How “Social Media Experts” let Nestle down. Badly.

by Matt Burgess on March 24, 2010

If you’re on… well, any number of social channels, really… you would have noticed the “Nestle” furor over the last few days. If you somehow missed it, here’s an executive summary:

  • Greenpeace target Nestle for their involvement in the deforestation of orangutan habitats through the sourcing of palm oil, which they use in their products. This includes a video on youtube, which Nestle have removed, but which (rather obviously) pops up all over the internet and whips social media users in a lather. This then spills over onto Nestle’s Facebook page, which protesters making their voices heard.
  • Nestle responds badly, with rather rude, dismissive comments. They refuse to accept dissent on “their” page.
  • This pours oil on the flames.
  • Social media “experts” rub their hands with glee, and start crowing about how “Nestle don’t get it”.

Ok, that’s the executive summary. But this isn’t another piece about how Nestle got it wrong, because – quite frankly – there’s enough of those.

This is a piece about how social media experts let Nestle down. Badly.

Over the past week, I have been amazed at how eagerly social media commentators have pounced on this story and trumpeted it from the mountain tops… (here’s the kicker) without offering any constructive criticism.
In the Australian crowd, I saw this over and over again. Two examples that stood out:

  • The folks over at SmartCompany put out a piece discussing the “bungle”, and I see it retweeted a few times. The article discusses the events that led up to (and including) the Facebook revolt in detail. But when it comes to the advice that they offer, by way of James Griffin, chief executive of online reputation management group SR7? Here it is:

    “Griffin says many businesses don’t understand how devastating the consequences of a failed Facebook campaign can be, and suggests Nestle needs to shape up its marketing practices and take online reputation management seriously.”

    Oh, well done everyone. We know more than they do. Let’s not offer any constructive criticism in specifics, let’s just talk in generalities.

  • The other example came from a bunch of guys who I actually think are super-friendly folk over at FrankVizeum. They went wild on their Twitter page, holding on to the issue like a dog ravaging its chew toy, pointing out and sharing every negative post that talked about the debacle. But I never once saw them link to anything that added constructive criticism). (Update: when I started this post in my head, that was the case. However, when I went back this evening to check their Twitter link, I see that they have… a bit late though lads).
    And, again… they were lobbing a few jabs at Nestle with tweets. And as I’ve discussed on my personal blog a while back, it’s easy to throw out “insightful thoughts” in 140 characters… but if you want me to take them seriously, then follow up and elaborate on them. Don’t just throw out a tweet with one or two buzzwords.

Why do I think this is a problem?

Well, we’re the folks that are always saying how “brands need to stop ignoring social media”, right? But put yourself in the shoes of a brand who is thinking about testing the waters. If they’re on the fence, and they’ve just seen how we all reacted… well, you can bet your bottom dollar we just scared them off, and cost ourselves a future client.

We really, really need to stop doing that.

In the interests of eating my own dog food, I want to point you towards two posts that, I felt, looked at the issue from a constructive point of view.

  • Olivier Blanchard over at the BrandBuilder blog took, what I feel, to be the most balanced, pragmatic look at the whole affair that I had seen. I love the way that Olivier acknowledges that Nestle have – gasp – shareholders that they need to report to. This might be a foreign concept to a lot of the social media folk that I’m talking to in this post, but sometimes big brands can’t do whatever they want.
  • I also loved this post from Tom Cunniff. It’s my first exposure to his writing, but after reading the post, with its line of “Some of the snarkiest anti-NestlĂ© voices are from self-appointed social media experts” made it clear that we see eye to eye on a few things.

We need to wise up guys. There’s no point in scaring off our clients by laughing at them when they get it wrong. Let’s offer our help, and show them how to get it right. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a new client out of it.

What do you think? Am I way off base here?

Image credit: friedtoast

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