Online Buzz, Reputation and The Power of Voice

Back in 2006 while I was working a paper with Rok Hrastnik we called the phenomenon of online buzz and reputation The Power of Voice.

Since then many companies have felt that power – positively and negatively.  Dell, Dominoes, Naked Pizza, Motrin, Blendtec to name just a few. Nestle has now joined the list.

Nestle is embarking on an emergency online PR campaign to restore its reputation amid sustained criticism on the internet, reports PR Week UK.  The reason?  Nestle continues to encounter vociferous online opposition on a range of issues, from traditional concerns about its formula milk, to newer attacks on its digital marketing efforts.  Some bloggers feel this is no more than putting lipstick on a pig.

PhD in Parenting took Nestle to task for the Family Blogger event they held back in September 09. While many mom and dad bloggers did accept the invitation to this event, there were some vociferous voices objecting to Nestle’s promotion of infant formula and their forays into social media.

One of the core factors of social media is that you no longer control the message.  Nestle created a Twitter hashtag for the event #nestlefamily.  Good thinking, you say?  Ah, beware bloggers with hashtags.  The voices speaking out against Nestle hijacked the conversation on Twitter and now many more people know about the controversy than did prior to the event.

And their formula is not the only problem they have:

Nestle says it is ‘the world’s leading nutrition, health and wellness company’ and that it is committed to increasing the nutritional value of its products while improving the taste. The UK site is more explicit, claiming it’s ‘putting health and wellness at the heart of our business’.

Yet the BBC reports that a survey conducted by British Heart Foundation found that most mothers were hoodwinked by the nutrition table on products they bought for their children, naming Nestle’s Honey Shreddies as one culprit.  The product claims to be wholegrain and to “keep your heart healthy and maintain a healthy body”, but it contains more sugar [13.6g] than a ring doughnut [9.2g] in an average serving.

So now they are looking for an agency to guide them through this  PR debacle and the social media  morass.

Power Mom Jessica Gottlieb has a few tough words for Nestle and questions for publicists.

1. Do publicists help businesses shape a businesses marketing practices or simply react to what is out there?
2. When there is a thirty year boycott how does a PR firm address it?
3. Should a thirty year boycott even be addressed? Obviously Nestle makes plenty of money.
4. Is there ever a client you simply do not want?

These are my responses – also posted on Jessica’s blog.

1.  A publicist is not a PR Counselor or strategist.  A PR Strategist should absolutely be advising top management about policy and business practices, not just a reactive ‘fix’ for what is out there.

2. As you point out this 30-year boycott has not yet adversely affected Nestle. Up till  now their detractors have not had the means to make a major impact on Nestle’s sales. The Internet and the Mom and Dad blogger’s Power if Voice may well change that scenario. I’m guessing that is the case, if they are looking for social media help.

3.  Just as the tobacco industry was forced to address the reality of their product and contribute to anti smoking campaigns and medical costs for smokers, so should this issue be addressed.

4.  Yes there definitely clients I won’t work for.  We have a very public policy that  we don’t do PR for anything that is harmful to body, mind or spirit.  Would I work for Nestle?  That would depend on how they plan to address the issues.

I gather from the PR Week article that Nestle is interviewing large PR firms for this job.

I’d advise them to look very carefully at their social media expertise.

They’d probably do better with one of the 25 Women who Rock Social Media – if they are willing to do more than just put lipstick on the pig.

Image credit EmilyIt Flickr

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