Fat Lady Never Gets to Sing

Keith Craggs, of the website effectiveness firm, Bowen Craggs, recently raised an interesting question: if Nestle (in his terms) found out during its recent palm oil crisis that it didn’t really own its own Facebook page, why not just shut it down?  For those of you that missed it, Greenpeace targeted Nestle with a campaign claiming that Nestle’s purchase of palm oil was destroying the natural habitat of the orangutan.  In the course of a very active social media response to the crisis, Nestle first insisted on and then retracted a demand that opponents take down satirical caricatures of its KitKat logo.  Nestle’s tone ranged from belligerent through sardonic to apologetic but throughout the crisis it kept talking and posting on its Facebook.  In doing so, the company arguably offended against one of the cardinal rules of crisis management which is that you should starve a story of oxygen once you’ve stated your position by refraining from additional interactions that give your opponents fresh opportunities for attack.

Clearly, this classic approach runs full tilt into the brick wall of continuous engagement, a sacred principle of social media.  Leaving aside for the moment the somewhat exceptional profile of Nestle which has been reviled by certain segments of the community for decades, Keith’s comment does appear to pose a conundrum: why maintain a public space such as a Facebook page when it appears to serve principally as a free billboard for your antagonists?

We’d welcome your comments but it seems to us that the social web means that the story is never entirely over whether further episodes take place on your Facebook page or in other places.  The true believers, your fiercest opponents, will continue to talk, argue and complain about your “infamy” whether you shut down your Facebook page or not.  You need a forum to continue to point to your good deeds (or mitigation of past bad deeds) and if that elicits opposition, so be it.  The readers you are trying to impress are not the diehards but the larger middle who are interested in the issues but who are open to the idea that a corporation might behave well.  You owe it to this audience to use every means possible to tell your story and, for our money, that includes your FB page, even if that sometimes seems like a tough call.  As a Woody Allen character once said trying to sound brave — “and then I hit him in the knee with my head.”  Painful, yes, but maybe the right thing to do in the long run.

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