May 18, 2010

Nestle's crisis communication

In public relations, the need for crisis communication is a dreaded scenario. Due to the usage of traditional and social media, word spreads like wild fire. Each organization's approach to crisis communication is going to differ depending on their mix of traditional and social media, but we as professionals can learn from case studies and situations like the one detailed in the article below.

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Nestle has been forced to change its environmentally-destructive business practices after a social media coup; what can netroots activists learn from the victory?

After it was revealed that the Swiss food giant sourced its palm oil through Sinar Mas—a company whose operations contribute to the destruction of the Indonesian rain forest—Greenpeace produced a video comparing eating a Kit Kat bar to eating an orangutan. The video certainly makes its point with graphic imagery, but such shock campaigns don't always translate into tangible action. Nestle really started to feel the heat, however, when they ordered the video taken down from YouTube for copyright infringement. Then Greenpeace sent out their call to action: supporters sent emails, made phone calls, and, most importantly, posted angry comments on Nestle's own Facebook page. I say "most importantly" because, unlike emails and phone calls, the Facebook comments didn't just reach the company, they were public for anyone to see. Nestle's PR department only made matters worse by responding rudely to aggressive commenters and also by trying to delete certain comments. Anyone who has tried to moderate a website's comments section knows that nothing can deter some users from posting.

Eventually, the criticism became too much, and Nestle announced Monday that it has begun a new partnership with The Forest Trust to ensure that all their palm oil comes from sources practicing sustainable forestry. As the Guardian points out, this kind of partnership is a first for the palm oil industry, so kudos to Greenpeace.

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