Nestle Social Media: “Nestea” plunge in sentiment and how to fix

This is a repost of an old blog as Nestle’s challenges with social media continue.

As a Social Media practitioner, I like to observe what blue chip companies are doing in this space and had a good chat with a senior level manager at Nestle several weeks ago to see what their ambitions were. We discussed what they were doing with Social Media and what their objectives are.

This executive was happy with 70,000+ Facebook users joined to one of their Facebook groups. In fact, when I looked, hey had other international groups exceed 100,000 members. Those seem like big numbers and offer some sense of validation.

But it is not always about quantity and I looked into the groups to see what was going on. When I visited those groups, I saw commonly used “agency style tactics” that tend to be viewed as best practice:
– Sponsorship: Giving a potion of sales to building playgrounds for kids
– Use promotions to drive sales of candy bars

Let’s be clear though, Social Media is not marketing. Social Media is about being social and fostering relationships that include an exchange of value.

The thing that separates the Social Media chaf from the high performers is the quality of dialogue in the community. It is not just group members saying “I love this product” even though there is no shortage of those declaring their love of Nestle chocolate (My highschool days include great sugar highs off of Nestle Crunch).

On first observation, I did not see many real conversations going on in the Nestle groups and always remain sceptical about paid bloggers and employees creating self validating comments.

Again, Social Media is about being SOCIAL! Not just about promotions, PR and marketing tactics. The promotions tactics will become old hat soon and I would be more ambitious with my social investment than to excite ~300 people out of 70,000 each time a promo is run.

As I looked further into one group, I noticed something else – HEAPS of negative sentiment! Apparently, this is because of Nestle’s operations in Zimbabwe where, facing a shrinking pool of suppliers, they have elected to buy from Gushungo Dairy Estate (reportedly owned or controlled by the Mugabe regime). Here is a link to the Guardian site for an explanation Note that the Guardian tends to have more of a left wing bias when reading.

The Zimbabwe issue is an important one. However, it is not something the business cannot overcome.

China has an abysmal track record on human rights and no one will forget many people died in Tiananmen square (and wonder how many deaths were not reported).

Do consumers refuse to buy products from companies that use China as a manufacturing center? Yes, here is a site with a slogan Don’t Feed The Dragon (can you imagine how many things you own that would disappear if you boycotted Chinese made products?)

With the global economic mess, don’t be surprised to see more protectionist themes come about. Based on past history, this stuff only kills the world economy and there is documented evidence that this behaviour fuelled the negative effects of the Great Depression. Count me as one of those not interested in going there.

Back to Nestle…

From a Social Media practitioner point of view, the real story is not determining if Nestle supports the Mugabe regime. The real story was that few if anyone within the Nestle Facebook group actually sticks up for Nestle when this is going on. Where are all of those people who said “I love Nestle”? Those well worded PR releases don’t seem to be inspiring them

Nestle is no different from any other multi-national and has to deal with this problem. It is not about making a political judgement on their activities. I am only interested in the business challenge they face and how they deal with it.

I believe Nestle could be more open and contribute more in conversations with users to develop real social relationships with customers and create powerful advocacy that is currently lacking. Maybe they could consult with the masses using the wonderful new concept of crowd sourcing for ideas on how best to handle the situation.

There is this wonderful intra office politics tactic that has stood the test of time. Example: One manager does not want to stick their neck out on the line, calls a meeting, puts a problem on the table (not actually giving a position on the problem), then ensues a chain reaction of people looking at each other asking “what do you think?” Consensus is drawn to mitigate risk when the responsibility of a decision is shifted to others.

Using this metaphor, Good Social Media Strategy assimilates the customer into the organisation as if they are a part of the decision making. Put the customer in the shoes of the company – having to deal with a real world problem. Nestle has a much better chance of gaining empathy this way.

The upshot is that customers don’t see it as corporate CYA – they see it as respect for their opinion and a stake in the business (and they often give free advice without requiring stock options ☺).

Powerful advocacy emerges from this in ways that marketing and PR cannot accomplish. This buys more margin for error in the relationship as well, which lowers the cost of doing business.

In summary, Nestle is a good example of a company attempting to embrace social media and get it right. The painful lesson is that it is not just as simple as putting up a Facebook or Twitter account and it is not just about PR and marketing. It is about developing meaningful and deep relationships with customers as well as being approachable. It takes time to develop those kinds of deep connections. When those relationships are established, they will either protect or guide the business to profit.

Time for Nestle to take the full Social Media plunge.

Rick Speciale
MyCMO – Director

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