Undoubtedly, much has been and will be written about Nestle’s very public social media gaffe. And that’s how it should be. They screwed up with a spectacular flash of idiocy that would make John Edwards blush. Most of what I’ve seen so far centers on the specifics of what they did wrong. It was a lot of things, and they were very wrong. However, in an attempt to be constructive, I’d like to suggest some guidelines that could have saved them from the heat they are taking now. Here are five rules I believe they (and every company that participates in social media) should follow:
1. Don’t delete comments unless absolutely necessary. Comments have a near sacred place in social media. Editing or deleting them is serious business and should be done only as a last resort. Specific threats or abusive or especially profane language can be good reasons to delete a comment. And even then, many of those are judgment calls. Otherwise, let the community communicate in the space. Policing people who are changing your logo for their profile picture is a lose-lose proposition, as Nestle’s Facebook experience has shown us. Even if you could win a legal battle over copyright infringement, you’ll never take all these people to court; and you end up looking like a bully. Pick your battles. And be sure they are worth fighting in the first place.
2. When you, as a company, communicate with the public in social media, be civil. Keep in mind that the conversation is happening in public. And your comments will be hard to take back once they’re out there. So, follow Patrick Swayze’s “rule number three” in Roadhouse. Be nice. That way, anyone observing the conversation will see that you are being civil even if the person you’re communicating with is not. Being sarcastic and megalomaniacal will do just the opposite.
3. Don’t give anyone a reason to lash out. Many of the comments in this case were about Nestle’s use of palm oil (which has questions about its saturated fat content) and how they get their palm oil. That conversation has nothing to do with what was going on with the logo usage. But once people were angry, the door was opened for other grievances to come out. And like a quarrel with your spouse, once the tone was set it was easy for other criticisms to be added to the list. Pandora’s box swings open freely in social media, too.
4. Expect criticism. Learn from it. And respond constructively to it. A global company like Nestle is bound to have some issues. When they expose themselves in the social media space, people will find out and comment. Before you expose your company to that kind of criticism, be ready with responses. Keep them positive and consistent. Don’t be caught off guard and respond with angry bluster or indignant scoffs. It looks bad and doesn’t move the conversation in any constructive direction.
5. If you’re not ready to follow these suggestions, stay out of social media. Just “being there” in social media for the sake of being there is not necessarily a good idea. If you’re not ready, don’t exposure your company like Nestle did. Nestle gained nothing and lost a lot in this exchange. And even if this is a bad decision made by an overreaching admin, it was an even worse decision to put this person in charge of something so important in the first place.
There is an old adage that “there is no bad PR.” If that was ever true, it’s certainly not true in the age of the Internet. Nestle’s experience shows us that there is such a thing as bad PR. It’s very public, spreads quickly and does a lot of damage. Nestle had a chance to have a positive dialog with customers and critics on their Facebook page, and they blew it. It will be interesting to see where the saga goes once more executives at the company have a chance to respond. I suggest that any response start with a perfunctory dismissal of their Facebook admin and an apology to the community, followed by an attempt to demonstrate their understanding of the gravity of the situation. That could be done by either starting a newly positive dialog or leaving Facebook until they can demonstrate an understanding of what the community is all about. Either way, their reputation could use a little sweetening.
What do you think Nestle should do now?