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Why Social Media May Not Be for You… (Yet)

Submitted by on March 23, 2010 – 4:37 pm5 Comments

A few months ago I wrote a post for Mashable titled: Why Social Media Isn’t For Everyone.   I wrote it out of direct experience counseling clients who were rightly concerned about the  risks of exposing their brand to direct and visible customer feedback.

The main point of the article was this:

…when an organization makes an investment in social media it is a constructive opportunity to consider not only what could go wrong, but why it could go wrong. In other words, what are the valid criticisms that customers and employees might have and what you are willing to do about it. If you aren’t willing to consider the former and have no power concerning the latter, social media might not be your best bet. All too often the person making the social media investment has little control over (1) the quality of the product, (2) the pricing strategy, (3) the terms of use, (4) the company’s stance on cause-based issues (political, environmental, etc.), (5) the quality of customer service, and the list goes on. Yet these are often exactly what the customer wants to talk about.

The recent posterchild for ” Social-Media-Gone-Wrong” is Nestle.     I have been following the story at a distance and just read a post on the subject from BG Creative:

The short version of the Facebook disaster is this: Greenpeace is mad at Nestle over palm oil and a bunch of their members began taking to Facebook to express their outrage. They covered the Nestle Facebook Fan Page with wall posts and changed their profile pictures to altered versions of the Nestle logo to further make their point. The moderator of  Nestles Facebook page became flustered by the outpouring of hatred, and responded in a manner that was just a little too human. Comments such as: “Thanks for the lesson in manners. Consider yourself embraced. But it’s our page, we set the rules” certainly didn’t win him/her any fans.

The article goes on to suggest some ways Nestle could have dealt with the “crisis.”  In essence, “ignore it” “thank them and move on” or “respond with humor”  –This is solid enough counsel now that the cat is out of the bag but to me there is a much bigger point to be made: Nestle should have seen this coming a mile away. Did they not know that they engage in practices that have given rise to activist communities?  Did they not know that these activist groups are also very active on social media?

Deciding to get into Social Media should be directly related to a company’s willingness to either (1) defend a controversial position by having a direct and open conversation about it or (2) change policies to align with customer expectations.   If the company is unwilling to go with either of those options – then perhaps Social Media isn’t the right choice.   Specific to Nestle:  If they believe that Palm Oil is the best choice of ingredient and can defend it (economics, politics, environment etc.) then they should do so openly.  If they feel it is a policy that, when fully measured, does have serious negatives, then perhaps they should consider a shift in policy.  If Nestle neither wishes to change or defend itself on the merits – then they shouldn’t be operating in social media.

5 Comments »

  • Haroon Bijli says:

    Great post. I also think organizations ignore training when it comes to community managers. If you are handling an online community, you'd better know how to react to negative comments. A structured stakeholder/issue mapping also helps a great deal in being prepared.

  • joshuamross says:

    Haroon,
    I completely agree. One of the reasons the Nestle issue is getting such coverage is the manner in which they responded – which fanned the flames.

  • Callan Green says:

    Hi Joshua! Great post. Thanks so much for reading my post on the BG blog. Glad you found the counsel solid! And yes, I totally agree that for some companies, social media just isn't the right fit. However, I think you missed the main point of my post, and I just wanted to take a moment to clarify. Yes, I suggested alternative responses, however, the main point was that Nestle should have had a social media crisis plan in place to begin with, so that their team would be equipped to respond eloquently and professionally. Had they been prepared to, as you suggested, either defend themselves or shift their policy in the social space, much of the drawn out controversy could have been avoided. I respectfully disagree that they shouldn't be involved in social media at all, but rather think they have no business being involved if they don't have a crisis plan at the ready.

    Thanks again for your thoughts!
    -Callan
    http://www.dontdrinkthekoolaidblog.com/nestles-

  • joshuamross says:

    Callan -
    Thanks for clarifying. I think we are essentially in agreement. Thanks for writing up the post that illuminated the issue for me in the first place.
    J.

  • [...] Battelle cited a post of mine today in his great FM Signal blog.   At issue were my thoughts on the Nestle Facebook fracas.  [...]

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