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By B.L. Ochman


Mix one social media-savvy environmental group’s protest with a multi-national corporation with several thousand consumers who have to tools to make their voices heard. Add to the mix a Facebook fan page manager who loses it, and responds rudely with old-media message control tactics. What do you get? A growing firestorm that didn’t have to happen.

And, hey, maybe it didn’t.

While most companies use their Facebook pages as one-way broadcasts of company press releases, Nestle has engaged with its fans – but unfortunately not in a positive way.

I fervently hope that other companies, about to enter the social media landscape, will learn from, rather than be scared off by, Nestle’s bungling. There would be no Facebook food fight if Nestle’s first step had been to acknowledge that they need to consider the criticism, learn from it, and take steps to change.

The backstory: on Wednesday, Greenpeace staged a protest of Nestle’s alleged use of palm oil from deforested areas in Indonesian rainforests, which destroys the habitat of endangered orangutans. In a video that’s since been censored by YouTube and Nestle’s (silly geese!) Greenpeace likened Kit Kats to bloody orangutan fingers. The uncensored Greenpeace video, of course, is still appearing online.

Nestle posted nearly a dozen Facebook updates defending its use of palm oil, and administrators twice asked fans to quit using “an altered version of any of our logos.” Then the administrator lost her patience (and I bet will soon lose her job if she hasn’t already.) Would you like fries with that?

Perhaps the most telling comment from the Facebook page admin:

“So, let’s see, we have to be well-mannered all the time but it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to us as everything from idiots right the way down to sons of Satan with a few obscenities and strange sexual practices thrown in?”

That’s when she needed to take a deep breath, take a walk, clear her head, and then not come out of her room until she got that better attitude our moms always talked about.

Yesterday, Nestle USA’s Twitter stream, which generally Tweets recipes, linked to a company statement about Palm Oil, hidden rather deeply in the media section of its corporate site. Neither the Twitter person nor the Facebook admin seem to be engaging on the issue today. But, we live in a 24/7 online world, and the debate rages onward.
Here are the lessons to be learned:

– The first thing a company needs to do in a firestorm is acknowledge that there is an issue, and agree to look into it.

– A company representative who responds to negative comments in a way that is snide, nasty, demeaning, snarky – pick your adjective – can’t win.
– Environmental issues, and animal extinction are serious issues to a huge number of people. They need to be taken seriously and treated courteously even though they may express themselves emotionally.
– Humor could have diffused the logo issue, or at least a human rather than a corporate voice.
– Removing negative comments never works. They’ll just pop up in other places. Nestle’s Facebook admin figured that one out relatively quickly.
– It’s necessary to make the company’s official position clear in all mediums where conversation is taking place, not to bury it on the company website.
– Let people have their say. The community will note, and eventually shun, and even out the crazies among the commenters.

What remains to be seen is whether the debate will have an impact on the company’s stock, or sales, come Monday morning.
Publicist Stephen Waddington even wonders if the Facebook page is a fake: created by activists.
Wouldn’t that be interesting!

Meanwhile, I’m off Kit Kats. They used to be my favorite.

Hat tip to Toby Bloomberg