Beware of Social Media: It Does Create Change, Like It or Not

The social media flap du jour is about the Nestlé fan page on Facebook being slammed with comments about their use of unsustainable farming in Indonesia for palm oil. It’s perfect timing as I held a webinar training this morning with a new client who shared concerns about the possibility of negative comments and inappropriate photos as a reason her brand is moving slowly with social media. (Otherwise I tend to stay away from flaps du jour!) In her case, it is an awesome brand with very high positives. So let’s deconstruct this a little bit to create some ease and markers on the social media roadway.

  • If your brand already has high favorable sentiment, you are ahead of the game. The more people love you, the more people (read “other people”) will come to you defense in the increasingly unlikely chance of a firestorm. Social media rewards the well-loved and well-behaved brands powerfully and frequently.
  • If your brand has questionable behaviors, it is definitely more vulnerable on the social web. You must be ready and willing to hear the negative feedback. That doesn’t mean you have to take it lying down – you can set your own rules for conversation, such as “posts that defame our individual employees, that misappropriate our registered logo, or that use profanity, will be deleted.” Keep in mind the more restrictions you place, the more heat you are likely to receive.
  • If you are in the midst of an online attack, remember basic communication and parenting skills! Let people vent, respond that you hear them, don’t try to win the argument at this stage of the game. Most importantly IMO, make note of their concerns, collect data, and be willing to present this to your peers/bosses internally. This is what this article is about. When people take their time to tell you how wrong you may be about your business, consider that gold. These are the canaries in your cold mine. It is your duty to take that back to your decision-makers. Nestlé has over 91,000 fans now on their Facebook page. This is a sizable, engaged audience that is hungry for a positive message about this situation. I hope Neslté will be able to deliver, though it may take some time.
  • Most all controversy gives your brand free attention. What you do with it, is up to you. But if you step back and look at this mechanically, as a bean counter, you can see the advantage. It is your most opportune time to influence opinion, to change internal processes that will make you a better company. In this case, the issues are protection of the orangutan habitat and sustainable farming. There is an undeniable trend that people on planet earth are increasingly in support of these type of issues, whether you are or not. Turns out it is cost-effective marketing too.
  • This particular issue, corporate social responsibility, influences not just fans but employees. A company‚Äôs ethical behavior was cited as an important factor in deciding where to work by 97% of the 7,000 surveyed by Kelly Services. You could say these Nestlé protesters are canaries in all of our cold mines – if you are a business person.

The Takeaway for Today

The truly smart companies are the ones who – regardless of their current brand sentiment – are engaging with social media because someone, somewhere, inside knows that these customer (and public eavesdropper) conversations are truly creating a groundswell in every organization. It is only a matter of time before this reaches your sales office or your recruiting desk. The message of the third millennium is that customers may not always be right but they do have the loudest voice. If you have the guts to show up and listen, then make change as a result, you are one of the diamonds shining from that very same cold mine.

Here’s a very inspiring quote from Nick Jacobs, President and CEO of Windber Medical Center & Winder Research Institute from way back in 2006! Keep in mind this is healthcare, truly a life and death matter.

“Live on the edge, the view is better from there.” That has always been my business sense. When it comes to people’s lives, we don’t take any chances. We are very very conservative, but when it comes to things like complementary medicine, the newest technologies, the best approaches that embrace mind, body and spirit, my personal life’s path has proven to me that we are all different.

Read the full interview with my friend Toby Bloomberg.