Nestle’s Facebook Conundrum

I’ve read—and written myself—so much about the great results social media can generate that when you hear about Nestle’s current social media woes, it comes as kind of shock. Sure, there are the occasional stories like Domino’s/YouTube that gives one pause, but those are few and far between. Nestle’s situation is interesting because the company’s Facebook page has been “virtually” hijacked by those angry about the company’s choice of palm oil supplier for its products—which is described in more detail in The Wall Street Journal. In the case of Nestle, the social media mantra of sensitive engagement with friends goes out the window, as the “friends” (now up to about 96,000) are anything but friendly. Which leads to the interesting options posed in the WSJ article: Do you keep the Facebook page going and ride out the storm, or do you shut it down and start over (presumably after the crisis wanes)? Closing it would mean surrender, while keeping it online means more negative posts for who knows how long. If you were a Nestle PR exec, what would you do?

–Scott Van Camp

  • Emma Smith

    As a PR student who has recently been learning about social media use within the sector, it has become increasingly obvious to me that it is almost dangerous for companies (particularly those which have faced controversy in the past such as Nestle) to try and generate publicity in this way. It just seems too easy for campaigners who are against these brands to, as you say, ‘virtually hijack’ the pages, pointing out these significant flaws in practice and, in turn, provide themselves with the perfect channel for their anti-brand attack. I think facebook fan pages are far better suited to organisations out with the corporate sector, particularly caused-related campaigns, which can use such channels to effectively mobilise support and awareness. To use facebook as a means of advertising in this way seems far more problematic, especially for brands of relatively low status. I can understand why someone would become a fan of say, Tommy Hilfiger, as for some people this indicates something about themselves. But Nestle? It’s just a gift to campaigners in my eyes.
    I couldn’t ever imagine being a Nestle PR exec so wouldn’t want to hazard a guess as to what they should do in this mess!

  • Linda

    Seems to me there’s another option: take the criticism to heart, get with the times, and improve what used to be a beloved product. Engage with your audience, show them you’re listening and become a better company because of it. No need to use words like “hijacked,” simply because the company is facing criticism. Would you use the term “hijacked” to describe an outpouring of praise? What better way to enhance your brand?

  • Amy Martin

    I would argue that the negative comments have already yielded long-term positive results for the brand. Not only do studies show that negative feedback actually increases a brand’s sales and level of consumer engagement, but part of what makes social media successful as a PR channel is the authenticity, honesty and ability for consumers to engage with a brand in ways they never would. It is not hurting Nestle’s brand – their company name has been plastered in newspapers when otherwise it wouldn’t and discussed on blogs like this who would otherwise ignore their facebook page. This is an opportunity for the Nestle PR department to leverage and perhaps even launch a new “green” product to revolutionize the brand – while increasing their consumer base by responding to consumer trends and demands, not facebook posts.

  • Kate Robins

    I agree with Linda. Facebook doesn’t create protests or issues that otherwise wouldn’t exist and shutting down a Facebook page doesn’t make issues go away. Nestle may even find some good ideas from supporters on their page.

  • Dina

    Linda hit the nail on the head. Many companies would pay big bucks to get this kind of market research and traffic. If the market is dissatisfied with their choice of palm oil in the Nestle product, then it seems like a great opportunity to make a change to the product and earn back the respect of the consumer while the world watches.

    With increased attention on their product, they can turn this negative into a (FREE!!) positive publicity opportunity.

    How they handle this will say a lot about their company.

  • Christine

    The biggest issue with the Nestle Facebook case isn’t that their page got overrun by people seeking to expose their use of unsustainable palm oil – it’s that the company had a representative that was responding in a VERY negative fashion to the posts – to the point that the person said actually said they would stop being rude and start responding more professionally. They also started deleting posts off the wall, and forcing people to remove any replicas of their logo being used as their profile photo. That doesn’t exactly send a message of “we care about what you think.

    They shouldn’t delete their Facebook page; they should engage the attention of the audience they have by becoming an advocate for reforestation of the areas that were depleted.

  • Trineka

    Listen, Evaluate, Adapt, and Engage

    Those are words to operate by when leveraging social media networks. I agree with what has been said, so I will not repeat what has already been said. I would, however, suggest that Nestle engage their FB fans in some kind of contest in which the winner can be announced when the new “greener” product is launched. This help them build loyalty for the new product even before it launches.

    But just to back track a bit, before deciding to launch a new greener a product, Nestle should evaluate market research about the impact on their sales and cost. I say this because companies cannot simply bow down to the incessant complaints of small fringe groups. Those groups are like the mini-dogs -they bark loud but pack an unimpressive bite. They get their power in convincing you they are much bigger than they are. I don’t know how much momentum this group has but I would caution Nestle not to make any hasty decisions until they can determine whether those choices are supported by a significant percentage of their consumers.

    In the interim, I’d probably great a separate are for folks to comment about the palm oil issue so that folks who could care less don’t have to inundated with those post when vising the fan page.

  • Olatunji Ladi Adejumo

    Is this Nestle challenge (that’s what it is)more dangerous than what Coca-Cola faced with its ‘New Coke’ fiasco? I think not. Imagine what Coke would have faced if the social media existed then in its current form. I believe that the situation can be turned in Nestle’s favor by exercising some honesty and creativity. People have always appreciated honesty, it BS that they detest. Playing the ostrich will not benefit Nestle. They need to show people that they are actually listening, roll with the punch and then get the upper hand by coming clean.

  • Emily

    The Nestle crisis on Facebook definitely puts a Nestle PR executive in quite a predicament. Do you keep the account where everyone can see it or do you delete it from the web completely? I like the comparison you made with the Domino’s/YouTube scandal. In that situation Domino’s chose to ignore the situation by not releasing a press release of any kind or posting any type of comment online in the hopes that it would keep people that had not heard anything of the scandal from learning about it. I believe, however, it would benefit Nestle to acknowledge the fact that many of their “friends” on Facebook are clearly upset about the use of a palm oil supplier that is known for destroying rainforests. It could do this by posting a long-wall post for all to see that says they know consumers are upset and they recognize why. For this reason, Nestle is taking steps to improve its choice of palm oil suppliers by looking for one that is environmentally friendly. In my PR classes I have always been taught to be honest and pro-active. For this reason, I believe that Nestle needs to keep their page just how it is on Facebook for all to see those negative posts from consumers so people do not think that they are ignoring consumers’ opinions on their products. That way, when Nestle apologizes it shows the company is taking responsibility for its actions, acknowledging its wrong doing, and showing it’s going to make it right. This, I believe, will keep loyal customers loyal and will even impress those that have never used the product before.