For once, I am not going to take sides. Let’s just keep things simple, stick to the facts, and see if we can draw some lessons from last week’s coordinated attack on Nestle’s Facebook page. Not in terms of resolving the feud between Greenpeace and Nestle – I could make that my full time job and still not put a dent in it – but rather in terms of helping companies not end up in the same kind of situation vis-a-vis their Social Network presence.

But okay, fine, here is my token opinion bit: Greenpeace makes good points and Nestle has a company to run. The reality is that the solution to their argument lies somewhere in the middle. Not in compromise – that isn’t the point – but rather in collaboration between the two organizations. (And no, I’m not crazy.) More on that in Part 2 – tomorrow.

First, let’s do a quick recap of what happened, in case you missed it.

Part 1.a – What happened with Nestle on facebook?

Prologue: Not surprisingly, Nestle, one of the largest global suppliers of food products in the world, finds itself at the center of a number of boycotts relating to product ingredients, environmental issues, economic impact, trade practices, etc. Greenpeace is involved with several of them, and routinely attacks nestle on a variety of issues, hoping to pressure the company into adopting more ecologically sound practices. Last week, Greenpeace’s latest action against Nestle spilled onto the food giant’s Facebook page with… fracas.

Some quick facts about Nestle:

Nestle, founded in 1866 now generates over €100,000,000,000 (yes, €100+ billion) in revenue per year and is present in virtually every country in the world. For their complete list of products (many of which stock shelves and pantries all over the world), click here and here. Among them: Perrier, Kit-Kat, Purina, Nesquik and Power Bar.

Chapter 1: Greenpeace’s fake Kit-Kat commercial focusing on palm oil and deforestation is released on YouTube and quickly goes viral.

Chapter 2: Nestle fights back by chasing the Greenpeace video all over the internets in a game of censorship whack-a-mole.

Chapter 3: Fueled by the momentum of the Greenpeace video, anti-Nestle discussions move away from activist blogs and land on Nestle’s facebook page. (Not an accident or an organic shift. This tactic is part of a deliberate and well planned campaign.)

Chapter 4: Echoing Nestle’s logo censorship efforts with the video on Youtube and across other channels, Nestle’s Facebook team responds to criticism on their wall by… threatening to delete comments left by individuals using modified versions of their corporate logo as avatars, which only adds fuel to the fire.

Chapter 5: Emboldened by Nestle’s seemingly unprepared and not particularly PR-savvy social media team on Facebook, the anti-Nestle attack grows into a mob beating of the brand well into the weekend and continuing into this week. The campaign, initially managed by Greenpeace assets, moves into the mainstream as environmentally-conscious Facebook users join the anti-Nestle crowd.

Chapter 6: In spite of Nestle’s ruthless beating over the weekend, decent media coverage and questionable reports of stock woes for the company on Friday, people are still buying Kit-Kat and other Nestle products – at least in the 29601 – as if nothing happened, and seem relatively unaffected by whatever Greenpeace does to nestle’s Facebook page.

Epilogue:  Yet to be written, as we all wait for Nestle to do… something – anything – and for Greenpeace to adopt a more results-oriented approach. (Applying pressure is one thing. Actually saving the rain forests is another. A+ on making noise. Now what?)

Part 1.b – So, are there lessons here for businesses and big brands? You bet:

1. Don’t let one company’s failure scare you: If this episode has you reconsidering a corporate presence in Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.) don’t let it. There is a VAST difference between having a presence in the Social Media space and having a well planned, well managed presence in the Social Media space. Nestle’s presence was… not the latter.

If it may seem that Facebook is a liability, consider that it is no more a liability than email or the telephone. What happened to Nestle last week happened because the team charged with managing its Facebook page was either not qualified or not empowered to do their job. Properly handled, the attack on Nestle’s facebook page could have been managed differently and the outcome could have been radically more positive for the brand.

Fact:  Had Nestle’s Social Media team been experienced in crisis management and properly trained, Greenpeace’s attack on the Nestle Facebook  page could have been made to fizzle out in under an hour. In other words, Greenpeace’s attack could have been made to backfire had it been met by professionals instead of amateurs. (See lesson 2.)

Corporate comms isn’t about creative copy and pushing it out through a breadth of channels. It’s professional chess.

2. This isn’t amateur hour. Social Media management requires rigorous training and razor-sharp focus: Having a Social Media presence for your company and brand(s) is serious business. It isn’t an afterthought. It isn’t something you can afford to assign to interns. It isn’t something you can afford to completely hire out to a digital shop, a “social media” firm or an ad agency. You have to take the space seriously. This requires planning, preparation, training and focus.

Greenpeace and organizations like it do this for a living. They are well-funded, staffed by passionate, dedicated and extremely well educated professionals, and THEY WILL NOT QUIT. If activist groups (even at the grass-roots level) set their targets on you, you CANNOT afford to leave any of your communications (digital or not) virtually unmanned. You need Marines, Navy SEALS and Rangers on that wall, not green, untested recruits. Hire professionals. The real time web isn’t a joke. Take it seriously and you’ll probably be okay. Hire amateurs, and suffer the consequences. It’s that simple.

3. Absence from the Social Media space won’t save you: Whether or not your company is active in the Social Media space has no effect whatsoever on whether or not people talk negatively about it. In other words, not having a facebook page or a presence on twitter will not protect you from boycotts, coordinated attacks, and defamation campaigns. Quite the contrary. You need to be there in order to a) monitor, b) learn, and c) respond quickly and adequately.

The old question: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” does not apply here: If EVERYONE is in the forest except you, they hear the crash loud and clear. Not being there doesn’t change the fact that it fell and that it made a sound. All it means is that you weren’t there.

If you think that not having a Facebook page will ensure that what happened to Nestle won’t happen to you, think again. Anyone can create a page on facebook. They don’t have to use your corporate facebook account to launch a massive attack against your brand. At least, if you have a page and a group tries to use it against you, you’ll have an opportunity to turn the situation in your favor. (Just because Nestle didn’t know how doesn’t mean you have to follow the same unfortunate path.)

4. Even the best crisis management program can’t fix your company’s problems: No matter how great your PR and crisis response and Social Media management teams may be, if your company opens itself to attacks because of specific practices (employment, commerce, environmental, etc.) you’ll still have to face the music in a public forum. There comes a point when comms are just comms, and the dialog has to move beyond well crafted words and community appeasement. Listening and talking are just the beginning. Action is the best way to silence your detractors. (And by that, I don’t mean just legal action. Not everything needs to be a show of force.)

Fact 1: Greenpeace has a valid argument when it comes to environmental protection.

Fact 2: Nestle is a complex business with enormous supply requirements, relatively inelastic price-points, and tremendous pressure in the middle of a global economic crisis to perform well for its shareholders.

Once you take a few steps back, it doesn’t take a genius to see that – while the two organizations are engaged in a years-long bare-knuckle brawl, the two would get a lot further if they worked together instead of wasting so much energy fighting. This isn’t a battle of arguments or a battle of philosophies. It shouldn’t even be a battle at all. Comms could be used to open a dialog, find some common ground, and begin a process of collaboration: Nestle knows food production. Greenpeace knows environmentally sound practices. It seems that they could both learn a lot from each other. (And no, I am not being naive.)

The reality of this campaign: Not a single hectare of rain forest will be saved by a bunch of people shouting insults at Nestle on their Facebook page. Not one tree, in fact. (Update: I was wrong. Nestle listened, and rain forest acreage will, in fact, be spared as a result of this campaign. Check this out: Click here) Likewise, no PR progress will be made by Nestle until they think this problem through and start using their digital comms team to open the door to constructive dialog on these issues. Moderating the ensuing discussions – no matter how difficult the first few hours and days may be – would be a solid next step. (More on that tomorrow.)

As a company, do you want to keep wasting precious resources and energy fighting a blood enemy who will never stop dragging your name in the mud, or do you want to focus on helping your business grow and making its practices sustainable beyond 2025? It really isn’t a trick question.

5. Don’t get caught with your pants down. What’s so embarrassing to Nestle isn’t that Greenpeace’s video went viral or that its Facebook wall was taken over by environmental activists, or that people now associate the brand with dead orangutans. What is embarrassing to Nestle is that its team fumbled. Royally. In plain sight. How much firepower does a brand bring to the ring – and how seriously can it be taken – when even its digital communications team doesn’t seem to know what to do? Who’s in charge here? How did a company of such size and importance, with so many resources and access to talent leave itself so open to an action of this kind? How did it not see this coming? How is it that it had no plan?

More to the point: As with all cracks in the armor, if Nestle left itself so vulnerable in the digital space, where else is it dropping the ball? What other parts of the organization are operating on auto-pilot? A single failure of this kind invites more attacks. Embarrassment is just momentary: The real danger of getting caught as unprepared (as nestle was last week) is that once your enemies smell weakness, they will keep probing until they find the next crack. And the next. And the next. Companies do themselves no favors by not being prepared for things like this. In this instance, Nestle KNEW that Greenpeace would continue to attack and probe and poke, and still, nothing was done by Nestle to prepare for the group’s unavoidable attack on its Social Media properties. This kind of thing is nothing new. Someone at Nestle fell asleep at the wheel.

Tip: Know your enemies. Anticipate their tactics. Be ready.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss the steps that Nestle (and any other company faced with a similar attack on its Social Media outlets) should take when faced with a well coordinated campaign of this kind. It may not be brain surgery, but obviously it’s worth bringing up since not everyone seems to know how to plan for this sort of thing. Nestle Social Media team, come back tomorrow for some tips.