Thursday, 15 April 2010

Nestle weighs in on Greenpeace Controversy - Facebook

By Erik Sass

Let this be a lesson for every big company that uses social media: it's better not to behave like a petulant teenager when things don't go your way. That said, we can sympathize with Nestle's hissy fit.

Like any company with a marketing organization worthy of the name, Nestle's has a social media presence including, of course, a Facebook page. Meanwhile, like any global corporation, Nestle's also does things that attract criticism from environmental activists. Taken together, these two facts virtually guarantee a collision resulting in negative publicity somewhere down the line.

That's what happened when Greenpeace took Nestle to task for allegedly contributing to the plight of Indonesian orangutans -- an endangered species whose rain forest habitat is threatened by the encroachment of farmland used to produce palm oil for Nestle's, among other buyers. Greenpeace has a Web site devoted to this cause, hosting a mini-documentary and a fairly gross video ad in which an office worker opens a Kit Kat only to find an orangutan finger (Greenpeace is not known for subtlety). Naturally, Greenpeace also posted the ad on YouTube.

Nestle's first -- and possibly worst -- social media mistake was going after the YouTube ad. The same day that the video was posted -- March 17 -- the company forced YouTube to remove the ad, for reasons that still aren't clear (as mentioned it's kind of gross, but nowhere near as gross as some other stuff on the video-sharing site). Regardless of the reason, the attempt to censor the video was not a smart move, as it generated way more negative publicity than if they'd just left it alone, while the video was still available at other locations like Vimeo and the Greenpeace site itself.

This bullying in turn precipitated a flood of negative comments targeting Nestle's on Twitter and Facebook, including the company's own Facebook page. Some of the critics were "strangers," but some of them were people who were actually Nestle's Facebook "fans" -- whom the company had presumably worked hard to recruit and lovingly cultivated with so much social media savvy.
When its Facebook fans became critical of the brand, however, Nestle turned into an angry adolescent, exchanging insults with critics and "de-friending" them, as if this would somehow stem the tide of negative PR. This ludicrous, petty behavior was the worst possible response, failing to insulate the company from criticism while stoking the negative PR storm: I mean, social networks thrive on this kind of stuff (OMG, drama! Tell everyone!).
Eventually cooler heads prevailed and Nestle's reversed itself, issuing an apology and agreeing to stop using the offending palm oil, but it was too late: its behavior on Facebook was touted as uncool, and Nestle's will be lucky if those de-friended peeps, like, ever talk to it again? But it's an interesting case study in how a social media presence -- which many big companies treat as a humdrum necessity, almost an afterthought -- can suddenly take center stage (and not in a good way).