In a crisis – think before you speak (or post)

The Atlantic used it as an example of a major PR disaster and Greenpeace probably laughed and shook their heads. What is it? The social media protest by Greenpeace against Nestlé over concerns “that the palm oil used by Nestlé is driving deforestation in Indonesia.” Cue spoof ‘Take a Break’ ads and a flood of activists registering their concerns on Nestlé’s Facebook fan page.

If a company finds itself in a situation such as this then it is obviously in ‘crisis communications mode’ and appropriate action to take is to start a positive dialogue and ease tensions and repair damage – even capitulation if necessary. Think long-term and take action in the short-term. Listen first, then speak with a measured response. Especially if the concerns being levied against your company involves cute, furry creatures – or even orangutans. Be calm and think this through.

Someone should have told Nestlé. Or at least asked the idiot moderating their Facebook page to take a day off. This is an instance of crisis communications and should be handled by people who know what they are doing. Doesn’t matter if the vehicle is a mass protest outside your office or an attack on your Facebook page. First order of business – THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK.

What did Nestlé do? The Atlantic summed it up far better than I could.

Nestlé violated a basic rule of public relations, said BNET’s Rick Broida: “Don’t insult your customers.” Even if you applaud the moderator for acting like a living, breathing human being, the combative tone resulted in continued rants on the Nestlé’s Facebook page, even after the company announced it was ending its relationship with the palm oil supplier in question. Such an announcement should have been a lauded shift to a sustainable practice, but it was lost amid the vitriol.

Nestlé responded to negative comments with ‘snarky’ retorts. When activists began changing their Facebook fan page logo to the Nestlé logo,Nestlé responded by warning users not to use altered versions of its logo. Whoever was moderating the Facebook page responded with comments like “Oh, please, it’s like we’re censoring everything to allow only positive comments,” and “Thanks for the lesson in manners.  Consider yourself embraced.  But it’s our page, we set the rules, it was ever thus.” These comments were akin to throwing gasoline on the fire.  These responses only spurred on the activists — crossing over into print media. Nestlé later apologized but, guess what? Damage done.

Mark Story, CEO of Intersection of Online and Offline LLC offers this sage advice;

Here’s the deal. If you encourage people to become a fan of your company through social media, it is a double-edged sword.  You have to take the positive aspects of Facebook fans and accept negative consequences. You should also check your social media outlets — especially on weekends (when this controversy erupted). Make social media part of your crisis communications plan.  Be ready  to respond.  The first rule of crisis communications is avoiding crises. And finally? Put an adult in charge.  When responding to negative information, make sure that a seasoned communications person posts comments and responses.

I hope Nestlé learnt its lesson.

I hope we can all learn from Nestlé.

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