My philosophy professor used to say: everyone serves a purpose in life, even if they only serve as a horrible example for others.
A more accurate description of Nestle's mishandling of a big fracas in social media could hardly be written. It started with an initiative by Greenpeace to get Nestle to stop using palm oil in its products, contending that the harvesting of palm oil was damaging the environment. The organization created a faux Nestle Kit Kat logo, and posted a video on You Tube. Then - you guessed it - Nestle tried to have You Tube take the video down, and things spun out of control from there, with Nestle doing dumb things ranging from the outright idiotic, like deleting critical comments on their Facebook fan page, to the inane and passive aggressive, like correcting critics' spelling errors.
And of course, you can never put the social media genie back in the bottle, can you? Everyone who knows ANYTHING about social media can write the rest of this story without even knowing the facts. There's certainly no shortage of good summaries of Nestle's missteps all over the blogosphere now, but a couple of good summaries, along with advice for the company, can be found here and here.
Nestle's resistance to Greenpeace's request for them to stop using palm oil predictably evaporated, and they did soon announce that they wouldn't use it any longer. (They simply posted this "announcement" on their press page, no sign they had much clue as to how to get this into the fracas for real). The bigger story now, however, is how the firm mishandled its own customers' sentiments and comments. From their actions, it is obvious that the managers at Nestle do not, in their gut, value customer feedback. Unless it leads to directly to sales or profits, that is. More than that, this Stone Age mass marketer obviously thought they could actually manage the story once it got into the social media sphere - they thought that, just like in the old days, they could manage their own brand image. How quaint. How utterly five-minutes-ago. And as we all know, the cover-up is always bigger than the crime.
This episode now will continue to live in the net and it will dog Nestle forever. I do hope business schools will take this up as a lesson in how not to manage social media. They won't have to teach this lesson to many of their students, most of whom already probably get it. But they should make this Lesson #1 in every mid-career executive education course, for all those former students who now sit in the control rooms of large corporations.