Thursday, March 25, 2010

How NOT to use Social Media

Just a quick note before we dive into today's issue:  The messaging function for this blog has been adjusted and is now open to any and all readers to make comments on a particular entry.  Please add your thoughts and comments, they are welcome and respected.

We've been spending a lot of time discussing the correct ways to utilize your public relations and social media campaigns.  Learning tips, adding insight and developing strategies is great, but sometimes we have to learn through example.  Today, I have a great example of how NOT to use social media and public relations.

Today's topic comes courtesy of the UTalkMarketing website and deals with an ongoing social media battle taking place between Greenpeace and Nestle.  If you haven't been following the fight, here's a recap: (This is NOT a political statement, simply an example)

Essentially, as part of it's campaign to save Orangutans of Indonesia, Greenpeace created a social media campaign, complete with a viral video spoof of Nestle's KIT KAT, "Give me a break" commercials.  The Greenpeace site accuses Nestle of "destroying rain forests" for palm oil, which is used to make Kit Kat bars.  Through its Facebook site, Greenpeace has also asked Facebook users to change their profile to a redesigned Kit Kat logo (it now says "Nestle KILLER") and post it to the Nestle Facebook fanpage.

This is nothing new for Greenpeace and other activist groups who, for some reason, have managed to grasp the power and scope of social media much better than most in the business and non-profit communities.  Greenpeace has long used videos to get their point across, as well as an organized Facebook, Twitter and blog network, not to mention saavy, and relentless, public relations.

So how did Nestle counter this social media attack on their product and organization?  They threatened to block people posting the new logo from their fanpage.  Not a good move.  Or was it?  From a strictly business standpoint, the move to block the doctored logo looks like a solid strategic decision.  But does that action say more about Nestle than the actual Greenpeace video?  This space says yes, and here's why.

All The Wrong Moves:

At first glance, the Nestle decision look like overreacting.  More than that, it gives credebility to Greenpeace's actions and accusations.  By threatening to ban users, Nestle looks like it has something to hide, and in some users eyes, validates the claims levelled against the candy bar giant.

Too often companies, both large and small, react to a social media attack by shrinking away from the problem, ignoring it, hoping it will simply go away.  But it doesn't.  In fact, like a wildfire, left untended, social media attacks can take on a life of their own and will burn until there's nothing left, leaving only scorched earth in its wake.

Here is a short excerpt from the article, discussing this phenomenon:

"Social networks are not about a one to many communication technique, as PR once was; the web has created a two-way communication model – something some brands are failing to recognise and adapt to. Consumers have a voice, from blogs to forums to comments on newspaper websites – they have a platform to make themselves heard. And they will make themselves heard. Nestl√©’s biggest mistake was not to respond and engage from the outset. They should have taken on board the comments, then tailored a response to help build discussion around the issue. Keeping quiet or blocking people will only fuel the fire."
In other words, Nestle should have used its social media outreach to engage in discussion with those who would question their methods and activities in Indonesia.  I'm not talking about firing back accusations at Greenpeace, because this isn't a fight between Greenpeace and Nestle.  It's a fight for the "hearts and minds" of the end user; aka, you and me.

Most small businesses and non-profits know which fights to pick and which ones to shy away from.  Nestle has to know that doing battle with Greenpeace and its most ardent supporters is one they don't want to get involved with.  Not because Greenpeace is correct in their stance, I don't know that.  But from a social media and public relations standpoint, Nestle is never going to sway the ideas and convictions of that audience.  To publicly fight with Greenpeace is a lot like an atheist arguing with a priest.  Both sides will make good arguments, but eventually it will probably just devlolve into a shouting match.

No, Nestle needs to reach out to the rest of the public at large who may not be familiar with the issue, tell their side of the story and engage those with questions.  You might say that banning Greenpeace and its supporters from the fanpage doesn't preclude Nestle from still reaching out to the rest of the public, but that's not the point.

If, as a user, I have questions about some of the issues Greenpeace may have raised, and I go to the fanpage or website or forums to do some individual research and I see that Nestle has banned these users from those sites, that's a powerful statement.  To most users, it looks as if Nestle is afraid of the accusations and not willing to engage in an open dialogue.  Nestle should be confident enough in its actions and procedures to explain what it does and why it does it.  And those conversations should include those who have already made up their mind.

Nestle can refute any facts or information put forth by Greenpeace on those sites, speaking directly to the users who have not yet made up their minds.  Nestle doesn't even have to acknowledge, directly anyway, the Greenpeace posts.  It simply has to address the issues raised in those posts in a professional, educated manner.

Another Giant Under Attack:

When I did work for Shell Oil, we constantly had to address the concerns of environmentalists and conservationists.  For the most part, these groups were willing to listen and engage in civil debate, even though they clearly believed the worst about Shell.  But every now and then, groups such as Greenpeace and ELF, reared their head.  Because most of our work was focused in smaller, rural mountain towns, we had a bit of an easier time reaching the effected audience.  At the same time, accusations levelled against Shell spread very quickly in these small communities, and, given some of the history between Shell and these towns 30 years prior, it was a tough sell to disprove or ease concerns over some of the accusations.

We never took on these more radical organizations head on.  Instead, we worked with the media, community groups and online to reach out to everyone we could and attempt to hold a one on one discussion with them.  We also put together a travelling exhibit and held town hall meetings where our representatives fielded any and all questions.

Shell was proud of its community activity, as well as its conservation efforts.  It was willing and able to stand on its record of conservation and its efforts to keep the environment clean while continuing to look for new sources of energy.  At each stop of the travelling exhibit, environmentalists and conservationists were invited to attend and ask questions.  Shell didn't shy away from the tough questions, it didn't duck its detractors, and for that reason, the exhibit and the outreach efforts were both highly successfull.

Nestle can't take a travelling exhibit to every town in the U.S.  But it DOES have access to the internet, just like we do.  It could very easily put together its own video.  It could, as the CEO of Toyota did recently, have its own CEO go online and refute the allegations made by Greenpeace.  It could even have other officers go online and engage in conversation with those who may be questioning their Indonesian activities.

Of course, as I stated earlier, none of this is going to change the minds of Greenpeace and its strongest supporters.  But that's not the audience Nestle has to worry about.  That audience is already lost to them.  But the vast majority of the American public is still out there waiting to hear from Nestle on this issue.  So far, the silence has been deafening.

What this means to you:

As a small business owner or non-profit, this is a great example of what not to do when facing a social media attack.  The first step is simply monitoring your social media activity.  Because you know that you can't please everyone all the time, there is, inevitably, going to come a time when a disgruntled customer, donor recipient or employee/former staffer, says something negative about you online.

Don't panic.  Don't threaten to sue (unless it's truly a horrific form of slander/libel) and don't start banning people willy nilly.  Take a good look at the accusation.  Is there a kernel of truth in the allegation?  Is it comletely false?  Do some investigating and find out the truth of the matter and then go online to explain the disagreement or refute the claim.

Be open and honest and your customer base and potential customer base will more often than not forgive you if you made a mistake, or come to your side in the disagreement.  Part of doign business is engendering trust and loyalty.  The correct handling of a social media attack can go a long way towards creating the image of an open, honest and trustworthy organization that demands that kind of loyalty.

By banning people and ducking the issue entirely, you can create the opposite image, regardless of whether or not the accusations are true.  You also don't want to get into a fight with the accusers.  You have to be above the fray, as they say, in order to hold the high ground in any social media attack.  We've seen it all before on forums, in comments sections, on Facebook and Twitter.  There truly are no winners in a social media war.  Both sides end up looking immature and reactive instead of proactive.  People don't want to do business with those types of organizations.

When, and it really is just a matter of when, not if, you are attacked online and through social media, make sure you are present and engaging and willing to answer questions and have conversations.  Because the last thing your customers and other shareholders want to hear in these types of situations is crickets chirping.

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