Nestle has been in the media a lot lately. And not because of its delicious new Kit Kat flavors. The company has come under fire for using questionable palm oil suppliers for its products. And while the candy giant may be new to social media, it has learned quickly that if you’re going to join the social media game, you have to play by its rules.

After about two months of taking flack on Facebook, Twitter and with real world protests, Nestle has finally relented and bowed down to Greenpeace, and all of its demands on the palm oil issue.

Like Unilever and Kraft before it, Nestle has been getting palm oil from a company called Sinar Mas that has been accused of clearing rainforest land without permits. Unilever and Kraft saved themselves a big headache by severing ties. When Nestle’s efforts to find more sustainable palm oil suppliers proved too slow to suit Greenpeace’s tastes, the organization launched an all out shock campaign against the company on Facebook and YouTube.

As I wrote earlier in this saga, Nestle did not handle the situation well on Facebook. Deleting posts and threatening trademark infringement is not the way to quiet a social media revolt.

However, after a certain point, it is hard to maintain any arguement over the din of a shouting crowd. And that’s what Nestle has learned. The company announced Monday that it would start working with the non-profit Forest Trust to ensure its sourcing of palm oil does not contribute to illegal
rainforest and peatland deforestation.

Greenpeace was quick to take credit. According to a statement from the group’s U.K. division:

“With nearly 1.5 million views of our Kit Kat advert, over 200,000
emails sent, hundreds of phone calls and countless Facebook comments,
you made it clear to Nestle that it had to address the problems with
the palm oil and paper products it buys. Greenpeace campaigners have met several
times with Nestle executives to discuss the problems with sourcing of
palm oil and paper products. It certainly seemed like things were
moving forward in these discussions. But we didn’t expect Nestle to
come up with such a comprehensive ‘zero deforestation’ policy so
quickly.”

Before Greenpeace’s blanket social media campaign, Nestle had planned to make its palm oil products 100% sustainable by 2015. Currently, they use about 18% non-sustainable palm oil.

Nestle’s Facebook page now has a debate going on over Nestle’s design to cater to Greenpeace’s demands. But many of the comments are impressed by Nestle’s decision. Either way, it’s a whole lot more civil than the page looked two months ago.

And yet, some of the commenters bring up a good point. As one antagonistic commenter puts it:


“They
should cut down more trees, not less. show these idiot protesters that
their boycotts mean NOTHING, since they are an incredibly small
minority in the world market and always will be.”

It is likely true that angry Facebook commenters represent a small fraction of Nestle’s total customers. But as big corporations wade into social media, it’s becoming clear that some fights are not worth the bad publicity.

This campaign struck a chord with social media mavens. And groups like Greenpeace are becoming adept at using new digital media to appeal to the emotions of consumers.

As social media becomes a more powerful tool, lobbying groups have the potential to become truly dangerous. Regardless of whether Nestle was trying to become more eco-friendly, Greenpeace decided it wasn’t moving fast enough. And social media mavens easily swayed by emotional videos don’t always do background research.
In this case, it’s not entirely clear where the pre-approved palm oil will come from. According to The Guardian:

“Several large companies – including Nestlé, Unilever, Kraft and
Tesco – have made commitments to source 100% “certified sustainable
palm oil” by 2015. But according to Poynton, such policies are weakened
by uncertainty about which sources of palm oil are suitable to use.”

Corporations are seen as greedy, profit motivated organizations by groups like Greenpeace. And while social media can be used to great effect to force a company into making drastic changes, it can also be easily abused. Making angry comments on Facebook and Twitter to get companies to change is easy for consumers. Regardless of whether those decisions are sustainable for the companies making them.

Image: Muriel Philippi’s Facebook page