Dear Brands, no amount of damage control can match no damage at all

Image: All Facebook

Nestle’s PR disaster over  palm oil harvesting continues to damage the brand. Despite the fact that Nestle  dropped the  palm oil harvesters responsible for the deforestation that threatened the survival of orangutans, a company called Sinar Mas, it’s Nestle’s handling of the issue on Facebook that keeps backfiring.

The most recent issue is the fact that Nestle has gone on the offensive posting advertisements on Facebook that invite people to find out more about Nestlé’s policies on corporate social responsibility. You can see a smattering of the reactions of their roughly 110,000 vitriolic fans above. Hardly the response Nestle was wanted from their fan page.

It’s only natural that a brand would want to champion its genuine CSR efforts in such a situation but how you do it is critical. The mistake Nestle is making is by looking at the problem through the eyes of the brand, rather than its customers.

Before Nestle began beating its chest (couldn’t resist) about the good work it does it should have taken time to take stock and responsibility for the consequences of their actions. The customer upset about the flight of the orangutans want to hear what they’re doing about it, not what Nestle is doing somewhere else. In fact, to direct attention to other efforts while this issue is unresolved only makes those other CSR efforts look disingenuous.

The key distinction as brand must learn to make is between communicating as a human being or as a corporation. As a human being, the brand would recognize the need to address the anger and distress of customers exposing their actions and calling for the boycott of their products. It’s simply common sense. As a corporation, Nestle would take a defensive stance arguing that it is already doing good work elsewhere. I leave the decision as to what is the wiser approach up to you.

It’s time brands learned the words mea culpa. Better yet, it’s time they realized that duplicity does not work and transparency does. Consumers are too concerned, connected and committed for it to be otherwise. (In fact, here’s some great PR guidelines to follow for @conversationage). Best of all, however, is if brands learned that business practices that hurt others or the environment only end up hurting them. So let’s do away with the damage in the first place.

Do you think brands will ever get their head around this? Or will the motive of profit continue to drive their decisions despite customer pushback?