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Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

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.

9 Comments on "How to be social: Part 1.5 – How not to be social"

  • Jacoub Bondre
    March 24, 2010 @ 11:48 am

    Some props:
    Chris Saad is VP strategy for Echo is San Fransico. He is a long time fixture of the social media community and co-auther of APML, the industry standard for Attention Profiles. A machine readable presentation of a user’s interests. Used by Digg, BBC, NewsGator, France Telecom and others.

    Chris Saad can be followed on twitter here :

  • Ian Mackenzie
    March 24, 2010 @ 4:29 pm

    Hey Jacoub,

    In the Nestlé example, there’s been a lot of criticism aimed at the guy or girl who was moderating their Facebook page. Their comments were too snarky, they missed opportunities to mitigate the disaster, they deleted comments they shouldn’t have, etc.

    How did a multinational corporation’s entire social media plan come down to the whims and hasty reactions of one person? Is one-person-on-the-front-lines a social media marketing reality – or should Nestlé have had more checks and balances?

    Put more simply, what’s a reasonable HR strategy for manning the front lines of your social media marketing?

  • simon billing
    March 24, 2010 @ 7:01 pm

    Or is this perhaps a company drawing a line in the sand and saying “We’ll take the negative PR hit, but we’re going to protect our property” (as in trademark). I know the stock answer to that is that Nestle then become complicit in devaluing their trademark.

    However, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch of an analogy, having seen what’s happened to intellectual property in the music industry (give the music away and sell the t-shirt) I think companies are bound to start questioning the economic wisdom of turning everything they’ve invested in over to hoi poloi.

    Whatever Utopian dreams some may have of a democratized marketplace (although in reality it’s an anarchic marketplace) I don’t think commerce will go along with it in the long term.

    I’m not sure two issues aren’t conflated here: the ethical issue raised by Greenpeace and the commercial issue of protecting your propert, intellectual or otherwise.

  • Jacoub Bondre
    March 24, 2010 @ 7:32 pm

    @simon billing I think Nestle had an opportunity to both address the ethical issue, and protect their property.

    To tie this into @Ian Mackenzie’s question. In the case of facebook, the brand has one voice that represents the whole. If that voice is not thoughtful, genuine, but more importantly calculated, a brand leaves itself open to attack.

    Nestle had/has a plan, in-place to improve it’s sustainability practices. What they needed to do was figure out the best way to deliver the message without fueling the flames. Attacking their brand stewards was a huge mistake, and I’d hardy call that drawing a line in the sand.

    Unless the path of communication drastically changes we are moving to democratized/anarchic marketplace (I love that insight BTW). Brands need a plan to deal with practices that their customers find unpalatable when they are brought to everyones attention. To steal someone else’s analogy, just because someone likes to eat cow, doesn’t mean they want to know how it is slaughtered.

    One would be surprised how forgiving consumers can and will be if a brand/company communicates a genuine desire to meet the needs of their customers.

    As far as social media in general, different venues will have different dynamics. In the case of facebook it is one voice. As far as other social media venues, well thats another article.

    to be continued . . .

  • Hooy
    March 26, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

    I’m inclined to agree with this sentiment:

    “One would be surprised how forgiving consumers can and will be if a brand/company communicates a genuine desire to meet the needs of their customers.”

    Case in point:’s Facebook fan page. Roughly 2 weeks ago they made an announcement regarding their website outage to fix some problems and routine maintenance, and that it will be back up in 48hrs. Pretty benign, except 48hrs later it was still down and they did what most company wouldn’t do: they spilled the proverbial beans and made 4 consecutive announcements that their system was compromised as many of their customers reported fraudulent charges. They reported to the authorities and an investigation was immediately underway.

    Without getting too long-winded here, they stuck to their guns and kept their customers and fans updated along the way, obeying all 5 rules outlined in Part 1 of How to be social. Unlike Nestle they did not censor any user comments, and were very courteous, apologetic, and professional. At first, and even still, victims voiced their dissatisfaction, but eventually their brand stewards “came to their rescue” and fought the battle for them. IMHO this is infinitely more effective than Mono Price doing it themselves without coming off defensive and contrived. Mono Price is by no means big when compared to Nestle, but in terms of how they are handling this disaster I’d say they are doing extremely well.

    As of now the case is still under investigation, but if you ask me, they’re going to come out of this on top and with even stronger customer loyalty.

  • Jim Monteath
    March 26, 2010 @ 11:42 pm

    Here’s another example of a negative social media incident, but in this case the customer had a much stronger social media channel than the brand.

    In February of 2010, Kevin Smith (American writer, director, producer & actor) was ejected from a SouthWest Airlines (SWA) flight, apparently because one of the SWA crew considered him too fat to be sitting in just one seat. The process by which they made this decision, who made it, how fairly it was applied, the way they treated him at the time and their subsequent behaviour raised significant issues about customer service, privacy, truthfulness & PR.

    These issues became public due to Smith having 1.6 million Twitter followers, a popular podcast, fame and a strong ability to express himself. If he were just some average person we would never had heard about the incident.

    This was a classic example of how someone else’s social media strength can work against a brand. This should be a cautionary tale for corporations; unlike traditional media, social media channels aren’t exclusively yours: they can be quite democratic*.

    *excluding astroturfing, which is an anti-demoratic mechanism that I think should be discussed on this blog.

  • Jacoub Bondre
    March 28, 2010 @ 11:17 am

    @ Jim “*excluding astroturfing, which is an anti-demoratic mechanism that I think should be discussed on this blog.”

    Is that a hint :D

  • Jim Monteath
    March 28, 2010 @ 11:31 pm

    @Jacoub Absolutely. Since you are writing a series on how to effectively utilise social media (citing both dos and don’ts), I think that the pervasive behaviour known as “astroturfing” should definitely be covered. A brand can’t establish trust with its customers/prospects if it uses shills.

    While you are taking requests, please write about the negative effect of “rabid fanbois”, as a corollary to the effect of “trolls” than you described in part 1.0. I think that people who bind their identity tightly with brand X and fight people who use brand Y can damage both brands. This passionate polarization, binary thinking and zero-sum/win-lose/there-can-be-only-one outlook doesn’t help consumers make an informed choice.

    I look forward to your insights on this.

  • Jaret
    June 4, 2010 @ 4:42 pm

    No doubt companies look at the opportunity/protection cost of the trademark and there is gamble of letting the situation blow over and die but this is something one shouldn’t bet against these days. Social media and the brand stewards are in a position to drive these scenario’s in powerful new directions, and the corporate tsunami of power can quickly have the tides roll back on them. We all make mistakes and it is interesting to see these sorts of situations unfold in a corporate environment such as Nestle. Social Media can be the most amazing medium provided you are prepared to take the higher road, engage, listen, learn, improve, consider, or, it can be a nightmare from many town if you disrespect and misuse, and are not honest with your audience. The higher road is sometimes a harder climb, however it is bound to be much dryer there with increased loyalty in tow.


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