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NEWS: How Nestle monitors critical social media on their water business

Reuters reports that there are “an array of screens in Nestle’s headquarters (in Vevey, Switzerland that) tracks online sentiment …by monitoring conversation about its products on social media… They aim to win over a sometimes hostile world. …(Some companies) promote themselves online (but) Nestle is also concentrating on using social media for damage limitation. Vilified for years for its sales of baby milk formula in developing countries, Nestle today is confronting its critics online as protesters find newer targets, such as the company’s $7 billion a year bottled water business.”

The article notes that Pete Blackshaw is Nestle’s head of digital marketing and global media (and he highlights) how the centre’s screens are set up to spot trouble. ‘If there is a negative issue emerging, it turns red,’ says Blackshaw… ‘When there is a high number of comments,’ Blackshaw adds, ‘it alerts you that you need to engage.’ That can mean a real-time online response from a team member – each has a small flag indicating their country of origin above their desk – or the team might pass an issue on. Nestle says it has strict ‘do’s and don’ts’ for how staff should respond online, including disclosing their relationship to the company if they discuss a product. At the same time, the team is inevitably making up some rules as it goes along.”

This team monitors social media commentary on Nestle’s water business. For example, “Chairman Peter Brabeck (has) posted a blog in response to ‘Bottled Life’, a documentary criticizing Nestle that was released earlier this year. The documentary, shown in cinemas in Switzerland as well as at film festivals and on European TV channel Arte, alleges Nestle is ‘intent on amassing resource rights worldwide with the aim of dominating the water market of the future.’ In his blog, Nestle chairman Brabeck sought to put such criticism into the context of a broader global crisis of water scarcity. ‘This is the most vital issue of our time, and in this big picture, bottled water is rather irrelevant,’ he wrote. …In his blog, Brabeck wrote that the film ‘illustrated a whole spectrum of perceptions, misperceptions and allegations concerning this part of our business.'” When a woman commented critically online about his blog, Brabeck responded two hours later.

“More than 1 million people have so far watched ‘Bottled Life’ – not a huge audience by global standards. But social media is ‘the amplifier’, (says) Blackshaw…” And this article tells us that Nestle cares about its reputation. “Nestle has climbed to 12th spot from 16th in 2011 in the Reputation Institute’s index of the world’s most reputable companies.” But, “Nicolas Trad of the New York-based consultancy firm, which surveys 100,000 consumers for an annual reputation survey, (says) ‘Looking a little bit deeper, we find that perceptions of key opinion leaders – such as academics, regulators, nutritionists, NGOs and the like – are much weaker than those of consumers’…” Nestle is aware that “history shows the power of such objections.” Case in point. “Around a decade ago, a California-based NGO publicized locals’ worries that a Coke bottling plant in Kerala in India was damaging their water supply. The claims were rejected by Coke but eventually resulted in officials closing the plant.”

‘Bottled Life’, which includes commentary by Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow, premiered in Canada at the Vancouver International Film Festival in late-September. The Council of Canadians has now purchased copies of the film with public screening rights and will be promoting screenings across the country. Maybe we’ll even prompt a ‘red screen’ at Nestle HQ in Vevey.

The feature article can be read at http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/26/us-nestle-online-water-idUSBRE89P07S20121026.