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.

Rishad Tobaccowala: 4A’s Transformation 2010 Speech

4 03 2010

Rishad Tobaccowala of Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi, is my new hero.  At the 4A’s Transformation 2010 event, he did something truly rare: he told the truth, in plain English.

It was unambiguous. Uncomfortable to hear. And absolutely right.

See the video here.  I haven’t been able to find a transcript online, so I’m providing an edited one, below. It’s inspiring stuff.

Rishad Tobaccowala: This industry is about talent.  And it’s not about any of the other things.

Go today, to Mountain View. Cupertino. Sunnyvale. Go wherever you want, and you will find that they are fixated on talent. Fixated.

The companies that have a disproportionate share of passionate talent will beat everybody.  And what we need to do like never before is bring and inspire talent into this industry. Because that is what will make this industry be the marketing Renaissance industry it should be.

What sort of talent should we be looking at?

If this is a Renaissance, we need to make absolutely sure that we bring in the builders.

This is a time to build. In the Renaissance, they built. And they painted. And they sculpted.

They did not manage only. They did not data read. They did not organize and re-organize.

They built, they painted, they sculpted. That’s what they did. We need to basically build and attract builders.

But to do that, we have to understand what the digital mindset is. And this is really where one of the big challenges is going to be for all of our industries, which have built up  — besides Silicon Valley —  systems that (…) incentivize seniority.

If you ask what top digital talent wants, they want accountability. They want a culture that lets them do what they want. And this is what they want the most: skin in the game.

The next generation wants wealth, and it has three types of wealth.

They want a wealth of experience, which means give me an opportunity NOW. They want a wealth of education — surround me with very good people and teach me. And sooner or later, they want economic wealth. And we must find ways to give it to them.

Because if we don’t they will build somewhere else. And that’s not going to be good for any of us.

When you came into this business, you came in with audacity. What you see in Silicon Valley is audacity. Remaking industries — that’s audacity.

You came in with dreams and now you stand with spreadsheets. Let’s get back to the audacity and the dreams.

And you know what? The spreadsheets will fill up beautifully.