Salon had an interesting post about some trouble Nestle ran into on their Facebook fan page. You can read more there, but here’s the gist: environmental groups are accusing Nestle of driving rainforest destruction through their purchase of palm oil. They buy palm oil from Indonesia, where enough forest is being cleared to threaten orangutans with extinction. Nestle has a fan page on Facebook, and orangutan lovers started posting complaints on it.
Shortly thereafter, the moderator posted:
To repeat: we welcome your comments, but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic — they will be deleted.
If you know anything about the internet, then you know that this message was the worst possible thing Nestle could have posted. It’s the Streisand Effect – if you try to hide something on the internet, it suddenly becomes a lot more interesting, and you only draw more attention to it. This is so basic to the sociology of the web that if I were hiring someone to do social media work or PR, that would be the first question in the interview.
The Salon article catalogues some interesting exchanges between the Nestle admin and Facebook users, culminating in this announcement:
Nestle: This (deleting logos) was one in a series of mistakes for which I would like to apologise. And for being rude. We’ve stopped deleting posts, and I have stopped being rude.
A trip to the fan page now shows nothing but altered logos and calls for boycott. The Salon piece concludes that the real shame of this whole exchange is that the admin acted like a human being, actually talked to people, and is probably in big trouble for it – and if not, Nestle will be less likely to do anything like this in the future, retreating to boring press releases and spokespeople.
I think the real lesson to be learned here is that when you show up to a conversation, you actually need to have something to say.
Nestle is trying to take advantage of the fact that there’s a lot of people out there who really like their milk chocolate, or really enjoy KitKat bars. They’re using social networking sites to encourage people to talk about chocolate and KitKat bars, remember how much they like them, and hopefully buy more. This all makes sense and is a lot more engaging and cost effective than TV ads and the like. But once you start people talking, you cannot control what they are going to say. That’s not how conversations work, even conversations attenuated into new formats like Facebook wall posts.
So no people are accusing you of hating cute orangutans, what do you do? You need to be able to say something:
- We didn’t know, this is what we’re doing to fix this.
- This isn’t true, here’s why.
- There’s no other suppliers, but here’s what we’re working on to substitute or work around the problem.
Hell, if you think you can get away with it without losing more customers, even saying “Who cares about monkeys, we gots to have our delicious sugary snacks!” is better than saying nothing or trying to edit the conversation in progress. Having some kind of ethics really matters here.
But if you can’t say any of these things… well, just shut everything down. Stop trying to build equity in your brand and concentrate on making the cheapest candy because your company obviously doesn’t understand the point of building a brand or cultivating passionate customers.