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#Nestle's PR & Crisis Management Nightmare

Nestle, the world's largest food conglomerate took successive hits to its brand image recently in an issue related to the company's apparent disregard for the environment. It all happened in just about three days, and the damage was fueled by activity in social media.

The Issue:

Environmental group Greenpeace said the palm oil used in the Nestle Kit Kat bars was a threat to the endangered Orangutan. Nestle sourced palm oil from Sinar Mas, the single largest producer of palm oil in Indonesia. Activists claimed that the rising demand for palm oil is one of the main reasons for the depletion of rain forests, which are being leveled to make way for palm oil plantations.

To get their message across, Greenpeace created a bizarre video spoof of a Kit Kat commercial. It portrayed a man at work eating the finger of an orangutan out of a Kit Kat wrapper. Environment enthusiasts across the world immediately spread the word, which created a public embarrassment for Nestle.

And why did Greenpeace zero in on Nestle alone? Simple - targeting a giant corporation would attract the most attention. Nestle is the largest food and drinks conglomerate in the world, and is a major consumer of palm oil with its use of this commodity doubling in just a span of three years.

Position² tracked the story and analyzed the social media buzz around it.

The Sequence:

Greenpeace launched their campaign against Nestle on March 17th, 2010, with a 'Killer' logo, and a tagline that said 'Ask Nestle to give rain forests a break'. They posted their spoof video on YouTube first, which Nestle got removed due to breach of copyright.

The video was then posted on vimeo.com, and received over 78,000 views in the span of a few hours.

The attack then moved to the Nestle Facebook page, where posts from fans got angry retorts from the company's moderator.

The blogosphere and Twitter were next, with Tweets followed by almost 18,000 people by March 20th. After this, messages were posted using Google AdWords, and the issue was picked up gradually by traditional media as well. This caused significant damage to the brand image of Nestle.

Eventually, Nestle responded to the campaign and announced that it was cutting its contract with Sinar Mars. Nestle also promised to use only certified sustainable palm oil by 2015.

Social Media Buzz

The issue generated an overwhelming buzz in social media. An analysis on Twitter from 13th March to 22nd March 2010 showed us that there were over 215,000 tweets. In fact, Nestle's policies and customer service were driven in huge numbers due to Nestle becoming a "trending topic" on Twitter.

A share of voice analysis (graph below) shows us the break up of mentions across forums, blogs and traditional media. With over 100k mentions across these sources, the Nestle incident became a major social media controversy.

Social Media Buzz

We also noticed that the overall popularity of Nestle (primarily for the wrong reasons) increase considerably during the Nestle-Greenpeace social media furor.

Overall Popularity

It remains to be seen if the issue was blown out of proportion due to the Greenpeace video or the Fan page blunder.

Facebook Crisis Management Blunder

In the midst of this, Nestle's Facebook moderator took an aggressive stance and threatened to delete posts from fans that were protesting Nestle's lack of care for the environment. This enraged Facebook users who didn't back down until an apology was posted. The impact of this on the Nestle brand is presented in the chart below.

Facebook Crisis Management Blunder

Impact On the Nestle Brand - Negative Buzz Analysis

The graph below highlights the negative mentions of Nestle between Feb and Jun, 2010. Negative buzz spiked during the 2nd week of March to the 1st week of April. The increase in negative posts could also be attributed to the Facebook Fan page fiasco.

Negative Buzz Analysis

Lessons Learned

  • Brand Monitoring is indispensable in social media - This applies even to a large company like Nestle that could assume they are in control of the situation
  • Practice and plan for the worst case scenario - Develop a social media crisis plan and anticipate what can happen, to be prepared for it.
  • Respond to negative feedback - An offer to make good the bad is usually well received. A defensive response only adds fuel to the fire.
  • Plan ahead for onslaughts through social media - Think of worst case scenarios. For instance, measures that can be taken when a coordinated attack is launched that could turn into a PR disaster...
  • Hire seasoned community managers - Even a Facebook fan page needs experienced managers to deal with angry members, foster relationships with advocates, and handle crises without stress.

June 03, 2010
By Team Position²