One of the few things I love more than seeing great PR in action is munching my way through a huge box of NESTLÉ® Dark Chocolate RAISINETS®. Unfortunately, there is going to be a little less of one of those in my life going forward.

Nestle had a bit of a PR mess to clean up recently with its “Facebook flop” that not only riled the Greenpeace crowd, but environmentalists, humanitarians and professional communicators, as well.  Social media enthusiasts went nuttier than a OH HENRY!® Candy bar when Nestle posted a warning on it’s Facebook page asking people not to alter their logo after dozens of posts popped up challenging Nestle’s unpopular business practices, such as destroying the rainforests and talking millions of third world mothers out of breastfeeding their children.

Nestle’s social media team responded with terse reprimands and the debate heated up faster than you can warm a baby bottle! Two of my favorite examples from Salon.com’s article:

  • Jennifer Jones at SpeakMedia: … [C]oncerned consumers, backed by GreenPeace are trying to engage the brand online about the issue and some placed altered versions of the Nestle logo on their profile pages as a form of protest…and the company’s crisis communications response is to post nasty insults? Insane.
  • Rick Broida at BNET InsightIt’s PR 101: Don’t insult your customers. And in PR 2010, mind your manners in public forums — especially those expressly created for fans of your company! It may be true that there’s no such thing as bad press, but there’s definitely bad social networking — and this is a prime example.

As a mom, (woman, human) I find Nestle’s anti-breastfeeding approach reproachful. As a PR person, I find their defensive online counter attacks idiotic. Their PR team has spent too much time testing the recipes and not enough time remembering the basics of crisis communication. As I have posted here before (any anywhere else people will listen) crisis communication needs to be managed before the crisis, not after. Not always possible, but considering Nestle’s patchy reputation, which marketing genius thought starting a Facebook page was going to end up with comments on the yummy chocolate treats they make? The overwhelming negativity was clearly a response they could have anticipated and planned for. If the plan was to attack their detractors, then they should have shelved their social media efforts entirely.

Did no one on their strategic communications team see this coming? Guess not. Are interns running the corporate giant’s PR department? Possibly. What else could explain the poor implementation of social media and total lack of appropriate crisis communication?

Nestle needs to return to the basic recipe of crisis management: REGRET, RESOLVE, REFORM, RESTITUTION, and dump the: It’s our page, we set the rules.”

Where was the executive management team when the Facebook page administrator was ripping on customers? Nestle had a wonderful opportunity to sweeten up their image with some genuine customer engagement. Unfortunately, the opportunity has melted faster than a scoop of DREYER’S® ice cream on a hot, deforested Indonesian day.

14 thoughts on “Nestle’s Bittersweet Social Media Recipe Cooks Up Bad PR

  1. Wow. The punning alone activated the sugary sweet pleasure centers in my reptilian brain. Unless you’re a Creationist. In which case God did it. No daggers, Web denizens. I’m kidding.

    I’m especially fond of the subtle environmental awareness message at the end of the piece. It’s in keeping with the subdued tone of the remainder of the item. : )

    This piece manages to sweetly savage the mismanaged miasma of ingrained idiocy engendered in Nestle’s response to this situation. The alliteration here is free courtesy an interesting Catholic education.

    Here’s a great example of how a little research plus the development and implementation of a comprehensive plan around the company’s outreach via social media could easily have held this train before it left the station. That there seems to be little in the way of Nestle remorse coming the public’s way speaks to tone deafness on its part. Can multinational corporations attempting to engage their publics via social media afford to bring an “It’s my sandbox and I’ll play how I want to” mentality to their strategies? Seems out of keeping with an engaged corporate social responsibility program.

    Incidentally, second graf, fourth line, the “it’s” preceding the word “Facebook” should be apostrophe-free. You want the “its” indicating possession (its) instead of the contracted “it is” (it’s). Also, think you meant to shout out “BREYER’S” ice cream in the last graf (unless Boise is holding out on the rest of the country).

    As usual, wonderful post.

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    1. Benjamin ~ So glad you are here and love your comments and compliments.

      Totally agree: Everything about Nestle “seems out of keeping with an engaged corporate social responsibility program.”

      Classic Jules: typos expected when it’s late and I am crazy mad. But dude, don’t ever question me when it comes to ice cream. I am practically an expert!

      Founded in 1928 by William Dreyer and Joseph Edy, DREYER’S has become one of the best premium ice cream brands in the U.S.

      http://www.nestleusa.com/pubourbrands/brands.aspx

      You can make it up to me by sending me some Ben & Jerry’s!
      Thanks for being here,
      Jules

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  2. I enjoyed reading your post after I recently saw the Anti-Nestle video online a few days ago. I didn’t think it was that disturbing,but it obviously created a lot of buzz. I had no idea what Nestle had to do with the rainforest, but now I understand why the Greenpeace organization was upset. I only associate Nestle with candy and happy thoughts! (I love dark chocolate raisinets, too!) It really is interesting to see public relations in action, especially through all of the forms of social media that have been created over the past years. I am still in school, and I liked the four R’s of crisis management. That is a great and basic tool for remembering how to solve a problem! I also enjoyed your style of writing. It was catchy and made me laugh! Thanks

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    1. A world full of candy & happy thoughts: I would love that!

      Nestle is a huge multi-national corporation and regardless of whether or not one is offended by their business practices, they should have employed the necessary resources to manage (prevent) this PR crisis. It has been simmering for years, so the thought that they approached their social media so carelessly is shocking to me. With contrite apologies towards the end, I am sure it is an issue they will take seriously in the future, as should other companies. A brand with that much reach should be a leader in best practices, not a total PR disaster.

      Thank you for your comments and compliments. I don’t remember where I learned the 4 Rs (school probably) but I find them easy to communicate and remember. If companies follow them, they stand a good chance of working out any negative issues with customers or the public. In my ideal Raisinets filled world, companies would address crisis communication in the strategic planning phase and actually think about these types of situations before diving in.

      Nice to have your feedback!
      Best,
      Jules

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  3. See this is why I read your blog. I actually hadn’t heard any about the Facebook issue yet. It is an interesting topic area. It goes to two very key social media issues that companies need to resolve:

    – Who is in charge of social media. Having Marcom, legal or HR (alone) in charge of social media can lead to issues like this which is why folks with crisis communications experience need to be involved in social media communications.

    – How do you balance “brand management” with social media. Large brands that have teams of lawyers are used to dropping the hammer on folks that make disparaging remarks about a brand. But they need to learn that the transparency of social media is changing the all business is done.

    Thanks for writing about this issue. But no matter how outraged I am, I’m not giving up my ButterFingers or even my Bit O Honey.

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    1. Oh yeah, Paul…follow me and I can show you the world! 😉

      On social media, you are so right: “who” and “how” are super important questions to ask prior to a social media launch.

      But, I do believe that if you think about it, your ButterFingers can be replaced by something that is not harming the earth. May I suggest: http://www.vosgeschocolate.com/product/organic_peanut_butter_candy_bar/organic_candy_bars

      Thanks for the great comments and for reading.
      Best,
      Jules

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  4. Jules, you are so right. The situation is very complex. It’s a mixture of ignorance, arrogance, lack of knowhow, corporate culture and maybe other factors, where the influence of each individual factor may vary from person to person. In the end however, it all comes down to the thin red line between last millenium’s corporate communication (one-way) and today’s requirement of dialogue. The signs have been there for many, many years. I wrote about them in 2003 and maybe even earlier… But some folks are simply too old (and I don’t mean by calendar) to learn and adjust. And some companies are simply too big. I know that Nestlé was approached by consultants who wanted to help them with a more open, dialogue-oriented communication culture many years ago. No chance… And because Nestlé has been attacked since so many years, I think they have just become used to being attacked, and they don’t care.

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    1. Peter ~ I am so glad you had time to comment, given your vast Greenpeace experience. I know that I cannot do the complexities of these issues, justice in my brief overview, but you gave us a great brief history.

      Nestle has taken the Paris Hilton approach: Everyone bashes me, but I make so much money, who cares? That is sad that this could-be sweet corporate giant doesn’t care to grow and change.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      All the best,
      Jules

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  5. Hey Jules, great post as always. I have to agree with Paul Roberts. I think Nestle’s legal drove this ill-fated comms decision; and no one on the crisis comms team had enough SM experience to know how that decision wld result in serious blowback.

    SM is hard for Big Corporate to come to terms with; they are so used to controlling every aspect of their image. SM doesn’t allow that. It’s one thing to say “leave the negative comments up, so your consumers can come to their own conclusions”…and actually live by that philosophy. Most Big Corporate will obviously have to learn to live with this new reality…and many will do it the hard way.

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  6. Jules;
    I especially aree on the points about being prepared and planning for crisis, and specifically how the FB moderator responded and did they do it on their own, or with others’ approvals. This incident did show me that companies must develop a SM policy prior to launching, and then have strategies in place for when bad PR comes their way, and ends up landing on their FB pages.
    One sad repercussion I think will also result is that this incident is going to scare away some corporations/governments from implementing FB, or at least make them set up extremely restrictive FB pages, et al. If you put yourselves in their shoes (some who could or would be our clients), they won’t necessarily think what Nestle did is wrong, or agree that while Nestle handled it incorrectly they are the victims as well.
    Good comments all around.
    Darrel

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    1. Darrel ~ Great comments. I am having a hard time seeing Nestle as a victim, but I respect your opinion. I do agree that this could certainly scare companies away, but I don’t believe that there were companies on the cusp of launching an SM plan and then abandoned it due to the Nestle debacle. I think situations like this place an emphasis on education for these clients which creates more honest, strategic communications internally. Companies that do the right thing and truly embrace their customers will not be daunted. If I have scared a couple of potential clients away by highlighting Nestle’s failures, I think it is worth it in the long run. I’ll take a professional hit to tell the truth (as I see it). But also, this should not be a lesson in reasons NOT to do SM, but a lesson is HOW to do it better.

      As always, thanks so much for taking the time to be here.
      Best,
      Jules

      Like

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