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