Welcome to the Dark Side of Social Media

It wasn’t too long ago when companies were chomping at the bit to adopt social media as part of their overall organizational and communication strategy. I can’t blame them – it was all the rage. Blogs and news were abuzz with why and how companies would fall behind if they didn’t jump on the social media bandwagon. Major world-class brands and small companies alike couldn’t get enough of social media – Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. Well, the time has come when we see the dark side of social media. That is, engagement and open communication are being taken to new heights – outside of our control. As with all good things, we have reached a point with social media where we must look at not just the good, but also the bad and the ugly.

A few months back, Nestle took a nasty hit when Greenpeace UK turned against the giant nutrition, health and wellness company, posting a provocative YouTube video calling into question Nestle’s methods for acquiring palm oil. The online attack didn’t stop there. The Greenpeace group launched a full-blown social media attack against Nestle, posting negative comments on the company’s sites and forcing Nestle to answer Greenpeace’s questions. Weeks after the social media backlash, Nestle announced a “non-deforestation” policy in partnership with The Forest Trust (TFT).

Most recently, Intel, one of the largest manufacturers in the electronics industry, was attacked by activists opposed to minerals mining in the Congo. Opponents initiated an attack on Intel’s Facebook page, challenging Intel to pledge its support for a congressional bill that would restrict the import of “conflict minerals” that contribute to fighting in the war-torn country. Intel is highly reliant on a range of minerals. The company, per its long-standing Facebook moderation policy, took down posts they deemed to be “spam” and closed comments for a very brief period, which they reopend shortly after after realizing the significance of the issue. (Per clarification from Intel’s social media strategist Kelly Ripley Feller, Intel did issue an apology immediately following). Please take a moment to read Intel’s blog. For more details on this issue, I would recommend reading Fail to Understand Social Media by Torben Rick.

What now? While most companies may understand the value of social media, what these real-world cases have shown us is that transparency, engagement, communication and open dialogue come with a price. Before you jump on the social media bandwagon, companies must first look internally and look at pros/cons of social media and adopt a social media crisis management policy. Remember – both good and bad news can travel at lightning speed – especially in this social Web 2.0 age. Today, companies that use social media must have a sound policy in place not just for social media but crisis management policy that can help you address these challenges head on.

  • Social Media and Crisis Management Policy

Every company using social media should have a policy in place that includes best practices and dos and don’ts that align with your organizational strategy. Further, companies also need to incorporate crisis management policy that demonstrates the key steps in case a crisis should occur. We call this a social media response plan. This should entail your company’s plans step by step from gathering information to when and how company representatives should respond. 

  • Continuous Monitoring Process

Listening is a discipline – even in the social mediasphere. Every company should have a monitoring process in place to understand who’s talking about your brand, services and products at all times. Daily Twitter search, Bloglines, etc. should be used to monitor your brand every day and flag all positive and negative conversations around your brand. This way, you’re not reacting but can have the upper hand in preparing your Rapid Response Strategy. To do this well, your company should have a list of all the social media channels you’re tracking on a daily basis and share a daily, weekly and monthly social media index.

  • Influencing the Influencers

Your Rapid Response Strategy should include a running list of all your influencers and where they are most active across all social media channels. This way, you can reach out directly to them with your final response or message. This is assuming you have an ongoing relationship with them, which you should, to help extend the brand and message.

  • Rapid Response Plan

This plan is crucial and should reach across your executives, experts, spokesperson(s), PR teams and communication agencies. This outlines your external strategy for responding to the media and social media channels if necessary and explains the process when a crisis occurs, how you’re going to work across teams to cultivate your message and distribute it both internally and externally, including to traditional media outlets.

  • Communication Strategy

While you may be focused on engaging the social media/online communities with your rapid response, don’t forget your employees, partners, shareholders and customers. If a company fails to alert the internal teams (employees), shareholders, partners and customers, it can further damage your brand and customer trust. This can also damage your bottom line with stock shares falling and partners pulling out. Through an effective communication strategy, you can help control the message internally and externally.

Below is a very good crisis communication presentation by Olivgy on Social Media for Crisis Management. I highly recommend you take a look and adopt their best practices. For more information, please feel free to e-mail me at kimvanhorne@gmail.com.



  1. Kelly Feller, Intel says:

    Hi Cindy,
    Great post with some really sound advice! Thanks for including Intel in your analysis.

    I’d like to clear up a misconception in your post. Intel’s long-standing Facebook moderation policy has been to delete posts that are spam in nature (same post over and over) or off-topic. When our community manager first saw the Congo comments–which were the same comment pasted over and over and not technology related–she was only following our policy. We did close comments for a very brief period, but reopened the page once we realzied the significance of the issue. We also issued an apology immediately following.

    • Hi Kelly,
      Wow – I’m impressed. Thanks for clearing that up. I will update my post to reflect accurate information. I’m glad you clarified that for me. Thanks and keep up the great work. My motto is always take an objective stance and provide some guidance so I’m glad it was helpful. I will update my blog now.

  2. Just to clarify, Intel did not come under fire by people “opposed to minerals mining in the Congo”.

    Intel came under fire for their purchasing of materials which are confirmed to be sourced from specific areas of eastern Congo. These areas are known CONFLICT AREAS where minerals are mined at gunpoint by children and ‘slaves’.

    To see what I am talking about, visit http://bit.ly/cLxrRf

    In your post, you failed to mention the opportunity the ‘bad part’ of social media presents. Social media also gives companies the ability to hear directly from consumers.

    Further to your example, a loud message was given to Intel. That message was (and continues to be) that if they were to use conflict free raw materials to make their products, that there is a sizeable audience of consumers who would be willing to give preference to their brand over others. Not only that, the willingness to pay the few pennies extra required to ELIMINATE the problem. It has also been documented that within the supply chain, costs will generally be absorbed so that end-users such as INTEL would not even be faced with the entire cost.

    The message sent to Intel and being heard around the world was not made by everyday people – consumers with disposable income. This message is now being sent to HP, Nintendo, Research in Motion, etc.

    Social media tolls provide opportunities for companies to HEAR. Intel has the choice of whether they want to LISTEN or LEARN.

    If not, these companies may have to keep themselves busy REACTING to negative attention against their BRANDS.

    Something to think about. Overall, your piece on social media was informative. Keep up the good work. Look forward to your future posts.

    No Blood Minerals

    • Dear No Blood Minerals,
      This is quite informative and I’m very grateful for your comments. I agree that social media provides greater transparency and puts businesses on notice to answer to their business practices. This is an area for all to consider when moving into the social media realm. Your comments are helpful and I will note that in the post. I would love to look at interviewing you guys to provide another perspective – from the community that cares and using social media to further educate and push your agenda. Email me at kimvanhorne@gmail.com if you’re interested. Very timely.

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