Social Media Disaster Control: Brand Reputation Management Social Media Marketing | January 9, 2011 | By Aaron Schoenberger

In the wild world of social media anything can happen — stars are made, small businesses become global corporations, and brands fail. When engaging the public via social media marketing efforts, or maintaining one’s reputation on social channels, companies must put on their game face and plan for the best, but also the worst.

In the past year, I have noticed 3 social media disasters (among many others) that spread like wildfires and resulted in major damage. The unfortunate brands that suffered social casualties include:
1) BP (oil spill)
2) Toyota (vehicle malfunctions)
3) Nestlé (rainforest damage)

While reviewing disaster control measures performed by the above brands, I feel Nestlé is the only one that truly made a difference. I’ll tell you why…

For one, BP’s Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns were so prevalent they became ridiculous. Search for Florida hotel, BP shows up. Gulf Coast fishing, there’s BP again. New Orleans vacations, and BP is staring you down. Their idea of disaster control was to spend hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars on PPC campaigns in an attempt to filter search engine and social network users to a press page on their website, which housed sugar-coated information on the disaster. As if the PPC campaign wasn’t bad enough, BP was mocked on Twitter by a variety of faux users, including the famous @BPGlobalPR. Given the size of the disaster, BP should’ve known that their brand reputation management strategy wouldn’t work, and money could have been spent on better things (e.g. cleaning up the beaches).

Secondly, in regards to Toyota, soon after information about vehicle malfunctions hit the press, the company released a campaign claiming “we’re currently investing one million dollars an hour to enhance the safety and technology of our vehicles.” This is excellent, and shows dedication to safety, but it raises a red flag to consumers. Was this money being spent before the accidents occurred, or after? Rather than focusing on safety in general, I would have liked to see Toyota provide an explanation for the issues as well as a remedy. I understand the legal ramifications of such, especially with lawsuits in the works, though customers want to feel content with their purchase. They want to know the problem(s) were fixed.

Now on to the good stuff: Nestlé’s successful turnaround…

Greenpeace, to the surprise of many, released an incriminating report that tied Nestlé to Paradise Forest deconstruction in Southeast Asia. The report shows that Nestlé used palm oil in a variety of products, and its use in the three years leading up to the report nearly doubled. As Greenpeace stated, the problem is:

“A growing demand for palm oil globally is fueling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia to make way for expanding palm plantations. Fire is often used to clear forests, causing massive, polluting blazes. Illegal canals are cut into ancient peatlands, draining water and releasing methane and other potent greenhouse gases.”

In response to criticism, and notification of the harm their operation was causing, Nestlé rose to the challenge. They demolished negative press by rectifying the problem and establishing a new policy to identify and exclude companies from its supply chain that own or manage “high risk plantations or farms linked to deforestation.” Greenpeace, the original whistleblower, went as far as sending out a press release commending Nestlé for their actions. Rolf Skar, Greenpeace Forest Campaigner, stated: “We are delighted that Nestlé plans to give orang-utans a break and we call on other international retailers, such as Carrefour and Wal-mart, to do the same. Since the beginning of our campaign, hundreds of thousands of people have contacted Nestle to say that they will not buy products linked to rainforest destruction.”

In conclusion, it’s imperative for corporations to have a solid, well-defined plan for social media disaster control. Given the Internet’s volatility, this should include having a social media and SEO expert available at a moment’s notice — someone who has the knowledge to suppress negative PR on social websites and eliminate negative mentions from search engines.

Aaron Schoenberger
The Brainchild Group

Aaron Schoenberger is Founder of The Brainchild Group — an innovative online advertising agency that specializes in Social Media Marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). He’s known for his work with celebrity clients, top restaurants, automotive manufacturers, professional athletes and Fortune 500 companies.



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