Nestlé comes under social media pressure

30 March 2010

VEVEY: Nestlé, the food giant, has come under major pressure on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube regarding its sourcing of palm oil, showing how these platforms are changing communications.

Earlier in March, Greenpeace, the environmental group, issued a report on Nestlé's purchases of palm oil from Sinar Mas, an Indonesian firm alleged to be involved in illegal deforestation, for use in brands like Kit-Kat.

Alongside organising a demonstration at Nestlé's headquarters, the advocacy body posted a clip on YouTube showing a man who had bought a Kit-Kat biting in to the finger of an orang-utan instead of a bar of chocolate.

Nestlé requested that YouTube remove this video, which received 750,000 hits in one week and quickly spread across the web, arguing that its copyright had been infringed.

Moreover, it sought to discourage members of Facebook from using a Kit-Kat logo that had been doctored by Greenpeace to read “Killer” when adding messages to its corporate page, which has more than 95,000 fans.

"To repeat: 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," a company representative wrote.

However, this only served to fuel the negative word-of-mouth among netizens, which has extended to other Web 2.0 services including Twitter.

"This is the place where major corporations are very vulnerable," Daniel Kessler, Greenpeace's press officer, argued.

Nestlé has now cancelled its contract with Sinar Mas, which provided only 1.25% of its palm oil stock last year, and has started making more information about its palm oil operations available on Facebook.

"We, like Greenpeace and many others, abhor destruction of the rain forests, and will not source from companies where there is verifiable evidence of environmental damage," Nina Backes, a Nestlé spokesperson, said.

"Like all companies, we are learning about how best to use social media, particularly with such complex issues. What we take out of this is that you have to engage."

The main challenge in achieving this goal, Backes continued, is "to show that we are listening, which we obviously are, while not getting involved in a shouting match."

According to Greenpeace, however, the owner of Aero and Smarties is still buying palm oil from Sinar Mas, but has begun doing so via third parties.

Domino's, the pizza chain, faced a similar backlash last year after two of its staff made a video where they pretended to spoil a customer's pizza prior to delivery, and uploaded it to YouTube.

The organisation responded via the same channel, with a submission that featured its president, J. Patrick Doyle, and took a range of other measures to indicate it had reacted rapidly to the problem.

"We were honest. We were honest in our anger; we were honest in our approach. And I think people could sense that," Tim McIntyre, Domino's vice president of communications, said.

He added that the take-out specialist has since adopted a more hands-on approach to tracking conversations about its brand on the web, and developed guidelines for employees who are active on social media.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal/Sydney Morning Heraald; additional content by Warc staff