Defending social media attacks

Nestle are used to their fair share of bad press; students the world over have seen to that. But March 2010 is when they will go into social media case study history.

For anyone who’s not read the full saga, here’s the short version: a video was staged which drew a play on eating Kit-Kat and orangutans’ fingers. Nestle had the video taken down but, of course, it reappeared. They chased it around the ‘net like a drunk trying to bath a cat and made life pretty miserable for themselves by fumbling over logo violations when Greenpeace were organised.

I’m struggling here between ethics and communication tactics. If you make a bad product – deem that as you will – then, with or without a great web interaction, you deserve to be called on it. But, lets assume you aren’t evil personified and you deserve your place in the world of commerce, what do you do when attacked online?

Despite what some experts portray, social media isn’t always a simple mirror, signal, manoeuvre affair. On top of the immense variables, there is the fear of inflaming situations, adding sugar to the fermenting jar that forums and blog comments can become. I don’t believe there is a definitive three, five or ten-point plan. Social media has only one absolute for all organisations: listening. If it’s nothing else for you, it’s an opportunity to listen.

That said, Seth Godin believes he’s got an answer: brands in public. He launched this aggregator back in September last year.

Strangely for a Godin fanboy I wasn’t convinced at launch. And after six months or so I can’t say I’m overly impressed with their client list – no Coke, no Cisco, no Microsoft, all of whom are being critiqued hugely online. If anything, is this not a $400/month garden where a bad ‘vibe’ can grow? From a brand manager’s standpoint, doesn’t she prefer any negatives to be disparate across the web, rather than collate neatly in one screenshot? Of course, the positives mentioned online will also look more powerful together.

Which brings us right back to our variables problem: join in and risk inflaming the situation or enter and solve problems with a swath of your service sword? The trouble is unless the Nestles of the world truly engage (as in adopt some of their philosophies, ecological or otherwise) with the likes of Greenpeace, they’re likely to find hugging a tree has morphed into overtaking a Facebook wall as the militant tool of choice.

But don’t be frozen by fear. The wonderful John Battelle at Federated Media recently wrote, “…all of our customers are already operating in social media. You can’t pretend otherwise. And it’s better to engage, make mistakes, admit those mistakes, and move on, than to not engage at all. I call this “conversational judo,” and suggest we all practice it, daily. Twice on Sunday, perhaps….”


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