Friday, 22 October 2010

Killer campaigns: Using social media successfully

"Need a break? So does the rainforest."

This was the message behind Greenpeace's social media campaign last March against Swiss chocolate giant, Nestlé. The environmental organisation criticised Nestlé for using palm oil suppliers that allegedly destroy Indonesian rainforests and threaten the Orangutan habitat.

Just days after posting a one-minute commercial parody on YouTube featuring an office worker taking a break with a Kit Kat bar made of orangutan fingers, Greenpeace and hundreds of thousands of people across the globe watched the video go viral. They also watched Nestlé's reputation take a beating.
The company, largely unprepared for the ensuing social media PR battle, was "wall bombed" with complaints on its Facebook page. Nestlé asked YouTube to remove the video due to copyright, and even tried to censor the negative comments on its Facebook page. But outgunned by critics, Nestlé's moderator later issued an apology stating: "This was one in a series of mistakes for which I would like to apologize. And for being rude. We've stopped deleting posts, and I have stopped being rude."

On April 13, 2010, Nestlé sent an open letter:
to Greenpeace, writing that the company was deeply committed to protecting the Indonesian rainforest and that it has since "stopped all purchase[s] of palm oil from [supplier] Sinar Mas."

Ironically, before Nestlé's brash reaction to the campaign, the YouTube video was reportedly viewed by so few people that it may have otherwise just languished in obscurity. But Chris Eaton, Online Community Organizer for Greenpeace USA, explains, "Because Nestlé was trying to suppress the video, it added to its popularity."

"Greenpeace was using social media well," he says. "But it could be said that Nestlé was using social media really badly, and that kind of blew up in their face."

Indeed, the organisation has a history of using social media well. Working across the core networks with accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube, Greenpeace first jumped on the social media bandwagon in 2005 after seeing the success of, a progressive online group focused on community organising.

"Social media allow us to build a community, and get people connected and involved," says Eaton, who anchors the organisation's new media networks. "It can really be used as a campaign tool to put pressure on our corporate and political targets." And, he adds, it allows Greenpeace to rally support for its offline campaigns as well.

Putting pressure on Nestlé was clearly a sweet victory for Greenpeace. But critics say the organisation went too far. Richard Telofski, an analyst specialising in anti-corporate activism, says Greenpeace lost total legitimacy in its assault against Nestlé. He argues, "These people were present to attack the name of the corporation. Period."

Still, Eaton insists that if given the chance to do it again, Greenpeace wouldn't change a thing. In fact, his colleagues in Amsterdam recently launched another online campaign against a multinational company. This time, targeting Facebook, the social networking site that has been the very engine of Greenpeace's online campaigns.

This "Unfriend Coal" campaign calls for supporters to "unfriend" CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook unless the company drops its plans for using coal to power its massive new data centre in Oregon.

Telofski argues, "Greenpeace has no compunction about using Facebook, when it suits them, as a social media battle space in their anti-corporate campaigns. A free social media battle space, mind you." And he asks the pertinent question, "If Facebook doesn't accede to Greenpeace's energy usage demands, will Greenpeace call upon its Facebook supporters to boycott Facebook in the same way Greenpeace called upon Nestlé customers to boycott the Kit Kat bar?"


Eaton admits Facebook is the organisation's most successful tool. In fact, he's spent the past two and a half years developing Greenpeace's presence on Facebook. But, he says, "Critics aren't looking at our campaigns holistically. We have our Cool IT campaign, which asks the whole technology sector to adopt vigorous clean energy plans. We're asking Facebook to be a leader on clean energy within the IT sector."

For an organisation that has limited resources but depends so heavily on spreading its message, Greenpeace is leveraging social media to its great advantage. Could the organisation be as successful without it? Eaton admits, "I don't think so. Our social media networks are a great place to build the movement, get people trained, and really connect with people that want to make a difference."

Although critics argue that Greenpeace is unjustly attacking corporations that are vulnerable in the social media sphere, others see this tactic as a new trend in digitally savvy activism.

A tactic that actually seems to be working.


John Leary III said...

Corporations...who are perceived by the masses as apathetic to all sorts of sociological issues HAD BETTER GET USED TO IT and the legal litigation that will follow...

Post a Comment