Another brand crisis is making headlines. First Tiger Woods, then Seaworld, and now a favorite snack-food maker, Nestle.
This time, the assault on the brand was an organized effort started by Greenpeace on their website, blog and through Facebook and Twitter. The protest was not centered on one new story in the news but instead stems from a long-standing criticism of Nestle's use of palm oil and the effects on rainforests and the habitat of orangutans.
Through a concerted effort, protesters began to flood the Nestle Facebook Fan page with negative comments and to send tweets about the company and its practices. What has helped this story gain traction is the extremely poor response from Nestle itself. When "fans" started using altered Nestle logos as their profile pictures, Nestle posted a reply which added fuel to the fire. "To repeat: we welcome your comments, but please don't post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic--they will be deleted." This led to comments about Big Brother and stifling of dissent. The wording of Nestle's reaction was childish, rude and unprofessional.
More than the actual reason for the protest, Nestle's repsonse is evidently what hurt them most. A later comment from a protestor said it best: "Hey PR moron. Thanks you are doing a far better job than we could ever achieve in destroying your brand."
But what is a company to do when faced with such an organized attack via social media?
- Have a clear social media plan in place before jumping into the water. A good plan includes more than how often to send out messages, what those messages will be, and how to measure the public's response. A good, complete plan also involves setting and publishing clear policies for both the corporate representative and consumers in expected behavior (such as the rights to use logos, and a ban of inflammatory or offensive language) and having the right resources in place to deal with social media issues.
- Have a social media staff of experienced managers. Because social media is such a new practice, most companies make the mistake of assigning the work to interns or Gen Y staff fresh out of college. The idea is that people of that age are more in-tune with how social media works. That is a dangerous practice, as shown by the Nestle staffer's response. A manager with several years' experience dealing with marketing and PR issues, crisis management, or branding should always be involved in the company's response to any criticism online.
- Understand that your social media pages are not truly owned by you. Yes, with the capacity to shut off comments or even take down an entire page, you can somewhat control the content. But that will only push your criticizers to another site that is completely out of your control. Just as your brand identity is a combination of how you would like the public to see you and how they really do, your social media persona is also a mixture of what you present and the words of the community.
- Plan for the worst, even if you never have a crisis. Clearly, Nestle and its social media employee was not prepared for the onslaught of negative comments. After the childish responses, the company followed with more than 60 hours of silence before putting a more appropriately worded response on their corporate site.
- Remember: The first rule of business should be to never insult the public. The second should be to always have a calm response to criticism, even if it is something as simple as "Thank you for your comments. We are looking into X and will release a statement by Y." And the third rule would be to then deliver on that promise. Respond when you say you will and be sure the response addresses the actual complaint and is not just a PR or marketing spin.
If Nestle had listened to consumer complaints years ago, they could have potentially avoided this entire brew-ha-ha (and had true fans leaving positive feedback on their Fan page today.)
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