Social media gives Nestle a bad break

March 19th, 2010 by Jon Clements


Update: social specialist, Jeremiah Owyang, has provided some useful tips for brands venturing into social media, based on the Nestle example.

At approximately 3pm today, the Nestlé Facebook page status update read: “Social media: as you can see we’re learning as we go.”

This was, perhaps, the most profound show of humility that the company had mustered on a day – I’m sure – the guardians of the Nestlé brand would hope ends very soon indeed.

In short, whoever is responsible for managing the company’s communications on its Facebook page was simply not able to deal appropriately with the grass roots invasion by users changing their profile pictures to either Orang Utans or the “Killer” logo Greenpeace has twisted Kit-Kat into. 

Not only has today been a masterclass in mishandling a social media disaster, it’s managed to bring the central issue – the company’s connection to deforestation in Indonesia and its effect on indigenous people and Orang Utans – to more eyeballs than even Greenpeace could have imagined.

And the virtual worlds of Twitterville and the blogosphere like nothing more than spreading the word about some eye-wateringly bad online behaviour by a brand in a state of apoplexy.

Barefoot Media’s blog describes the handling of the crisis like “David Brent in a paper merchants” while Intelligence in Social Media points out: “It’s not every day that a brand turns its most loyal followers into angry protesters”.

And just follow the literal torrent of Tweets via Twitterfall.

So, what’s a brand to do? Strikes me the principles are clear whether on or offline:

1. Recognise that – whether through sabotage by activists or not – allegations against you and the way you respond to them within your social media back yard is visible to all your followers. Rudeness and sarcasm are inexcusable, however tight a corner you’ve been painted into.

2. History is littered with humiliation and vilification for those who try to censor and ban the views of others in a democracy. And, unless you live in China, the internet is a democracy.

3. Don’t believe your own spin and if your organisation has a skeleton in the cupboard, don’t just ignore it. You’re going to need a plausible answer when someone pulls it out and rattles its bones.

4. Show some humility. And quickly. In the case of social media, if you can convince your fans – and even some of your detractors – that you are human and recognise their right to protest and be upset with you, you stand a better chance of being defended by the community, even if you don’t deserve it.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

4 Responses to “Social media gives Nestle a bad break”

  1. Different River Says:

    I’m uneasy. Greenpeace pushed a stick into the hornets nest and then dropped it onto Nestle. And wow, is Nestle an easy target. And yes yes yes, they are out of line with their Palm Oil policy etc (that bit is the EASY part of this issue). But democracy is not the same as mob rule. Democracy involves the exchange of views, not the forcing of one view over another by sheer weight of numbers or verbal violence.

  2. Jonathan Barnes Says:

    Great article.

    You couldn’t be more right. Displaying humility is one of the most natural things to do and therefore one of the most effective when managing reputation during a social media crisis. Simply putting you’re hands up and admitting a mistake is in my opinion a very commendable thing to do!

    It does annoy me though that because Greenpeace are a charity, they are always gonna be the good guys and Nestle (the big multi-nationa) are always gonna be the bad guys! It’s not that simple, people need to make sure they are careful when believing activists (not necessarily in this case!) and particularly Greenpeace! They have been a bit naughty in the past!

    Thanks for this article!

    I have recently written an article about Greenpeace’s sometimes naughty strategies and questionable motifs.
    Please feel free to comment:


  3. Jon Says:

    Different River – you’re right. But I think in this case the behaviour shown by Nestle was responsible for attracting the sort of en masse negative response it got. And predators will circle the prey when it’s looking vulnerable…

    Jonathan – thanks for your comment. Sure, the charity will own the moral high ground, but the willingness and ability of the corporate to engage with real people’s concerns should at least mean it gets a fair hearing, rather than the group mugging Nestle received.

  4. K McAuley Says:

    Nestle have made a big mistake, in my eyes, in trying to take on the social media world. As a result of this they have failed…in a big way! The campaign set up by Greenpeace was undoubtedly going to attract some negative press and certainly negativity from members of society however their poor mis-management online has only added flames to the fire. I do agree with Jonathans statment that it is easy for Greenpeace to come across well and the multi-national company to be the bad guy, but maybe that’s because in this situation they are?

Leave a comment