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Big Orange Slide

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

How to be social: Part 1.5 – How not to be social

March 24, 2010 by Jacoub Bondre

Illustration by Brian Ross

In Part 1 of this series I talked about what social media is and the basic rules for engaging your brand in it. Before moving on to Part 2, I’d like to talk about a recent example of what happens when you don’t follow the rules.

Last week the multinational packaged foods company Nestlé suffered what Marketing Magazine understatedly referred to as a social media “backlash:” Nestle Suffers Facebook Backlash.

It all started when the folks at Greenpeace released a video slamming Nestlé for its use of palm oil from endangered Indonesian forests: the punchline – Nestlé is killing orangutans to get you your chocolate.

But the Greenpeace video is just the start of this social media disaster:

“The PR headache moved to Facebook when Nestlé, in a fit of intellectual property protectionism, informed its 90,000 Facebook fans last night that: ‘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,’” wrote Marketing Magazine’s Emily Bryson and Kunur Patel.

In Part 1 of this series on social media, I introduce Rule #2: “Trust your stewards.” When Nestlé noticed that some users were using modified and unflattering logos as commentary on their policies, they should have either ignored it or embraced it (Rule #3 “Be Agile”).

A simple comment from Nestlé such as, “We welcome all of our customer’s opinions regardless of form. Please be assured that we are currently and constantly improving our sustainability practices,” would have gone a long way to averting the impending PR disaster, or even better, owning it and turning it into an opportunity to improve their brand’s image.

Instead Nestlé went a different route. And then it got worse when one of Nestlé’s brand stewards tried to communicate the error of their response.

“[Nestlé Facebook fan] Paul Griffin offered that he’s ‘not sure you’re going to win friends in the social media space with this sort of dogmatic approach. I understand that you’re on your back-foot due to various issues not excluding palm oil but social media is about embracing your market, engaging and having a conversation rather than preaching!’

“The Nestlé moderator’s response: ‘Thanks for the lesson in manners. Consider yourself embraced. But it’s our page, we set the rules, it was ever thus.’” With that statement they instantly turned 90,000 potential brand defenders into, in the best case scenario, simple observers, and in the worst case, brand detractors.

“Social media is a way for two people to share ideas,” says Chris Saad, VP strategy for Echo, “typically in a public or semi-public space where others can watch.”

“Think of social media as if it were a business dinner party,” he says. “Think of your brand stewards as your friends at the party, and your audience is the balance of the guests at the party. You carry on conversations with your friends, but are happy to include other guests into the conversation. The point is to get ‘brands’ out of the mix and make it about authentic human interactions . . . cut the BS and make an honest connection.”

The honesty, candour and tone of the kinds of conversations you have with your friends and colleagues should be the same as those you have with your customers in the social space.

Though the Nestlé PR storm was caused by a number of factors, none was so glaring as this:

Nestlé believed that they controlled the narrative of their brand online and in the social space. But social media is not a print ad, nor a TV commercial, nor a banner ad. Social Media is a multidirectional conversation between the brand and the many. The many control your brand narrative, so be nice to them, and keep the conversation going.

You can see the ongoing aftermath of Nestle’s social media disaster live on its Facebook fan page, here. And to be fair to Nestlé, and as a marketer who works on all kinds of brands, I empathize with how wrong this went so quickly. We’d all do well to learn lessons from it.

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