The Nestle Social Media Fiasco: What Can We Learn?

by Vered DeLeeuw

Environmental activist group Greenpeace has long been pressuring Nestle to stop using palm oil, since producing it causes deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and endangered species loss. In an interesting recent development, environmental activists have taken over Nestle’s Facebook fan page, filling it with negative comments about the company and with a call to consumers to boycott its products.

The interesting aspect for us is that the company’s reps were obviously unprepared for this social media backlash, and resorted to threats and sarcasm, which only made matters worse. But what should they have done?

Jeremiah Owyang recently asked, “What should companies do to be prepared for a social assault?” It’s a good question, becuase while it’s easy to see that Nestle’s response was damaging to the brand, what they should have done instead isn’t that obvious.

Personally, I think that a company that is put in such a position isn’t that different than an individual who finds their Facebook fan page, or the comments section to their blog post, filled with attacks.

There are two things you should never do, and three things you COULD do:

1. DON’T lose your cool. Stay calm, take some time to think about the situation and assess it. Don’t respond out of panic.

2. DON’T become defensive, dismissive or sarcastic. If you choose to respond, your response should be clear, concise, unemotional and to the point.

3. DO delete negative comments. In the case of Facebook, I think it would be totally acceptable to remove all negative comments (and if this becomes a full time job, to disable fan wall posts). Some of you will strongly disagree that this is a valid option, and say that it would hurt the brand even more, but I don’t see it this way. If you oppose someone, you are free to voice your opposition wherever you want to, but that someone has no obligation to let you voice your opposition on their own space.

Another way of looking at it: what if Nestle’s competitors started leaving negative comments on Nestle’s Facebook fan page (and hey, maybe they ARE using this fiasco to do so)? Would Nestle be obligated to allow those comments? I don’t think so.

A company, just like an individual, has a right to monitor their own space on the Internet and to keep it clean and supportive. It does make sense to include a short notice on the fan page (as is usually the case in blog comment forms) that explains that this is a FAN page, that negative or hateful comments will be deleted, and provide an email address for anyone who has issues with the company.

4. DO respond calmly and to the point. If you choose not to remove negative comments, then you do need to respond. All you need to say is something like “thank you for your concern, we are looking into this.” If you really are looking into it, then give a few details and post periodic updates about your progress.

5. DO fill the page with supportive comments. If you choose not to delete negative comments, you should make a real effort to balance out the negative with positive. For a giant like Nestle this should be fairly easy – hire a few people on different time zones to monitor the page full time, 24 hours a day, and add positive comments about Nestle’s products. Even for a smaller company, an effort should be made to balance out negative social media comments with positive ones.

Social media is still new, and the rules aren’t clear. But frankly, I’m really surprised that people think that brands should allow this type of “conversation” to take place on their own space. Yes, social media enables consumers to directly interact with companies, but if the interaction becomes disrespectful, there is absolutely no obligation on the part of the company to allow it to continue.

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