Social Media strides ever forward

17 06 2010

Since I wrote my article: How not to do Social Media – Orangutans 1-0 Nestle, back in March 2010, I’ve been itching to bring you an update. To serve as a quick recap, Nestlé Fan page (on Facebook) had been swamped by critics voicing concern over palm oil use, deforestation, orang utan’s lost habitat etc. Nestlé’s response was a lesson in poor social media relations.

During the past 8 weeks, Greenpeace have led a very aggressive and successful campaign – kick starting publicity with the now famous non Kit Kat advert – achieving nearly 1.5 m views, encouraging their fans to send out over 200,000 emails/phone calls (I have to lay my cards on the table and declare I was one of them) and countless FaceBook comments to keep the pressure on Nestlé executives. This all occurring on the eve of Easter, the company experienced reduced sales and share price drop. They continued pressure by featuring orang-utans at Nestlé HQ, and hijacking the AGM by dropping banners and leaflets in Switzerland.

Whilst Greenpeace were hoping for a positive reaction – Nestlé had originally back peddled by issuing a pledge to achieve sustainable palm oil by 2015 – a date by which orangutans could be extinct…

However, Greenpeace and the public at large, were surprised to received Nestlé’s comprehensive ‘zero deforestation’ policy so quickly.

They advised that they were making progress on certified palm oil and palm oil certificates even more rapidly, with 18% of our purchases covered in 2010, and expected to reach 50% by the end of 2011.

Furthermore, in a letter to Greenpeace from the Nestlé chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, he highlighted how his company will not tolerate supplies from non-sustainable sources or suppliers will face the risk of being de-listed. He also confirmed his company’s active involvement in the Roundtable in Sustainable Palm Oil, but more importantly action at the field level.

The Forest Trust (TFT) – an independent organisation – will be closely monitoring Nestlé’s progress to make sure they stick to their pledge.

This is certainly a victory for environmentalist (“Nestlé fans’ and those concerned about the orangutans) and demonstrates how social media can play an active and important role to engage and communicate between big brands and business.

Nestlé is not the only company involved in the sourcing of unsustainable palm oil and many major supermarkets and other food manufacturers are reviewing their policies before they get targeted.

Meanwhile, the destruction of the Indonesian/Malaysian rainforests continues and Greenpeace are not sitting back to bathe in their glory for too long. They have now decided to turn their attention to the financial sector and have commence a new campaign aimed at HSBC. You may ask what their role is in deforestation? The bank provides funding to Sinar Mas, a company who has a long track record to supply palm oil from unsustainable sources.

Whilst the bank’s corporate statements claim to have had “a long standing commitment to protecting the environment” they turn a blind eye to what Sinar Mas and others are doing to our world. Greenpeace wishes to let the HSBC bosses know what a devastating effect their investments are having.

Nestlé were shamed into stepping up their environmentalist support, but it would have been far better if they had taken a leadership role from the beginning. By being slow to react to the social media critics, they faced damaged and their new position is, whilst honourable, is less impressive.

Social media offers all businesses a powerful tool for use in today’s harsh climate, but ensure you have your objectives, policies and goals in place. Be ready to adapt and seize the moment to respond positively. The rules of doing business and engagement have changed. We are no longer led by the thoughts of pr/marketing folk or magazine/tv/radio editors. Social media has changed all of that. Thousands of people will reach out and comment if they don’t like what a company is doing. However, get it right and you have thousands of advocates ready to sing your praises.

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How not to do Social Media – Orangutans 1-0 Nestle.

23 03 2010

The focus of this blog is to report on how technology is hopefully assisting to improve our lives in work and as we play – or is it? News this week has highlighted how our wonderful information highway, the internet, and the huge growth in social media needs careful management by corporations. Every corporation has been jumping on the bandwagon to open their own “FaceBook fan page” without, in same cases, not setting up clear policies of roles, rules, response guidelines, escalation policy etc. It appears that the role of setting up social media in many corporations is handed out to junior level staff, as after all, they are the Gen Y who “understand social media”…

Latest victim of the “how not to do social media” is Nestle. In case you missed it FaceBook’s Nestle Fan page has been swamped by critics voicing concern over palm oil use, deforestation, orang utan’s lost habitat etc. Nestles response was a lesson in poor social media relations. The social attack was most likely kick-started by via a Greenpeace campaign that highlighted Nestle’s use of palm oil in its chocolate products. Nevertheless, some fans on the Nestle site responded by editing the Nestle logo for their own identity. Rather than turning this into a positive, and perhaps responding by quickly staging a competition for the most creative edited logo, they responded aggressively, defensively and rudely. The Nestle response then fuelled pages of disgruntled “fan” comments.

Clearly Nestle have shot themselves in the foot. On all points they should never have embarked on a social media program without fully training staff on how to monitor, respond etc. Corporations are jumping into this arena without clearly thought out strategies on management nor recognizing that they must accept good and bad comments…

Clearly the quick fire response gave the corporation no time to consider how best to manage. A few hours of research could have informed this person on some alternative responses. Turning a negative into a positive would have been by far the best approach.

Every Nestle executive should be aware about the growing world concern over the consumption of Palm Oil. Acres of rainforest are being lost each day, as companies, cut, slash and burn to make way for more palm oil production. This is causing a huge environmental issue in Borneo/Indonesia where it is not only changing their climate but resulting in the lose of this unique habitat for orang utans and other rare species (and people who live in these forests). Orangutans and other animals/plants are thus facing extinction – in Sumatra it could be as soon as 2012-2015. A positive approach – such as other food manufacturers are choosing – is as follows.

To stop buying palm oil and using alternatives – YES, it makes the product more expensive – consumers need to understand that. But if the majority of consumers are asking a food manufacturer to change their ingredients, it is a point of consideration which could be turned into a big positive for Nestle.

Another approach, as is being led in the UK, is buying palm oil only from sustainable palm oil
corporations (example: Sainsbury’s). Palm Oil farms exist, so why not encourage those corporations to continue to grow on the SAME land and not go for the cheaper, easier option of forever using virgin land… In Australia a huge majority of school kids and parents lobbied their favourite food manufacturers to change their purchasing of palm oil. The companies listened (Nestle take note) and responded positively – a win win situation for all.

This will surely become one of the main “how not to do social media” case studies for years to come – the orangutans plight may yet still win through.

p.s Nestle have since made a public statement confirming that they are “taking all feasible steps to impact our suppliers to assure that we don’t buy palm oil which contributes to deforestation.” They furthermore add they will be buying from certified sustainable palm oil producers – good news??? Yes and no. They commit to do this by 2015 – it may be too late for the Sumatra orangutans who face extinction around that time.