By Nick Harley

As we all know, social media is an excellent tool to not only spread your product and message to your audience, but also interact with them directly. However, brands need to be aware that not every person looking to engage with a brand on social media is necessarily a fan of that particular brand. Opening up a dialogue on social media also opens up a forum for criticism, and brands have to be careful on how they respond as to not subject themselves to further backlash. Unfortunately, food manufacturer Nestle learned this the hard way.

Nestle may be known for producing sweets, but things turned sour very quickly on the brand’s Facebook page after a public battle with Greenpeace. As AdWeek details, the origin of the drama between Nestle and the environmental protection group started after Greenpeace posted a “gory, not funny,” parody video of Nestle’s Kit-Kat product on YouTube. The video asserts that production of a key ingredient of the candy, palm oil, is leading to the rainforest destruction and endangerment of already at risk species like the Orangutan. Nestle sent a request to YouTube that the video be removed, that’s when things moved to Facebook.


As CNet reports, Greenpeace members encouraged supporters to change their Facebook profile pictures to, “anti-Nestle slogans that often incorporated one or more of the company’s food logos.” At first, Nestle responded with what CBS News called a “seemingly innocent request,” telling users to not use altered versions of their logo on their Facebook page, or their comments would be deleted. Ad Age called the move, “ a fit of intellectual property protectionism.” When users ignored the request, the moderator started taking a tone with commenters that CBS News described as “at times sarcastic or antagonistic.”


The backlash was almost immediate, with users Facebook users like Paul Griffin saying, “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!” and fellow user Tracy King, who proclaimed to be a PR specialist, commenting, “I’m horrified by the tone of the Nestle moderator. I completely understand the corporate desire to curb any manipulated logos which show Nestle in a negative light, but there are two problems with the approach used here: 1) the attitude of the Nestle moderator absolutely stinks 2) this is Facebook, which is not an easily censored platform,” among over 100 others, many claiming that they’d never purchase a Nestle product again.

As CNN Money states, “the Nestle rep finally backed down,” posting: “This was one in a series of mistakes for which I would like to apologise (sic). And for being rude. We’ve stopped deleting posts, and I have stopped being rude,” but the damage was already done. AdWeek summarized the lesson succinctly: “There’s an obvious lesson here for companies: if you do something wrong and people attack you in social media, being defensive gets you nowhere. “

Obviously, to improve the situation, Nestle should have avoided antagonizing protestors, and should have either donated money for rainforest protection, or stopped using palm oil in its products immediately, instead of, as CNN money points out, waiting two months to do so. Brands need to realize that Facebook can be a powerful ally, but an even more powerful enemy if not used properly.


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