Greenpeace’s Social Media Win Has Losers

Rainforest

If you were paying attention to social and traditional media, you will recall the Greenpeace/Nestle global crisis communications situation primarily in March and April this year. I wrote about it here; it was a fascinating study in public relations. (I would’ve liked to have been teaching a PR class when this was unfolding.)   

The issue became quite ugly quite fast when Greenpeace launched a crusade with a viral video accusing Nestle of killing orangutans in the rainforest due to its purchase of palm oil from a company in Indonesia that harvested palm oil from the rainforest and sold it to the likes of Nestle.

Nestle went on the defensive on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media hot spots and garnered thousands of hits to its page. Social media erupted against Nestle, as well, and Greenpeace watched their fireworks for weeks. In spite of Greenpeace’s social media win, the losers are still trying to uncover.

The accused Indonesian company from which Nestle and Unilever had been purchasing palm oil, PT Sinar Mas Agro Resources & Technology (SMART), ceased doing business with the two global giants as a result of the allegations. Unilever had been purchasing 47,000 tons of palm oil from SMART annually.

On August 11, 2010, this headline in the Wall Street Journal grabbed my attention, “Palm Oil Firm Rebuts Greenpeace Claim.” STAR paid to conduct a third-party audit of its estates to determine research “shows the company wasn’t responsible for cutting down forest and destroying orangutan habitat for palm cultivation.”

While I can’t corroborate the research report (Greenpeace is rebutting it), I can give you the skinny:

DAMAGE DONE, GREENPEACE “WINS.”

The public relations and social media strategy behind the Greenpeace maneuvers are amazing; and, they’ve been doing this for years.  These campaigns are the most well-orchestrated on a global scale; why? Because we live in an interconnected world where videos go viral within hours, and instantaneous, real- time, in-bound communication on social networks heightens the crisis to unmanageable proportion.

The tools are available to all the players except STAR. I have not done my research on this company’s mission, values or business philosophy (here’s a link to Business.com with some info). What I can assume is that people in Indonesia lost money and jobs because of this campaign and monkeys perhaps lost homes, too. World-wide, real-time refute via social media of the allegations by STAR were not possible, but the Wall Street Journal provided the company a solid foundation for which to air its side of the story.

As I weave this story again, I’m drawing your focus to the profound impact social media has all companies. Size Doesn’t Matter!! Word-of-mouth marketing is an amazing channel. If you watched the man in the video biting off the finger of an orangutan when he opened a Kit Kat, it’s highly likely you’ll never eat another (uh, chocolate bar).

4 comments
cna classes
cna classes

Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

diamond cutter
diamond cutter

It actually turns out that SMART/Sinar Mas were a little loose with the facts of the audit. SMART managed to fool the Wall Street Journal but not the original auditing team employed by SMART to verify Greenpeace claims. After a week of misrepresentation the auditors had no choice but to release a statement in which they claimed:

"there have been elements of the report that have been misreported as it has been published and presented"

Greenpeace has now written to the Singapore and Indonesia Stock exchange asking for investigations into manipulation of facts in announcements made to shareholders, traders and analysts.

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

This is fascinating insight. There are so many details the consuming public is aware of due to social media's influence, but the details you're knowledgeable about pale in comparison. I guess it's the responsibility of the companies seeking suppliers for their supply chains to be more investigative into the suppliers' ethics and practices.

The message to me is that global consumers can now be more aware of such issues due to word-of-mouth marketing and the profound impact of social media.

What a nice surprise for you to take time to set the SMART record straight. Thank you for doing that here.