UPDATE: I have also published a follow up post on What Nestlé Should Do Now.}

The latest Social Media disaster happened last week as Nestlé got literally slammed on Facebook. Here’s how it happened, what lessons we can glean, and what Nestlé should’ve done:

1. A Social Media presence doesn’t inherently fix your offline problems and perceived questionable ethics.

It began with a Greenpeace campaign attacking Nestlé who are pupportedly purchasing palm oil from companies that destroy rainforests. Greenpeace created a video (which is sitting on their homepage) that rebranded the popular Nestlé chocolate bar brand, Kit Kat, into ‘Killer’, with the slogan ‘give the orang-utan a break.’

Nestlé asked YouTube to pull the video under copyright infringement, but the video had already gone viral. The summary in this comment by alecast gives an excellent and succinct order of events.

Takeaway: Be prepared for Social Media to amplify offline opinion.

2. People don’t mind if you don’t get it right, but they do mind if you get it wrong.

Mass protest then began on Nestlé’s Facebook page, which as you can imagine, quickly became swamped with not only outrage against their use of this palm oil, but also their pulling of the video.

As the Facebook hate piled in, Nestlé updated their Facebook page to reflect the sentiment of ‘we’re still learning’. As much as people say that it’s ok to get it wrong, in the Social Media mob’s eyes, it isn’t.

Takeaway: Like Eurostar, if you don’t have all the answers, people don’t care about your reasons. Have the answers ready.

3. Do Not Censor

Censoring the video in the first place is what exacerbated this war. People started making the Killer logo their profile picture, at which point Nestlé repeated the intial mistake by issuing the following update on Facebook:

please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic – they will be deleted.

The Streisland effect is used to describe the phenomenon when censorship causes something to become even more widespread. Don’t do it. And especially don’t do it twice. The net is at such a place that whatever you delete is pretty retrievable – and even if it isn’t – the whole thing with mass protest is that it is based in perception far more than reality. Censoring fuels this emotion.

Takeaway: Had Nestlé not censored, this would not have reached this size. Don’t censor.

4. Old Media Does Not Understand Social Crisis Management

Old Media thinks that removing a comment because the user’s profile picture is infringing and damaging your brand is the way to go.

Old Media is stupid. Old Media doesn’t consider that digital and social means will make two profile pictures spring up in the place of every deleted one. And Old Media doesn’t understand that text is more powerful than images when it comes to Google search and Facebook comments.

Even worse is telling users you will delete their comments – as if that will make people stop. If they were so concerned about their brand, they should’ve deleted the comments without telling anyone.

Takeaway: Social Crisis Management never takes the form of censorship or editing. It takes the form of creating new solutions.

5. Do Not Retaliate

The biggest mistake Nestlé made was by the person running the Facebook page who appeared to take every criticism personally. Just scan through this screenshot on this post.

Retaliation also invokes the Streisland effect.

Takeaway: Nestlé should’ve not responded to anything. Nothing they could say would make it right anyway, so rather say nothing.

6. The Truth Doesn’t Matter: Perception Does

Nestlé issues a press release on Wednesday, “assur[ing] you than Nestlé does not buy palm oil from the Sinar Mas Group”

It’s irrelevant – whether true or false.

When you get it wrong be censoring and retaliating, you reinforce the perception that you are trying to cover your tracks.

Takeaway: Don’t focus on facts, focus on perception.

7. Respond With The Same Weight

A press release does not combat screaming hatred against a brand. You must match fire with fire. The only way Nestlé can turn this around is to carry out something that has the same weight as the criticisms and viral nature that attacked it.

Takeaway: You cannot respond with traditional methods. You must match viral protest with viral solutions.


All of this, in my opinion, was Nestlés terribly misguided attempts at managing crisis through censorship of reach. Crisis management of spreadability is totally different.

When creating a Crisis Management process, you must never censor. You must create. Simply because spreadability requires us to create new media, as you cannot censor what has already been spread!

You can read a great summary from start to finish of what happened here.

Do you have any more points to add?

P.S. I’ll be talking about this on Thursday 25th March at WOM UK if you’re in London.

Archived Comments

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    This is really good, Scott. Will you be proposing a solution for Nestle on your blog? (based on your expertise and experience). It would complete the learning for this outstanding case-study.

    Well done.

    Robin :)

  • annholman

    We only have to look at the Rentokil case study too to see how using old tactics with a new platform doesn’t really work!

  • richquick

    8. Don’t be dicks in the first place

    The best way to fight a fire is not to have a fire in the first place.

    If you wait until you can smell smoke you’ve left it too late.

    There was a really easy way to have overcome this problem and that was not to have used palm oil from rainforest regions in the first place.

    This isn’t a new issue and it’s not like Nestle had no warning.

    What companies like Nestle need to learn is that PR starts in the factory and the field. You can’t hid shady business practices in a world where farmers in the third world have smart phones.

    Politicians shouldn’t fiddle their expenses. High-profile business people shouldn’t use hookers. And multi-nationals shouldn’t be unethical.

    Not because it’s wrong .. but because it’s bad business.

  • / Scott Gould

    I think I shall mate!

    Thanks for the encouragement, as always :-)

  • / Scott Gould

    I actually think the Rentokill situation was more about bad counsel from a “social media agency”

    The guys at Rentokill are actually forward thinking when you consider how big their organisation is…

  • / Scott Gould

    Good words mate – very good.

    Nothing to add!

  • http://emmens.co.uk tobit

    only one thing to add; in my world, being unethical in business IS wrong

  • / Scott Gould

    I guess part of this stems to the issue that ethics are relative

  • http://emmens.co.uk tobit

    true, and situational

  • richquick

    If ethics were important to multinationals they wouldn’t do these things.

    But if it affects the share price or profits, then they have to care .. even if they don’t care about the ethics.

  • / Scott Gould

    That’s an important thing companies are *starting* to realise – through cases like this!

    Old thinking is meeting new challenges…

  • http://shopperwatch.blogspot.com/ Robin

    I suspect one thing they should not have done is have a Facebook page. I can just about understand brands like Kit Kat having pages and fans but Nestle? Why? What was the intended upside? And one thing is for sure – whatever it was the downside is much more significant.

  • / Scott Gould

    Hi All – just to let you know that today I’ve posted the 4 things that I think Nestlé should now do:


    Cheers for the discussion, as always :-)

  • http://geekmommy.net Lucretia (GeekMommy) Pruitt

    Um, not exactly how trademark works in the U.K. versus in the U.S. – but
    “Old Media thinks that removing a comment because the user’s profile picture is infringing and damaging your brand is the way to go.”?
    No, that would be the legal department – which knows that if you tolerate trademark infringement it can be perceived as indifference – which means you can lose the ability to enforce your Trademark rights (see: Aspirin for the primary example – this was originally a Bayer trademark).

    Odd are that it’s not “old media” that was the issue on that point but rather “legal department”.

  • / Scott Gould

    Thanks for brining this to the discussion.

    I’m actually unsure of the implications in UK law as you’ve pointed out above – but it’s a very good point. I do however think that in the case of a few people posting blatantly manipulated logos, surely this is just Nestlé pulling the only card they know, and not actually detrimental in the way you’ve described?

    Would like to hear more,


  • http://geekmommy.net Lucretia (GeekMommy) Pruitt

    A very good point. The knee-jerk reaction of “you can’t do that!!” is kind of built in, isn’t it?

    The thing is, they’re just not used to the fact that we no longer live in a carefully controlled media distribution world.


  • richquick

    Also, the copyright issue isn’t anywhere near as clear cut as you might think.

    There is a provision in both UK and US to allow use of copyrighted materials for criticism and for parody.

    Someone using the Killer logo isn’t the same as another chocolate manufacturer coming up with a bar called KiteKat.

  • / Scott Gould

    It is. The whole thing is knee jerk, rather than carefully being thought through!

  • / Scott Gould

    Thanks for adding that Rich. I still think they didn’t pull it b/c of copyright, but just b/c they are old school thinkers.

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  • Saeed

    WRT — #6 The Truth Doesn’t Matter, Perception Does — you got it half-right. Truth and perception BOTH matter, and while they are tied to one another, they are not the same. Companies should be truthful, as should we all :-) , but just because we are truthful, people’s perception of us can a problem. Why? Because there are many voices out there, and they are not all equal. Some are louder than others, some have more sway than others and not all of them are necessarily truthful. i.e. there is a competition of ideas for the minds of the audience, and companies need to understand that.

    But, just to reinforce my first point — if a company thinks truth doesn’t matter, they have a lot to learn.