Social Media Groundswell Tipping Point and Nestle’

Nestle’ SA is suffering a groundswell of negative social media commentary that began March 17 when Greenpeace International released a report about Nestle’s purchase and use of palm oil. Greenpeace alleges the palm oil comes from an Indonesian company that cleared rain forests to build palm plantations.

The Twitterosphere has been abuzz about this story, and the Nestle’ Facebook fan page (with more than 96,000 fans) has thousands of negative hits from activists, environmentalists, Greenpeace, animal rights supporters, and the like.

In the March 29, 2010 Wall Street Journal, the backlash against the company is reported as global and devastating (if you’re Nestle). This situation, more than the Domino’s Pizza incident I watched unfold on Twitter last year, is global viral. It’s buoyed by the digitally savvy who’ve used social media effectively to push a viral message that Nestle is killing orangutans.

If you sat in the corporate communications department of Nestle, what would you recommend as public relations strategy? And, to those of you who do do crisis communications, is this considered a crisis, in your opinion?

  • Nestle is an iconic global brand targeting audiences across the spectrum of age groups who consume infant formula, cereal, pet food, bottled water, energy foods, cocoa, chocolates, and more. Millions of brand-loyal people touch Nestle products. Similar to Toyota, apology and/or clarifications about the company’s products and stance on the environment should be immediately shared. On the Nestle Web site, there is a statement about the palm oil situation (see above link).
  • Executives should avail themselves to the consumer public in a Web forum to field questions. Digg features such forums for high-level executives (the Toyota U.S. CEO was interviewed on Digg).
  • Groundswell is a fabulous read. Ms. Li and co-author Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research suggest “groundswell thinking is like any other complex skill — it takes knowledge, experience, and eventually, enlightenment to get there.” In an early chapter of the book on strategies for tapping the groundswell, the authors offer “five strategies companies can pursue in the groundswell, and these include listening, talking, energizing, supporting, embracing.” (These are exactly what Nestle’ needs to be doing.)
  • I asked my Chicago colleague Christine Esposito of Terracom Public Relations, a 20-year-old environmental public relations firm, to weigh in on this discussion. I wanted Christine’s take on Greenpeace and what it might do (besides rejoice at the success of its global viral campaign).
  • Christine suggested Greenpeace could benefit its edgy activist image by recruiting more mainstream NGOs that are similarly concerned about palm oil production. They should sit together at the boardroom table with Nestle to spell out the allegations, listen to how the corporation responds, and hammer out a resolution. (Hmm, this sounds like mediation, and perhaps it’s very similar.)
  • Another thought is immediate elevation by Nestle of its cause-related marketing efforts. Whatever programs Nestle’ corporate communications has had in place, boost them up to engage with environmentalists and show the company does care about Indonesia’s rain forests, among other protected habitats and animals.
  • To round out its team of experts, Nestle’ should hire Paul Rand and his team at Chicago’s hot word-of-mouth marketing agency Zocalo Group. Paul is president of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, and he is a high-level influencer in brand evangelism. (I worked with and for Paul in my Chicago agency days and respect his intelligence and ability to deliver in such situations.)

Nestle did not dally in its response to this situation. Regardless, it’s difficult to control the Tipping Point. As a teachable moment, this case study is one for the books, and it’s still unfolding. Once the first domino was tickled, the rest just fell into place.

What strategies would you offer Nestle and/or Greenpeace International to push this situation to resolution and repair a damaged brand?

16 comments
Purse Parties
Purse Parties

I have been looking around soulati.com and really am impressed by the good content here. I work the nightshift at my job and it is so boring. I have been coming here for the past couple nights and reading. I just wanted to let you know that I've been enjoying what I've seen and I look ahead to reading more.

EFFETTI
EFFETTI

hmmm, how does Jawwad still rate with a picture ;-) ??

EFFETTI
EFFETTI

Sure, you're welcome...it looks like Jawwad may have some answers for you ~ he seems to have escaped the fate ;-) ! ? !

I suspect there is something in your control panel generating these as they are actually links to the "Website" information that a commentator inserts under the "Leave a Comment" section.

Also, I've seen on other sites where this is user controlled via an uploaded image. hth, lmk, - db

EFFETTI
EFFETTI

Good morning Jayme,

My thinking exactly and you are most welcome !!

Btw, how might I change the less than handsome icon in my post ?

Cheers,
David Bookout

EFFETTI
EFFETTI

Mia Culpa ~ I LOVE Kit Kat candy bars, and had no idea of the global damage I have been doing by eating them. Seriously.

Soulati; From your comprehensive post I've read the Greenpeace report, the WSJ article and scanned the Nestle FB page.

What's interesting, to me, is the paradox between the accountability chain from a business perspective, and the ethical accountabilities of the information chain.

People buy Nestle products, that's where the Swiss company got their deep pockets. To make those products Nestle needs to either be vertically integrated ( Nestle wholly owns every step ), or rely on a supply chain of outside, independent companies. The latter looks to be the case.

The Greenpeace report seems to be a well-done marketing piece, yet fairly devoid of any hard proof of Nestle's direct accountability in rainforest destruction due to an outsourced supply chain. But if not Nestle, who ? Everyone that ever ate a candy bar ? Greenpeace wisely points to Nestle as they are clearly the weakest link in the social chain, and, at the same time the most likely candidate to bring about change with some velocity. Had Greenpeace simply pointed to Sinar Mas it would lack broad social appeal, and had they attempted a direct consumer awareness campaign ( sans Nestle ) the cost would exceed the gain. But has Greenpeace been exactly ethical ?

I digress.

Your question was what would I do, or suggest relative to the Nestle brand. Among the great ideas that I’ve already seen, two things come to mind ~ (1) Review the already existing community outreach programs (philanthropic, or other programs) and the success stories and metrics related to those programs, and (2) Based on that review design new programs and narratives highlighting the brand as a Global Citizen.

Sincerely with the best regards,
David Bookout

Jawwad
Jawwad

Jayme

Not sure if you have looked through The Adventure Capitalist by Conor Woodman. Conor gives an instance of procuring "ethical" Teak from the forests of Brazil. While the end product in that case was wood the same concept works for Palm oil. I am sure Nestle can find enough interested parties to create sustainable Eco-Friendly palm oil solutions if they are seriously looking for a solution.

On a related note for Nestle to understand what it is facing it also needs to ensure that all members of the Nestle PR team read "Zodiac" by Neal Stephenson.

Jean-Sebastien
Jean-Sebastien

Nestlé has to redefine Kit-Kat in 3 steps.
1) They should first find ambassador and key messages creators by monitoring social networks including blogs and forum.

2) Then, enable conversation with those key persons to find eco-friendly alternative to palm oil. They should do it on Twitter or Facebook and relay all data on their website. In fact, like Li and Bernoff wrote, they should Listen.

3) They sould involve people in the definining process and apply those accordingly to what was asked.

But still, their brand is attacked, it will take time prior to change.

Giovanni Lauricella
Giovanni Lauricella

Social media is a powerful tool that enables broadcasting on a mass scale (depending on the size and quality of your network). Social media can also play the role of a double edged sword. Yes, Nestle is an iconic figure and has a range of products that have nourished millions. I am not personally there to witness the negative environmental side-effects of what it takes to have an international product line, but if what the "media" is portraying of Nestle is true then something has to be done. Yes, their products are tasty, maybe not in our life times, but there might not be any environment to sustain the people that just so happen to enjoy Nestle's products if their is mass deforestation. When dealing with large corporations and the environmental impacts, the media has an even greater impact of influencing the profile of the corporation. Whether or not its true, Nestle should become more environmentally aware and make the public know that they are becoming more conscious if they want to save face. Social media is an amazing tool. Effective, beneficial and dangerous all wrapped up in what we call modern technology.

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

Nice compliment; thanks! I appreciate that and welcome more thoughts on what you'd like to see here. I'm a new blogger, and there's so much to share; I'd like to offer content that appeals to a wide range of people. Thanks for stopping by!

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

OK! OK! I'm on it! Stand by for the research Mister, and I will share. Looking forward to knowing these answers myself, too.

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

Since I'm a bit on the edgy, wild side (but no one knows that), I did select from those non-gentle gravatars. Yours was definitely cutting that edge! Now, you can be a beige square. Like it better?

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

Gosh! You're right. I was wondering whether these gravatars were visible to others beyond me. I will work on that, and I will likely alter the shape. Not sure how those work. Thanks for calling it t my attention, David.

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

Hi, David! I can tell ours is to be a grand new blogger peer relationship with your "effective/EFFETTI" business acumen and perspective complemented with my public relations strategist orientation. Thanks for that!

While I can't say for sure, one has to think Greenpeace is still jumping joyously with the global reach of this word-of-mouth-marketing effort which has Goliath leaning.

Ethics and Greenpeace? Hmm, not usually in the same breath! Kudos to you for your thorough research and comprehension of the background associated with this story. And, as Mr. Jawwad noted yesterday, there are many such situations occurring globally. Ethical procuring of teakwood in Brazil is addressed in a book called "The Adventure Capitalist" by Conor Woodman. I'm adding this to my book list.

Thanks, David!

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

The fact we can collectively strategize about a global communications situation for a powerful brand as it unfolds is fascinating. I appreciate your time to respond, and your suggestions. What blogging is prompting me to do is read more academic and business books, and I'm adding your suggestions to my list! Thanks!

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

You're so right, Jean-Sebastien. The strength of this global viral attack was a resounding success. It's a true example of how social media has changed the game. Corporations who believe they don't need to play should be watching closely, for sure. As stated below, this example will be teaching lessons to a variety of audiences for months to come. Thanks for stopping by; I appreciate it!

Jayme Soulati
Jayme Soulati

Giovanni, I am thrilled you stopped by, seriously, with your insight. Thank you. Watching this situation unfold and attempt to be controlled is rich with learning about social media. It is all the things you've said -- amazing, effective, beneficial, dangerous. I think I'd like to add a bit frightening, too.