Did we learn anything from the Nestle Family Twitter-storm?

Remember my post from a couple years ago about the Nestle boycott*, the boycott that has been going on since the ’70s? Well, today the boycott and all of Nestle’s alleged crimes against humanity were brought to the forefront due to the #NestleFamily blogger event and the power of social media.

Photo courtesy Rahego
Photo courtesy Rahego

It started when Annie from PhDinParenting wrote An open letter to the attendees of the Nestle Family blogger event. If you don’t know about Nestle’s history, I suggest you go read that first. As Annie said there and I will repeat here, “This is not about what you chose to feed your babies. If you formula fed, whether by choice or by necessity, that is none of my business. That said, the marketing and advertising of formula has been linked to the deaths of millions of babies every year.”

As the event got underway today, the tweets began to fly on Twitter. While many civilly debated the issues at hand (unethical marketing of formula to developing countries where there isn’t access to clean water, child slave labor in the chocolate industry, the bottled water), others (from both sides of the debate) turned to name calling and snark. Still others tried to turn it into a debate of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, ignoring the real issue at hand – Nestle’s unethical business practices.

The bloggers who choose to attend the #NestleFamily event were caught in the middle. Some relayed the concerns and questions from the Twitterverse to Nestle, while others Tweeted about which Nestle candy they liked best.

The chatter on Twitter went on for hours before @NestleFamily (who had no social media team) finally stepped in and tried to field some of the questions themselves instead of depending on the #NestleFamily event attendees to do it for them. It was reminiscent of the #MotrinMoms debacle except Motrin responded with apologies and corrected their infraction. I have my doubts that a conversation with a bunch of bloggers at this point in time is going to bring about any real changes with with a company like Nestle that has been conducting business unscrupulously for more than 30 years. I’d love to see them prove me wrong though.

Others have written more about this, like Julia from Forty Weeks who wrote On missing the mark:

To me this is a case study for poor planning, short-sighted thinking and other classic marketing errors. What is clear to me is that there was no strategic or top-level thinking applied to this horrific play for Moms on the part of Nestle.

This is a stunning example of why those who are involved with marketing to women and in specific, social media need to have well grounded leader managing their strategy.

Nestle has lost control of the conversation – in fact the conversation that is being had is not only off-message (one would assume) but the defense of Nestle has been left in the hands of those least qualified to handle it — the bloggers who answered their call and came for a few days of fun. This is damaging to the brand on a profound level (obviously) and leaves these bloggers in an untenable position. Feeling loyal, under attack, not knowing facts, frankly over their heads and outside of any normal scope of engagement for an event like this.

Annie at PhDinParenting said:

I think there is an opportunity for Nestle, as a leader in the food industry, to take a leadership role on this issue. At a minimum it should start abiding by the law in all countries where it operates and not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law. But ideally, in order to rectify some of the damage that its past practices have caused, it should go above and beyond what the law requires.

Christine at Pop discourse wrote On Bloggers, Breastfeeding, Formula, Morality, Change, & the Nestle Family Event and talks about why she chose not to attend the #NestleFamily event and how all of this impacts blogger relations in general.

MommyMelee wrote a great post called thinking outside the hashtag about ways you can take action.

I encourage people who are upset to research ways they can help, whether it’s through positive activism and awareness, donating time, or donating money.

So what did we learn?
I have to admit I found myself very frustrated as I read Tweets from both sides today. The name calling, the inappropriate jokes, and the total disregard for the serious nature of Nestle’s infractions are the kinds of things that make “mommybloggers” look like raving lunatics. But I also saw a lot of civil debating, people keeping an open mind and presenting information and their positions without attacking and that part – that part was awesome. It’s the respectful discussion that is going to raise awareness and bring about change, not the snark, not the name calling. Let’s keep up the awesome part – the dialogue, the desire to effect change. The awesomeness will bring about good things in the world. 🙂 (Oh, and if you are a large corporation – hint, hint Nestle, please jump on the social media bandwagon NOW. You are missing out on a lot and doing yourself and those who want to engage you a disservice if you don’t.)

If you’ve written about this Nestle event, please leave me your link in the comments. I hope to put a list together. Thanks! In the meantime, please check out this Anthology of #NestleFamily Activist Blogs put together by @BestforBabes.

*Please note: there is now an updated Nestle boycott list as of 10/7/09. Thanks!

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60 thoughts on “Did we learn anything from the Nestle Family Twitter-storm?”

  1. I’ve been boycotting Nestle since my mother started in the 1970s (although I was very happy about an updated list of Nestle brands circulated today – I need to update my list). But what amazed me the most about today was that Nestle, having invited bloggers to the events, bloggers adept at social media, would not have had a team in place to monitor the conversation on Twitter.

  2. I am pleased, in a way, because this has raised awareness of an important issue. What makes me mad is how some have said they read the PhD in Parenting post and either don’t believe it or don’t see how it applies to them. I don’t get how someone could read that and just dismiss it.

    I learned about all this a year or more ago and we avoid purchasing Nestle. With all their different products, I know we slip up sometimes but we do try.

  3. Amy,

    This is a great wrap-up post.

    In addition to all of the issues you’ve raised so well here, there is another big one that troubles me: the roles of “average Mom” Mom bloggers as defacto corporate spokespeople.

    HUGE issues with this on all sides.

  4. I think in all cases where people resport to snark and name-calling there is imporant issues that can seem to be nullified. The problems come not in the name-calling and snark itself but in the sole focus on those behaviors. Having said that, I do believe firestorms have their place in the natural order of things. In burning down the deadwood it makes a clearer path to the center of the forrest.

    I think what we learn from any of this is still in the making.

  5. You know what really sucks? If everyone actually gets distracted by all the snark and forgets that it’s really about Nestle’s ethics!!!

    My mom started boycotting Nestle in the 80s and we’ve always been aware of the issues. This is a gift if it actually gets this info out to the public. Let’s not get caught up on the drama.

    Some ppl suck. Social media can give a license for ppl to be nasty, but at the same time the ppl who are aware of the severity of the problems are frustrated.

    Get educated and effect change. Keep your cool, stay centered and make your point. Join the boycott and help spread the info. Help educate those bloggers who don’t know. If you scream at them they get defensive and turn off. Appeal to their best selves.

    rant over.

  6. I think Nestle was testing the waters. I wholly believe they were monitoring their hashtag and name; they have a tweet interface posted on the event internet page that PhD in Parenting linked to in her post. They had a fairly successful Stouffers event earlier this year–with only a few “hey, that’s Nestle, they suck” tweets, and so I think they then planned this to see if the Nestle brand would hold up. So glad for aware, outspoken and caring consumers like you that prevented them from getting away with whitewashing this media as they have tried to do to all media.

  7. I think you did a great job of summarizing the way the events of yesterday — and calling Nestle for its responsibility for the way things played out.

    For my take (which is very much in synch with yours), please see my blog post at ParentCentral.ca (shortcut as opposed to impossibly long URL)

    http://ow.ly/s8rv

  8. I was appalled by the lack of respect and restraint by many who are passionate about Nestle’s questionable practices. I see some commenters above don’t understand why anyone can read the phdinparenting post and not understand how the issue applies to them. What about this? Perhaps they were simply turned off by the Twitter mania and aggressiveness of some of the commenters on that post? I know I was.

    Bashing people over the head with a message that “I’m right; accept it” is never going to be effective and it WILL turn people off to your cause. Calmly stating the facts and discussing the issue openly – as the phdinparenting post and this one have done very well – gets the word out and gives credibility and integrity to those who are interested in affecting change.

    The “firestorm” yesterday was good – it educated so many who didn’t know about this issue (including me), and it could have maintained a civil and still passionate tone, but the few who resorted to aggressive snarking did no favors to the campaign for Nestle to make lasting change.

  9. Mike and Ann – Thank you for sharing your links. I encourage others who write about this to post their links too.

    Deb – If Nestle was quietly observing for hours and letting the bloggers in attendance take the fall as it were, then shame on them. If I were one of those bloggers, I’d be very upset and definitely call them on it.

  10. Very nice summary! I wasn’t aware of this blogging event and couldn’t figure out why there was so much talk about Nestle, but I am glad there was! It’s just too bad there were people resorting to name-calling and such, hardly the way to accomplish anything.

    I have boycotted Nestle for a long time and remember writing letters as a kid, as I did with so many other issues I came across. I remember hoping I could do some good…. 🙁

  11. Nicely done.

    Look, the reality is, there are boneheads on all sides of all debates. What really gets me is when people say ALL bloggers who go to Nestle are X or ALL bloggers who boycott Nestle are Y. Or worse, “Here’s why PR won’t engage with mommybloggers.”
    http://twitter.com/jspepper/status/4507647870

    As if we all speak with one voice.

    There are a lot of different people in this conversation, and I appreciate you pointing to the more level-headed ones–and subtly calling out the more ridiculous ones.

  12. I think one of the big problems here is that there was a collision of a number of complex and intersecting issues which were just too intense to cover in 140 characters. And I think there’s a lot of pent-up rage from people who are tired of never being listened to by corporations like Nestle who took this as an opportunity to get their voices heard.

    First, you had people talking about Nestle’s questionable and sometimes illegal business practices. And trying to provide people with facts which would lead them to examine Nestle and their own complicity a little more closely.

    Then, you had people asking why high-profile bloggers attending a conference wouldn’t do their due diligence before attending, which feeds into the larger issue of blogging ethics. I think we should be asking a lot of questions about the ethical responsibilities of bloggers, especially those who have large readerships and are regarded as trustworthy authorities.

    It’s sad that the valid criticisms and questions being raised by concerned individuals were silenced by a tide of defensiveness and hasty words by a few people who crossed the line.

  13. Ooops, I also forgot to point out, since this is getting forgotten, that not all of the people involved in this discussion are mommy bloggers or even parents. You don’t have to be a parent to care about issues which affect children, like slave labour, child labour, and illegal formula marketing practices. You also don’t have to be a parent to care about environmental issues and a host of other problems associated with Nestle which I’m not going to get into here.

    I dislike the dismissive attitude from some people who seem to be regarding this as a “mommy blogger catfight,” because that’s offensive to blogging parents, and it erases people like me who aren’t parents and are actively participating in this discussion.

  14. My hope is that the media focuses most of its attention not on the “Twitter storm” but on Nestle’s unethical business practices. My fear, however, is that they will sensationalize and already sensational fury of Tweets.

    And I completely agree that while the mean-spirited aspects of the debate were disheartening, the *education* and political consciousness-raising were fantastic–and probably more likely to succeed in effecting political-social change than the other forms of debate seen yesterday (and today). Again, my hope is that larger media forces focus on THESE parts of the debate!

    I’ve written a little post about all of this here: http://birthingbeautifulideas.com/?p=846

    There are lots of great posts out there, and I look forward to seeing the list that you compile!

  15. I know people who’ve spent time in their career in a marketing post at Nestle and let me tell you that they are smart, savvy marketers. Given that, they should’ve expected that an event like this with live remarks being made on Twitter would end the way it did. It’s well known that people have strong feelings for their brand and Twitter is where you come to share, vent & announce your opinions.

    It seems like, to me, that the bloggers in attendance were set up for a big fall. Nestle put them in a no-win situation…and I bet they knew that. I hope the lesson for bloggers here is to not accept every offer thrown your way. Do your research. Think through the potential outcomes. Consider the consequences.

  16. Hey, I am @vegas710 on twitter. So I’ve outed myself as one who is not boycotting Nestle! I did post about it, you can link if you want but it’s mostly about BF v FF with a little of the Nestle thing thrown in. ( http://playamind.blogspot.com/2009/10/my-confession.html ) I only ask that anyone who reads it not assume I’m targeting them directly. I am talking about people who have said exactly what I say in my post, not all BF advocates, not at all.
    There are a lot of important issues being raised in this debate. I have learned things and I have been reminded of things that are very important.

  17. I have to say that I haven’t been at all surprised by the snarkiness or the openmindedness that I’ve seen from nestle attendees. I see the same thing from people everyday, expressing their shock and disdain at breastfeeding Mothers. There are some that listen, think, ask questions, and reconsider. There are others just looking for a bullseye to target with hate. I have been pleasantly surprised by the increase in those coming to the defense of the right of children to have proper feeding (breastfeeding) and of the right of their Mothers to provide it. The attitude towards nursing seems to be rooted in one’s attitude towards women. Many women, unfortunately are self-loathing and extend that outwards to all women and consequently Motherhood, the most powerful trope of which is breastfeeding.
    Really it comes down to what you love:
    Mothers and Children
    or
    Dollars and Cents

  18. Posts like this are the reason I love this blog. Thanks for the reminder, and update, on the Nestle boycott. In the past, I’ve “preferred not” to use the brand, but wasn’t overly active about it. I think this is enough to put us back on the bandwagon! Thanks, Amy.

  19. The irony for Nestle is that this event has probably rejuvenated the boycott against them. Although some people are rushing to their defense, but others have learned about their unethical practices thanks to the publicity. I don’t think that they handled this well, at ALL.

    Unlike Motrin, I don’t think that Nestle recognizes their mistake. They are continuing to defend their actions, they are NOT apologizing or acknowledging their mistakes. I don’t think that they can continue to get away with this behaviour in the new world of PR, where others control the conversation.

  20. Amy,

    My husband and I were talking about this and we were just not aware of all of these issues and posts like this, all of the tweets and the debate (not name calling and defensive attitudes) but the questions raised, links, and thoughts shared I have gained a lot from. Now I am waiting to hear more from Nestle.

    What makes me sad is when I read tweets about Nestle being eco-friendly and I ask a question and I’m ingnored or people just I’m being mean and I’m asking an honest question. If you tweet something be ready to be asked questions on what you tweet if it is of substance.

    I think we can all learn a great deal about this and the bloggers that went aren’t bad people, they have an opportunity to listen to the tweet and ask these questions vereses defending Nestle. They can become informed and learn from the tweets as well and help us learn about Nestle and make a postive change. There seems to be so much potential for good to be done if egos can’t get lost.

  21. Great post – and really encapsulates everything that has been going on with the issue.

    Just one point of clarification on @Mom 101’s comment re: my Twitter post. I said shy away, and it IS a gun shy issue for corporations.

    As those that know me, I’m a HUGE supporter of the Momosphere, as well as any and all blogging, as well as all voices.

    I was pointing out the issue from a PR perspective, from someone that works with corporations and explains why corporations should listen, engage and participate. They point to Nestle or Motrin, and say “we don’t want to get attacked like that” … so we have to have an answer. The answer, of course, is to be involved prior, so if something like this happens, you are already out there.

    Thanks!

  22. I am a long time Nestle boycotter, and I have been following this story with interest, wondering if the parenting blogsphere would get educated or just be blindsided by strokes from Nestle.

  23. Great article!

    I found myself lurking over the thread on twitter for quite some time. Some of the info and news was new to me, and I wasn’t confident chiming in… but I feel like I did pick up on a few things.

    I felt both sides over stepped their bounds at times. I actually stopped following when a ‘pro Nestle’ tweeter made a demand that the ‘Nestle Nazi’s go away’. The levels to which some tweets went were just absurd to me…

    I actually felt badly for the ‘pro Nestle’ side at times.. It really seemed like Nestle was using them to go to bat for them. Although it is hard to have a meaningful dialogue in 140 characters, people all day and every day promote their businesses and share links. I felt like Nestle did an extremely poor job of answering questions and not clearing things up. I watched the thread for the entire evening after a Nestle representative got on to answer questions and instead of quelling the fire it just seemed to be an ‘attempt’ to join the conversation without really conversing about anything.

    And.. the fact that so many accusations were submitted and not too many answers were given says quite a bit… Don’t even need 140 characters to read that.

  24. Very interesting.

    I think that if we all had time to deeply research every company and every product that we have in our homes, then we would be boycotting a lot.

    I’ve been on the inside of the food business. You’d be amazed at how many corrupt companies are marketing to green and crunchy populations with great success.

    Moral of the story? Try to be as educated as you can about what you consume, but also, cut yourselves and everyone else a little slack. If you’re trying to do the best you can with the time you have, then that’s all that matters.

    Personally, the vitriol that arises from some of these debates is much more damaging than the original product problems.

    Peace.

  25. Thanks for this excellent post and summary. I wasn’t at the event myself, and am catching up on it all now. At the end of the day, I hope that more awareness will be raised about all of these issues thanks to the power of blogging and social media – and socially conscious Moms like you and many others in the space. Thank you.

  26. I’m in total dismay of bloggers and PR companies in general lately. It feels as though much of our community has gotten far too caught up in feeling like a celeb, getting these fancy invites where they get treated like “royalty” and maybe get a few things.

    And all of the PR companies that are just mindlessly falling into it all, and not really taking the time to put it all together well, and making sure that their message is best suited for Mom bloggers.

    What happened to the days when Mom bloggers were just that, blogging and Moms? Now it seems like so many are blinded with the flashes of free stuff and free trips and being treated like they are famous.

    Not everyone, mind you. Many are still grounded people, but I’ve been noticing such negative/greedy and sad behavior from so many lately.

    UGH.

    Nell

  27. “Personally, the vitriol that arises from some of these debates is much more damaging than the original product problems.”

    4000 babies dying a day from unsafe forumla feeding practices in the developing world, and you think a bit of snark on twitter is more “damaging”? Wow. Just. Wow.

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