Crisis Planning: Prepare Your Company For Social Media Attacks

In case you haven’t been watching, Nestle’s Facebook Fan page has been overrun by critics around deforestation, sustainability and poor social media relations. While this isn’t the place to have a discussion on sustainability, let’s look at the ramifications this has to society, brands, fans, and Facebook.

I spent a few hours reading and researching, it looks like members of Greenpeace launched an online protest, (read the initial report, then news here, here, here) spurring a groundswell of online criticism, a majority of it on their Facebook fan page.  (Update: It’s clear that Greenpeace helped in part organize this social attack, see hereherehere, and this timeline of events) Nestle’ responded defensively,  threatening to remove off-brand logos from it’s Facebook page resulting in a flurry of negative comments. It’s not totally clear if Greenpeace staged and executed the whole attack, but regardless, the community is relentlessly dog piling on the brand’s Facebook page.  While Nestle’ responded with a Q&A on their corporate site, it appears Nestle’ has retreated from the discussion –leaving the page open for detractors.

Brands are Unprepared for Organized Social Attacks
I’m not hear to pile on and criticize either parties, but I’d like to take a look at the ramifications and make pragmatic suggestions to be prepared. The last few days has taught us that:

  • While every company has critics, they can now organize a coordinated attack. Every company I work with has some degree of critics, it’s a natural state of the market.  Now, these critics may start to organize globally by using similar tools and technologies brands are to market themselves.   Expect coordinated and organized attacks from critics.
  • Facebook fan page brand-jacking is the new form of tree hugging. As movements form, the organized groups can stage mass attacks on brand Facebook fan pages, overrunning it with negative messages.  Like sitting in trees with banners to slow down clear cutting and spray paining messages on buildings, this is simply the digital form of real-world protest.  Expect more of this in the future –not less.  (Update: interesting perspective on “social media warfare“)
  • Ownership isn’t clear –yet the power belongs to community. The brands think they own the Facebook fan pages, but the fans can demonstrate power and take over ownership.  When you look closely, neither parties ‘owns’ the property, it belongs to Facebook –but don’t expect them to do much, brands are really on their own.

Recommendations: Develop a Community Strategy and Practice Crises Response
Don’t be scared. Instead, develop a plan, resources, and a crises response plan now.  It’s important you do this before it happens, rather than wait for the incident to occur.

  • Companies must have a community strategy –don’t jump without a parachute. Companies (and their agencies) are allured to adopt the latest tools like Facebook pages without thinking it through.  Don’t go without a clear set of policies, roles, and experienced staff, approach your Facebook fan page as you would opening a real-world store –don’t relegate management to a PR intern.   Unlike traditional advertising or email marketing, this is an ongoing relationship, so budget the right set of resources, monies, and programs for this long term effort.
  • Hire seasoned community managers –don’t relegate to PR intern. I know many companies that are throwing the Facebook fan page to the junior intern as they ‘get social media’ because they are Gen Y.  Change your mindset: think of your Facebook fan page as your physical store. Would you anoint a freshly minted student to run that physical store?   Instead, hire an experienced community manager that knows how to deal with angry members, foster relationships with advocates, and handle crises without breaking a sweat.
  • Plan and practice for the worse –yet live for the best. Companies should expect a full scale organized attack from critics.  One that will simultaneously overrun blog comments, Facebook fan pages, and an onslaught of blogs resulting in mainstream press appeal.  Start by developing a social media crises plan and developing internal fire drills to anticipate what would happen.  This doesn’t mean you should live your social efforts in fear, but instead, forge key relationships with members now that will defend your brand in the long run.  The goal?  To stay off this list of brands that got punk’d.

Love to hear your thoughts from this, what should companies do to be prepared for a social assault?

Whiteboard War Room Analysis: Nestle’ vs Greenpeace
Whiteboard War Room Analysis: Nestle' vs Greenpeace Social Warfare
Update March 24th, a few days later. We’ve done a white board analysis breaking down exactly what went wrong and providing actionable recommendations on what brands should do. Also see Susan Etlinger’s share of voice analysis, yet Howlett suggests this doesn’t impact share prices Also read Ben Kiker’s suggestions