People have become aware of media tricks and tactics. We’re so surrounded by them that it would be difficult not to catch on! My friends and I even play an informal game when we’re watching television shows of who can spot the largest number of probable product placements. While this may not seem like a particularly fun game to you (don’t judge until you try it!), it does show an increasing awareness of when we’re being pitched to. We expect these not-so-subtle approaches through traditional media sources like commercials and billboards, but when we come across these practices on other forums, it can not only be annoying, but enraging.
Social media sites operate on a different set of rules than other media outlets as it is based around personal identity. Facebook pages, for example, are controlled by individuals who put down their own names, give their background and interests and interact with others who do the same. Just like in a face-to-face conversation, there is an understanding of what is polite and what is not, how we are to be approached or received. The interesting thing is, so many of these norms align with rules we’re taught as children in terms of being polite and We expect those who join into these forums to have an understanding of the social norms and expectations associated with social media and when these are violated, it can get ugly.
Case in point was the recent situation that Nestle found themselves in on their Facebook page. When Greenpeace released a disturbingly graphic online video positioning Nestle as the reason for rainforest deforestation and the endangerment of orangutans, the video quickly went viral and people went to Nestle’s facebook page for answers. Not only was Nestle unprepared for this assault, but their response to people’s concerns was a desperate and rude attempt to control the situation.
As you can see, whomever was responding in Nestle’s name became increasingly abrasive and sarcastic as the comments and hits kept coming, only enraging the visitors. Quickly, visitors to their site commented on this rudeness, chastising the commentor and calling into question his/her credibility as the voice of the company. Eventually, the Nestle commentor stopped responding at all, eventually issuing a post saying he/she had “stopped being rude”. Even this grudging acknowledgement of wrong-doing was stilted and lacking in grace, as though the ability to apologize was such a foreign concept from a marketing perspective that the words could scarcely be typed.
The second biggest mistake of the Nestle response, besides a lack of decorum, was the attempt to control the forum. Posts, both from supporters and opposers of Nestle, were deleted without regard, further upsetting those already angry and turning supporters against them. Nestle also told people that those who were using an altered version of their logo as a profile picture (the most popular one had the word “Killer” replace the product name “Kit-Kat”) would have all of their posts deleted. Visitors to the site made it clear that they would not allow Nestle to dictate what they did or how they chose to represent themselves on Facebook.
The most interesting part of the Nestle fiasco is how the conversation turned quickly from being about the use of palm oil and the Greenpeace video to how to use social media networks and the expectations thereof. People may have been upset about the initial topic, but they became incensed when the company violated social norms of Facebook.
While there are a lot of lessons to be garnered from this dramatic episode, some of the most important ones are these:
1) Social media is not a traditional media outlet and the rules are not the same.
2) People will protect these rules and expectations against companies who violate them.
3) Stay open. Although Nestle made some serious mistakes, they made one smart decision when they decided to ride out the storm and kept their Facebook page up. Shutting down the page would only have made the situation worse and drawn it out over a longer time-period.
4) Remember the etiquette of face-to-face interaction, as these are often the practices called upon for use in social media forums.
5) Engage, don’t control. This might be the most difficult one for companies to grasp but social media is a conversation, not a commercial.