(Forbes) Greenpeace Vs. Brands: Social Media Attacks To Continue

After the recent social media brandjackings by Greenpeace of Nestle’s Facebook page, this was an important area that required more research.  Below, you’ll find an exclusive interview with Greenepeace’s team, and interestingly, I believe they are more organized and sophisticated than the average brand -giving them the opportunity to overwhelm their opposition using their strong supporter base.  Below is my Forbes article, which was originally posted the CMO network (or you can read it on Forbes).  This is a great article for brand managers, PR, agencies, and social media professionals.

Greenpeace Vs. Brands: Social Media Attacks To Continue
Citizen activists increasingly use social networks to bash brands.

By Jeremiah Owyang

Most companies are barely prepared to deal with unhappy customers who use social media to air their gripes. Now they must be ready to respond when organized entities, such as Greenpeace, wage massive campaigns against their brands using social media channels.

Greenpeace and other organizations have a long history of demonstrating in real life against corporations in order to influence their agenda. Yet we’re seeing this cascade online as well as the real world.

In March, Greenpeace launched a viral campaign criticizing Nestle’s use of palm oil from companies that are destroying Indonesian rain forests.  The campaign included a video in which an office worker opened a Kit Kat chocolate bar only to find an orangutan’s finger in the red wrapping and a call to Greenpeace’s Twitter followers to “attack” the Swiss company’s Facebook fan page. Thousands of social media users posted comments criticizing the company’s practices and posted altered logos, like one that replaced “Kit Kat” with “Killer.” Nestle, unprepared for the influx of criticism, said it is now committed to using only “Certified Sustainable Palm Oil” by 2015.

In the wake of BP’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Greenpeace orchestrated another attack. It challenged the public to design a new BP logo that, according to the organization’s website, is “more suitable for their dirty business.” The competition garnered over 2,000 entries, including a design that suggested BP stands for “black planet” to images of oil coated birds and fish. Greenpeace is leaving the winner up to the public, who can vote for the best logo redesign. In addition, Greenpeace recently released a “ScamWow!” infomercial parody of the “ShamWow!” super towel, targeting BP and other oil companies’ that need a quick-fix solution to their ecological disasters.

Greenpeace has scored some social media successes against brands, thanks to its active supporter base. The organization plans to continue these campaigns, according to Laura Kenyon the online marketing and promotions specialist at Greenpeace International.

Owyang: Your efforts against Nestle and now BP appear coordinated, perhaps even more so than some of today’s modern corporation’s marketing efforts.  You had an existing online community, marketing materials (videos, logos) and a clear call to action” for your supporters that was executed quickly and effectively How were you able to pull this off?

Kenyon: Greenpeace’s online campaigns against Nestlé and BP are some parts coordination, some parts opportunity, and most importantly rely on people’s support. Without individuals commenting and sharing the “‘Have a Break?” video on Facebook and their other social profiles it would never have reached over 1.5 million views or caused such an uproar. Coordination is important but as you can never plan for everything online, we found we also needed to be ready to react quickly as things developed. We could not know that Nestlé would request that YouTube block our video within a few hours of it being uploaded, but when that happened we were able to replace it quickly on Vimeo. The blocking of the video went on to drive views on the video and generated interest that we could never have predicted in the planning of the campaign.

Owyang:  Tell me about your internal structure of your social technology team, how many folks do you have working on this?

Kenyon: We have 28 offices worldwide and people working on the social media aspect of communications in most of these offices, most often in addition to another role. The number of people working in each office varies, but together we have a very effective global team.

Owyang:  How do you work with your community to achieve your objectives?

Kenyon: Greenpeace is its supporter base. Without them we would not be here. Their support for our campaigns and the personal actions they take alongside us are vital to our successes. There is no better example of the importance of engaging and empowering our supporters than the Kit Kat campaign. Our online supporters are a source of encouragement, inspiration, and ideas-and we are always trying to draw on that.

Owyang: How are online movements different from real life ones? Is there a difference between online and in-person protests?

Kenyon: The nature of taking action online versus offline is of course different – but the motivations are the same. Our activists who dropped from the ceiling of Nestlé’s shareholder meeting on April 15th were acting on the same motivation as supporters of the campaign who changed their Facebook profile pictures to our KitKat ‘Killer’ logo or sent an e-mail to Nestlé CEO Paul Bulcke – they wanted Nestlé to remove products coming from rainforest destruction from their supply chains. They did not want to buy products that come at the cost of
Indonesian rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands.

Owyang:  Are you concerned about any legal ramifications or lawsuits?

Kenyon: We always seek out legal advice and make sure that we understand any potential consequences before launching a campaign like Kit Kat. Our campaigns are not about breaking laws but about creating laws that protect the environment. Just last week the EU finally created a law to ban illegal timber imports after a decade of activism.

Owyang: How do you measure the effectiveness of your efforts?

Kenyon : Ultimately we measure effectiveness by the achievement of campaign goals. In the case of our Kit Kat campaign Nestlé’s eventual commitment to remove products coming from rainforest destruction from its supply chain is a positive step. Another measure is how many people became engaged with the campaign – the video reached over 1.5 million people, over 300,000 of which directly contacted Nestlé CEO Paul Bulcke via e-mail, and a countless number of people took up the cause on Facebook providing a steady stream of criticism on Nestlé’s infamous Facebook fan page. Many of these were people who were not previously aware of the role of palm oil production in the destruction of Indonesian rainforests, including key orangutan habitat. The increased awareness of this issue is another victory for our Kit Kat campaign.

Owyang:  So you’re calculating ROI by your objectives. In some ways, you’re already ahead of most brands in the social space. Yet you’ve attempted some other social marketing efforts in the past, but none were as successful as the Nestle effort. Was Nestle a stroke of luck for Greenpeace?

Kenyon: Greenpeace has a history of online campaigning to draw on – as far back as 2000 we ran a successful campaign to get Coca-Cola to
remove harmful chemicals from its refrigeration equipment, which also convinced Unilever and McDonald’s to follow suit. A few years ago we also ran a successful online campaign to convince Apple to remove toxic substances from its products. The crucial element in all of our online campaigning has been the support we’ve found amongst the online population – not only our amazing online supporter base but also from people who might not consider themselves “Greenpeace supporters” per se but who share our concerns and take action with us.

There were a lot of factors that contributed to the success of the Kit Kat campaign, but its success wasn’t isolated from our other online campaigning. The online networks used to push the Kit Kat campaign have grown as a result of previous Greenpeace efforts and the Kit Kat campaign was definitely the beneficiary of earlier online efforts. Add to that an unforgettable video, a few Nestle online blunders, and a lot of amazing efforts from supporters of the campaign. People didn’t lose interest or let the issue rest – for weeks and weeks they told Nestle over and over to stop buying products from rainforest destruction. And it didn’t stop until they listened.

Owyang: Speaking of getting brands to listen, one of the tenants of social media is dialogue. Yet on the surface, it appears that you are not interested in a dialogue with the companies in these channels. To what extent is that true?

Kenyon: In Nestlé’s case it was far past the time for action – Greenpeace had already established a dialogue with Nestlé on the issue of its palm oil suppliers years before the Kit Kat campaign kicked off. But they were not taking action to deal with the problem. When the time came, Greenpeace and Nestlé talked directly in order to reach an agreement. Greenpeace engages with companies and governments at key times in all of its campaigns in order to create change.

Owyang: What should we expect in the social technology arena from Greenpeace in the future? Will you increase your usage in this space and, if so, by how much?

Kenyon: Greenpeace will continue to campaign online. How our presence will grow and change will depend on how the online networks and tools available grow and change. Greenpeace aims to be an agent of change. We are interested in enabling others to demand a better world and online social media helps us do that. As an organization, the last year saw us reach 1 million supporters on Facebook alone. This kind of support empowers us, and our hope is to empower those supporters in return to have civil courage and to amplify their voices when they speak out against injustice or for a better world. As we face the greatest threat to our planet, climate change, civil courage and the
online spaces where it is expressed will be crucial.

Greenpeace will maintain a strong presence in social media, using the latest tools and communication channels where it is effective to challenge those who are involved in environmental destruction. It’s impossible to predict exactly where social media is going next so it’s hard to say exactly what you should expect but we will definitely continue to use creative online campaigning tactics to create change.

Also contributing: Charlene Li and Susan Etlinger from Altimeter Group and Victoria Taylor from Forbes.com.

Jeremiah Owyang, a Web strategist, is partner, customer strategy, at Altimeter Group.  We encourage companies to get ready for social media attacks by getting prepared internally first, watch our webinar to learn how.

23 Replies to “(Forbes) Greenpeace Vs. Brands: Social Media Attacks To Continue”

  1. Great post, Jeremiah — glad you asked the questions about engagement in there. It's so true that the brands need active engagement, but they also need to actively listen and respond in meaningful ways. These campaigns, when combined with email and other channels to large NGO databases, really can be devastating to brands — it makes is easy for many people to take action with a click here and a click there. And once there's enough response, other media outlets often pick up the story and it grows exponentially.

  2. Great interview Jeremiah.

    I'm of two minds on this topic in general. Coordinated attacks on a brand can have very harmful consequences and done irresponsibly are reckless. On the other hand many large corporations have been able to hide a lot of negative externalities produced by their operations in the past and social media is a great way to hold them accountable for fixing those issues. We're likely going to see both the responsible and irresponsible use of social media by groups wanting attention. In my mind the more irresponsible variety of these is a lot like the school yard bully and it is up to supporters of the attacked entity to stand up for it. This just further reinforces that companies absolutely need to build their network so they have the power to withstand an attack. If you don't have enough supporters to do that… it is a bellwether that something about the product, service, or operations of an organization needs to change.

    The Nestle/Greenpeace scenario has been really instructive to watch – other brands should definitely be taking notice and planning their own strategies for how they will react.

  3. Brand will need help from their agency partners, PR firms, and corporate communications department to develop plans, policy, and roles that are ready for such an assault.

  4. “Responsible” versus “irresponsible” bullying…of a corporation/brand. Hmm… I’d much prefer to see a Greenpeace-inspired civil-courage type action – online OR offline – than suffer the whining of nouveau-cool social media darlings throwing tantrums – in a social networking space OR in front of me at the service desk – because they got a latte that was too cold or some airline damaged their luggage (horrors!) LOL….

    And how reasonable Greenpeace’s strategies and behaviors become when someone like Jeremiah takes the time to peel back the onion, as opposed to others who considered parts of the palm-oil campaign to be “noise” and likened Greenpeace and the citizens who joined in criticizing Nestle to “barbarians” at the gate.

    Social media…for social good. : )

  5. “Responsible” versus “irresponsible” bullying…of a corporation/brand. Hmm… I’d much prefer to see a Greenpeace-inspired civil-courage type action – online OR offline – than suffer the whining of nouveau-cool social media darlings throwing tantrums – in a social networking space OR in front of me at the service desk – because they got a latte that was too cold or some airline damaged their luggage (horrors!) LOL….

    And how reasonable Greenpeace’s strategies and behaviors become when someone like Jeremiah takes the time to peel back the onion, as opposed to others who considered parts of the palm-oil campaign to be “noise” and likened Greenpeace and the citizens who joined in criticizing Nestle to “barbarians” at the gate.

    Social media…for social good. : )

  6. It could also be said that brands need to be more honest and open about their objectives and how they plan to go about them, especially in the face of increasing exposure to public scrutiny via social media. I am not sure what place agency partners, PR firms & corporate comms dept have in that, apart from social media crisis plan… trying to save face (& shareholder value) when the brands more dubious business practices are exposed.

    BP is on everyone's lips still. I would say that their energy (and cash) should have been put into improving safety, monitoring, *actual* crisis response planning in order to prevent an incident on an unprecedented scale – rather than how to respond to the negative PR after the event. It might seem like common sense, but Greenpeace don't launch arbitrary attacks on brands, so to coin a phrase beloved by anti-privacy advocates – “if they have nothing to hide – they have nothing to fear” 😉

    Social media is a disruptive technology in the literal sense, and I am happy to see it being used for good.

  7. Greenpeace is a brand itself and in order to be successful they need to use the tools and strategies that other brands use. So Greenpeace is fighting corporation using their own weapons, which can be tricky, since they're supposed to the nice guys.

    We often seen environmentalists as nice people who plant flowers and protest when someone cuts trees to make place for an office building, but Greenpeace shows us that they can be offensive, which in my opinion can affect their image.

  8. Greenpeace become more and more aggresive, so do corporate companies. Its a plain “war”, no matter its online or into the real world. I guess it will be a perpetual conflict between them…

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