CIOs: Dealing with Negatives on Social Media

Part 5 of our series, What CIOs Need to Know About Social Media.

A post on Mashable from a year and a half ago is still relevant to enterprise CIOs grappling with the impact of social media on the enterprise. In the post, Lon S. Cohen lists seven things CIOs should be considering. We’re taking a closer look at each of the item in Cohen’s framework. In this post, we continue our look at Cohen’s third item.

  • Web 2.0 Content and Presentation Standards
  • Review and Approval Processes
  • Managing Corporate Reputation
  • Versions and Update Controls
  • Impact On Operating Environment
  • Establishing Project Priority
  • Compliance

Dealing with Social Media Negatives

One big question that comes up almost immediately when enterprises start to use social com­puting is: What do you do about negative comments?

As we said in the previous post, when dealing with this question, it’s helpful to recognize that if you act in the world, you probably have detractors. The great thing about social media is that for the first time you can find and address negativity, in real-time.

The old techniques of responding – libel laws or lawsuits, pressuring media outlets, and using traditional media to confront and refute naysayers – not only don’t work online, but can result in generating even more negativity.

A recent example of the traditional approach, and one that has made it into our Social Media Hall of Shame, involved international food giant Nestlé. Like a lot of large food companies, Nestlé is the target for various groups who disagree with their business and agricultural methods. Some of these groups had taken to posting defaced versions of the Nestlé logo on Nestlé’s Facebook fan page as a critique and protest of the company’s policies.

In series of posts widely seen as an attempt to silence or intimidate these critics, Nestlé posted, “We welcome your comments, but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic — they will be deleted.”[1]

This post breaks a cardinal rule about running online communities that we discuss in the Community section of our book, , Be a Person: the Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (being slowly syndicated via this blog): Govern your community with a light hand. Your community members expect to be involved in major community decisions, and they certainly do not expect to be arbitrarily censored.

The company also threatened action for trademark infringement if critics didn’t comply. Incredibly, Nestlé also posted sarcastic replies to negative posts.

Nestlé’s old-media attempt to stem negativity was, unfortunately, all too predictable, as was the result. Rather than doing anything to respond to, placate, dissuade, or even just acknowledge the dissenters, Nestlé whipped up a storm of protest that eventually made the mainstream media news — blowing up a relatively unpublicized group of protesters into media darlings.

Here’s a typical post from their Facebook followers after Nestlé’s blunder:

[W]ould like to personally thank Nestlé for providing a place for all the people who see their unethical, disgusting and lethal practices for what they are to share their opinions. Finally we have a way to share how much we hate their practices. If you don’t boycott Nestlé already, start now, please.

One poster stated she’s not a fan and wanted to have a “Register My Disgust” button on the Facebook fan page. Another was a bit more reasonable:

I like some Nestle products so I qualify as a ‘fan.’ I would like Nestle to make them even better by removing palm oil. I would like to enjoy my Kit-Kats without feeling responsible for rainforest destruction and orangutan deaths.

And this wasn’t Nestlé’s only social media blunder. When Greenpeace posted a critical video on YouTube, the company lobbied to have it removed based on use of its logo, generating lots of free publicity for Greenpeace.

The poor besieged person in charge of the Nestlé Facebook page did try to do some damage control, posting:

This [deleting logos] was one in a series of mistakes for which I would like to apologize. And for being rude. We’ve stopped deleting posts, and I have stopped being rude.

This was a good move. It does three things: It acknowledges the mistakes; it pledges to stop deleting the logos; and it humanizes the company by taking personal responsibility for the action. Our first rule for using social media is to Be a Person, not an organization.

So what went wrong here? Well, obviously, Nestlé has the right to protect its logos and trademarks. But was it really the best approach to sarcastically criticize and threaten the dissenters? What the company failed to realize is that social computing gives the same power to individuals as it gives to big enterprises. You need to keep that in mind whenever you make a decision to deal with negativity about your business.

By the way, you may be interested in the end of the story. After a two-month campaign led by Greenpeace against Nestle for its use of palm oil, the company gave in and announced in May 2010 that it will rid its supply chain of any sources involved in the destruction of rainforests.[2] There’s no telling what role the bungled responses on YouTube and Facebook had in this resolution, but they sure didn’t help.

Our next post will go into more depth about Techniques for Handling Negatives.

For soup-to-nuts, strategy to execution processes, procedures and how-to advice, see our book, Be a Person: the Social Media Operating Manual for Enterprises. The book (itself part of a series for different audiences), is available in paper form at save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

[1] Bnet’s Nestle’s Facebook Page: How a Company Can Really Screw Up Social Media:

[2] Mongabay:

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