the biggest food companys of the world, if they change their politics the oran utan have a chance

22 03 2010
tjcnyc

Beate, I’m very sympathetic to the issues Greenpeace has raised.
And, I understand the need to be provocative to get consumers’ attention.

What troubles me are two things:
1) Singling out Nestlé when they’re hardly alone in using palm oil; and
2) The way social media encourages people to pile on to beat up a company in trouble. As consumers, we now have much more power than we once did.

Will we learn to exercise that power wisely, to drive the right kinds of change? Or will we be an angry mob that goes from place to place ultimately making more noise than progress? It depends on what we care about.

Smart companies listen to feedback and do what it takes to improve. Let’s hope that Nestlé is listening.

26 09 2010
On Nestle | Mediathink

[...] should write about the Nestle issue. There can not be enough written about this. (Some good things here, here and here [...]

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