As you may have heard, Greenpeace has an issue with the way Nestle sources one of their ingredients: palm oil. They assert that one or more of companies that provides Nestle with palm oil deforests habitats of orangutans in the process. To make their point they did a protest outside a Nestle office in the UK complete with people in orangutan outfits and other people in human climbing gear hanging a banner on the outside.
How Nestle helped bolster Greenpeace's video sharing campaign
Greenpeace also made a few videos and posted them on Facebook and YouTube containing the Nestle and KitKat logos. Nestle sent a request to YouTube to have them pulled down for a reason Greenpeace only cites as "copyright infringement". Greenpeace moved the video to Vimeo and look what happened the next day:
How did Nestle do on Facebook?
And then it gets worse. People flooded Nestle's Facebook page, joined as fans and started posting criticisms of the company, uploading altered versions of the logo, changing their profile photo to that of an orangutan, and chiding them. I went looking in their list of friends, and saw this fan with a profile pic of the "Nestle Killer" logo from the Greenpeace video:
Of course Nestle's fan page is awash with "fans" criticizing them:
I did see, by the way, some people that spoke in support of Nestle. Were they plants, by Nestle PR? Were they citizens who simply disagreed with the mob? It doesn't matter, they were drowned out. Remember that next time someone quietly suggests everyone go online and speak in support of your side. You probably don't have enough people, and when you're caught, you'll create yet another problem for yourself.
What happened to Nestle's PR Team?
The story, which should have been about Nestle's sustainability supply chain problem, is now two stories. They now have to dig themselves out of a hole for their poor PR handling, and then deal with their sustainability problem.
It seems as if someone at Nestle is dying to be interviewed a lot by PR experts for case studies over the next year. However when companies get seriously entrenched, there's often a habit of just letting the bad press mount with the thought "It will blow over".
Will it? That's an opinion. How about some measurement of how bad the reputational damage is? First, let's look at Google search results in the UK first:
There's a nice spike online right about the time Greenpeace had their video pulled from YouTube due to your copyright takedown request. Let's check out the United States Google search numbers:
A little spike, but not so bad. Looks like announcing 9.5bn US$ in profit is still a great driver of attention. (that's marker B)
What about your actual search results, have they been polluted? I simply googled Nestle, and the answer is no. With the except of the insert of Google news stories, the last one of them negative, it seems as your Google rank is intact:
But wait a second, what about more recent results? What if someone searches for something in the last week or two? This is a good sign of what's coming up in Google rank. Do you have to look in your rearview mirror, Nestle?
Looks like Nestle's Search Engine Optimization team is going to be busy playing defense on this for a while. Yay for their job security! It's like the Nestle PR department guaranteed them full employment.
What should Nestle have done in this crisis?
Nestle has finally announced that they will migrate to completely sustainable palm oil in their products by 2015, a date far enough in the future to allow suppliers to ramp up to meet demand. This will make their problem "go away" and let the public move onto something else. Why they dug in until this announcement is a mystery. It isn't as if anyone has taken on the Internet public outcry machine and ever won in this situation. They've also started "talking" to their audience, and recently posted a Questions and Answers about palm oil that credits Greenpeace with bringing their attention to the problem.
Three lessons you should learn from Nestle's mistakes
- Don't use your lawyers to take things off the Internet to keep people from seeing them. It doesn't work. The Streisand Effect works exactly as it should most of the time, and creates blowback.
- Admit it, stop it, and apologize: What Ben Popken from Consumerist.com said about the Circuit City PR snafu applies here, "Acknowledge you did the bad thing. Stop doing the bad thing. Make a material gesture of apology." Having done this, the problem is rapidly evaporating as the numbers show.
- Customers criticizing you are telling you something very valuable: You don't get to exist without customers, so listen to them. They are not your enemy. If they raise an issue, tell them you're looking into it.
Should brands even be online talking to their customers at all in light of this?
This seems absurd, but its a fair question to ask. However Greenpeace is on Facebok and YouTube talking to Nestle's customers, as are Nestle's competitors. Only one company has the kind of brand loyalty to inspire that kind of mettle in their customers without their presence: Apple.
People don't think of Nestle products that way they think of Apple products, so "no". Nestle has to be present in social media and elsewhere online.