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Nestle Answers: How Nestle uses social media

This is the last in a series of posts that features Nestle’s answers to my questions that came out of the Nestle Family event. To access the other questions and answers, go to follow-up questions for Nestle and click on the questions you are interested in. Answers will be posted as they are received and analyzed.

My Question

Moving forward, what steps do you plan to take to use social media and engagement with bloggers to get input into corporate policies and practices? Or are you looking to social media simply as a cost effective marketing tool?

Nestle's Answer

We are always looking for ways to engage in meaningful dialogue with consumers and others interested in Nestlé. Certainly, engaging in social media will continue to be one of many ways we try to do that. We welcome ideas from you and your readers. We hope you’ll visit us at http://creatingsharedvalue.org to share your comments, opinions and questions.

Note: In addition to Nestle's answer, I should also add that the @NestleFamily twitter account they created during the twitterstorm has now been deleted. They have advised people to follow and send questions to @nestlecsv instead.

My Response

Before I offer my thoughts on Nestle's answer, it might be a good idea to review how it has been using social media up to now.

How does Nestle use social media?

  • Looks for (almost) free marketing: When Nestle invited the bloggers to the Nestle Family event that kicked off the twitterstorm and flurry of critical blog posts, they didn't require the bloggers to provide any free promotion, but they most certainly hoped they would turn a few influential moms into brand advocates.  And they did. Many of them tweeted through the event about the "great" products they were learning about. They wrote about the trip, what they learned, and the swag they got on their blogs. Nestle paid for their travel and gave them some goodies, but all of this is much cheaper than hiring expensive ad agencies and advertising space and it gets them into a new space they might not have been in otherwise. It is a gift that just keeps giving for Nestle, judging by some of the recent tweets from the Nestle Family attendees (Could I suggest a little #discl&, and maybe even #discl~ or #discl< as appropriate at the end of those tweets?)




  • Let others fight their fight: When the twitterstorm got really heated, Nestle didn't jump in right away. Instead, for more than 24 hours, it let the bloggers take the brunt of the attacks on the company. Some of the bloggers answered questions on twitter and on blogs acting as a conduit for Nestle's response to the criticism, others just kept up the marketing angle about how great the products were, some attacked those who were critical of Nestle, and some stayed quiet altogether. No one wanted to Most of us didn't want to attack the bloggers. Sure, we thought it was a bad move to accept the trip, but it doesn't mean we think they are horrible people. We didn't feel we could let a bunch of almost free Nestle advertising in our community space (be that twitter or our blogs) go unanswered. We felt the need to tell the other side of the story. In any case, Nestle seemed caught off guard by it (as reported by Liz from This Full House Gone Shopping reported) and let others fight their fight while they got their act together:

In my opinion, the Nestle folks realized this a little too late.  I honestly do believe, from the "Holy Hannah Montana" look on all of their faces, they were SO NOT ready for the backlash, either.

Also, Scott Remy, the SVP Communications at Nestle USA, genuinely looked flustered (face all ready and tie all askew) running back and forth in between meetings and admitting (out loud) that he personally was naive about "getting into this whole social media thing."

  • "Talk to the hand": Ever wish you could be a fly on the wall? I would love to have been a fly on the wall in the meeting when Nestle decided to shut down the @NestleFamily twitter account (which was full of doublespeak and diverting people to other channels) and instead tell people to send their questions and concerns to @nestlecsv. What a joke! Take a look at @nestlecsv. It has a total of 198 tweets since being established in April 2009. Most of them are announcements around corporate events the rest of them are announcements of new videos or documents related to Nestle's Creating Shared Value initiative. There is only one @ reply in the entire twitter stream and it is to the Bill Gates Foundation the day after the @nestlecsv account was established. So, Nestle essentially told people to send their questions to someone who is NEVER going to reply to them. Fabulous. As Mike Brady from Baby Milk Action and the Boycott Nestle Blog said:

[Nestle] has no interest in meaningful dialogue, as its sudden retreat from the #nestlefamily hash tag demonstrated. I offered to take part in a tweet debate with Nestlé while its blogger event was still on, but this was not taken up and it did not return the following day to take questions as it had promised.

This is just one more example of the many situations where Nestle chooses to retreat and hide behind its one-way public relations campaign rather than engaging in public dialogue with those that are knowledgeable about the issues the company is criticized for.

What should Nestle do?

Nestle's use of social media so far reads like a great case of what not to do. But what should Nestle be doing?

According to Nestle it wishes to use http://creatingsharedvalue.org to get comments, opinions and questions. I visited the site and it is a website where Nestle talks about all the great things it is doing around the world. There is nothing on this site that speaks to peoples concerns about the company. It is a place for them to toot their own horn and they hope you will use twitter, facebook, YouTube, Linked In and other tools to help toot their horn. Interestingly their facebook page is set up as a Fan Page (not a group or other type of page), so to join the conversation and keep aprised of what they are saying, you have to pretend to be a fan of Nestle. No thanks. The Contact Us page on the Creating Shared Value website gives only one option - the option to sign up for updates from them. Suggesting that Nestle will use the Creating Shared Value website as its main social media tool is essentially furthering the "talk to the hand" strategy that I referenced above. This isn't social media. It is traditional media poaching on social media platforms.

But what else could or should Nestle be doing? Depends who you talk to.

A lot of companies that do use social media successfully are not afraid of negativity. As Christine Koh from Boston Mamas says:
One of the key concerns I hear from companies re: social media is fear about negativity. It’s a strange thing; all companies well know that negative response is out there and no doubt they all have had experience with nasty notes in the suggestions box, but bringing this negativity to the public forum gets companies squirrely.

To this I always respond that this is exactly why companies should engage via social media. Social media not only offers a way to show that they are listening, but also (in a good way in my opinion) throws down the gauntlet for companies to make good on their word.

This works really well when the negativity a company is facing relates to the quality of their products or their customer service. It doesn't work all that well, in my opinion, when a company is facing criticism for systemic unethical business practices (Christine does acknowledge the big monkey or even pile of monkeys on Nestle's back).

Liz from This Full House who I mentioned earlier made some suggestions in her post Nestle Family Blogger Event: Lessons Learned, Social Media and Twitter.

  • Don't avoid Twitter:  Use it and get to know what consumers are talking about -- rather than advertise, engage in the conversation.

  • Don't rely solely on what you read on Twitter:  Go and read the blogs that are talking about your brand and, better yet, take the time to comment and share information directly with our readers.

  • Be ready to answer questions:  Read through the #nestlefamily stream and follow up on questions from the event -- if you just don't know the answer, don't be afraid to say so and find someone who does.

Maybe rather than hoping Liz will hawk its wares for free, Nestle should consider hiring Liz as a social media consultant. Those are all good points. That would be a start. But given Nestle's history, it needs to be much much more. Nestle needs to:

  • Apologize: According to Sam from babyREADY Nestle "should begin by apologizing. They they should outline how they plan to make amends for the hundreds of thousands of lives they never valued and allowed to end as a result of their horrifying policies and practices". This is a sentiment that was echoed by numerous others on twitter too.

  • Debate and discuss openly and transparently: What Nestle is severely lacking in all of this is transparency. According to Shriek House:

Social media shouldn't be a PR forum for outbound-only spin, lip service or damage control. Let consumers participating in Nestle's social media extensions know they are truly being heard and their opinions are considered – don't hold them at arm's length by CSR's, but also allow access to development teams, VP's, decisionmakers and stakeholders.

Mike Brady from Baby Milk Action has asked over and over again to debate Nestle publicly on the issues. Instead, Nestle dismisses concerns, uses doublespeak to deflect and doesn't openly engage with the public. Here is how Mike would like to see Nestle use social media:

We would very much welcome the opportunity to present evidence in depth and to have Nestlé's claims scrutinised. This is something readers of your blog could help to bring about by telling Nestlé they want to see the tribunal take place. Certainly social media could be involved in that process, with web feeds, document archives, transcripts, comment boards, twitter feeds and so on.

Otherwise, Nestlé's engagement in social media is likely to be nothing more than a whitewash, where those with the knowledge and evidence to show Nestlé is not telling the truth are either shut out and ignored, or accused of being 'nasty' and 'attacking people' simply for raising the uncomfortable truth that Nestlé is a highly unethical company that puts its own profits before the health and well-being of babies and their families.

  • Use its power for good: Another suggestion from Shriek House was that "Nestle use its enormous power as a major entity in the food comglomerate industry as an instrument of change towards corporate, social and environmental responsibility." How should that happen? Well, she had some ideas, but I don't think Nestle should get them for free...

Beyond Nestle

Certainly some argue that Nestle will never change (probably true) and that we should focus our efforts elsewhere. Rather than trying to get Nestle to change its behaviour and to use social media as a catalyst for that change, perhaps we should just be thankful that social media does not give companies like Nestle a leg up over those whose pockets are not quite as deep. As Mr. Milkface from Milkface Nursingwear says:
I believe that Nestle will act in its own best interests and on behalf of shareholders who demand a return on their investments.  The benefits of breastfeeding are well known to those who choose to educate themselves, but among those benefits you won't find the word profit.  Nestle chooses to associate itself with breastfeeding because it is the socially acceptable thing to do.  They continue to violate the WHO code because it is profitable.  Their motives are apparent.  Their actions reprehensible.


Fortunately, the same social media the formula companies employ to get their word out can be used against them.  Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, et al allow those of us with no marketing budget to face off on even terms with massive corporations with equally massive marketing budgets.  Our comments appear side-by-side with theirs, all around the world.  The biggest challenge in this face off is to ensure those who are passionate about educating the benefits of breastfeeding remain passion free in their posts.  Logic and consistent messaging  will win over new moms seeking answers.  Passionate rants make us look like the lunatic fringe.  The marketing departments of Nestle understand this too well.  For those who want nothing more than to educate new moms of the benefits of breastfeeding, this is one time we need to be just like the formula companies.

Carol from Lactivist Leanings also suggested we find ways to use the power of social media to further our cause. She suggested that instead of investing in how Nestle should use social media we should ask "how breastfeeding advocates can use social media to work to put pressure on Nestle that might eventually lead to real, positive change".  Read her post Things We Can Do, which outlines some of the places we can and should be investing our efforts.

Concluding Thoughts

Social media is about conversation. Conversation Nestle was not and is not ready to participate in. If nothing else, I hope we taught them that lesson.
« World AIDS Day: Breatsfeeding recommendation for HIV positive mothers updated | Main | Nestle Answers: The International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and the Developing World »

Reader Comments (14)

This is a great post. I think you covered the gamut of what they should or could do as well as what they are most likely to do. It is a shame, as I would LOVE to see them step up and take accountability and make positive changes... be the beacon of light we desperately need in world corporations like them. What an example that would be. But, as my post about this stated, I am of the camp that feels that will never happen as long as money is their driving force. I am completely on board with the thoughts that we need to take full advantage of having an even playing field with Twitter, FB, etc and keep them honest by constantly countering their claims with the truth.

I didn't know ANY of this before you brought it to light for me at the start of the "twitter storm". So, a BIG thank you for all of your incredible work of gathering data, comments, thoughts, and responses from them. You have done a fantastic job of representing the rest of us who feel that what they are doing is a horrible injustice.

November 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCrystal Gold

Excellent post. I hope Nestle will read this and take some of your suggestions on board. And though a company may never change, it's important to keep the conversation going.

November 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLady Mama

Nestle Answers: How Nestle uses social media | PhD in Parenting...

How should large companies use social media? What are some of the challenges facing them if they are new to social media and if they have numerous ethical monkeys on their back? What can they do? What should they do? ...

November 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermomshare.net

Thanks for yet another thoughtful post Annie. Though I obviously have no idea what's going on on the inside at Nestle, it certainly seems that at this juncture they are not prepared to engage in dialog beyond corporate speak. That they didn't have a social media team (or at least a single strategist) established by the time the Nestle blogger event happened, and still haven't made moves in that direction aren't very good signs for them.

But I'm still hopeful. Though they seem mired in old business practices (I'm talking about engagement here, not the ethics stuff, which is a whole other issue) I'm hoping someone with vision can walk in there and help them see that positive can come from this. As a huge corporation they have had the power to do a lot of troubling things, but that also means that they could use their strength to good.


November 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBoston Mamas

What jumped out for me from this post is the notion of apology. When a powerful entity has done unspeakable wrongs against a whole group of people, the only way forward, it seems to me, is an apology.

When I was living in Australia, the government made a formal apology to the country's Aboriginal peoples. It was a big step forward because in the past, no government wanted to be the one admitting accountability for past governments' doings. Countless Aboriginal Australians cited the apology as a critical moment in history. A critical moment where past wrongs could be accepted as fact and put in the past, and where both parties could make progress for the future.

Until there is an apology by Nestle (and maybe there has been, but I don't know enough about this issue) for its actions re highly unethical promotion of formula in developing countries, it just doesn't seem possible to be able to move forward. For instance, I am a formula consumer and when I look at the choices on the grocery shelf, Nestle and President's Choice are the only brands that do not have baby imagery on their containers. So, Nestle is doing better ... but how can I reconcile a lack of image on a can against what has happened in developing countries?

You just can't. Without an apology there is no way forward. I'm with Christine of Boston Mamas though, in that I am still hopeful.

November 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercoffeewithjulie

[...] 17. Moving forward, what steps do you plan to take to use social media and engagement with bloggers to get input into corporate policies and practices? Or are you looking to social media simply as a cost effective marketing tool? ANSWER HERE [...]

I wanted to thank you for this whole series Annie. You have done an excellent job of laying the issues out and not just accepting what Nestle chooses to say. By pushing back you are helping to propel the conversation forward for a lot of people (even if the conversation with Nestle is less than what we'd hope for). You rock!

November 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarol @ Lactivist Leanings

Saw this and thought of you. Social media can be a challenge for corporations like Nestle. But as one commenter said: "Absence from the social sphere is not a good defense against people attacking your brand online. That would be like thinking people won't talk about your brand because your not there, its insane."


December 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

The one issue with apologizing is that knowledge of their mistakes is not widely known. Therefore, they would be creating bad press for themselves. That isn't likely.

They would only apologize if their leadership acknowledged that it was the "right thing to do" and Nestle was committed to a new way of doing business. It would hurt corporate profits (temporarily--the innovation required to do business ethically would result in eventual profits--that's my theory).

December 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

[...] is one of the key points I was trying to make in my post on Nestle’s use of social media. Open participation in social media does not work well for companies with systemic unethical [...]

Hi there, can I translate this post to use on my blog?

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTania

Hi Tania,

Please go ahead. Provide a link back here when you do and let me know when the post is up. Thank you for helping to spread the word!


April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Fascinating post! Also wanted to introduce myself; I'm a relatively new blogger and also a relatively new reader of your blog. I've enjoyed the few of your posts I've read thus far tremendously!

September 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKirstin@SquintMom

Gosh I am so glad I found this! I just came from a 4hour workshop being put on by a Marketing agency that told a room full of people that they should "partner with bloggers" more research into the advertising agency I learned that not only was Nestle was one of their clients (I did notice this when they passed around some of Nestle's sophisticated social brochures) but they were in part (not entirely sure if it was in whole or not) behind the Nestle Family Blogger program. And yet... here they sat teaching for 4 hours an "interactive workshop" on how to use social media for brands... they did poorly then and they did it poorly today! I just thought I'd share that little bit of information with you since you had mentioned that the SVP was flustered and shook up and stated they were naive about getting in to social media... OF COURSE THEY WERE! They hired it out to an agency that didn't even know what they were doing (nor do they really now). I almost look forward to them approaching me during the next 48 hours so I can mention their failed social media campaign and ask if they've learned anything (by the way, they never mentioned compensation for partnering with bloggers during their workshop either).

October 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheGuiltyParent @Nikki_S

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