Consider what can go wrong. The folks at Nestle didn't.
It's a sad sight, to see a man (or woman) broken by the taunts of an angry mob. But what I find most confounding about this whole sorry display is that the real error here was for the moderator to act like an actual human being. Most corporate public relations is about smoothing all rough edges away with the goal of creating an essentially false version of reality, full of comforting jargon and meaningless buzzwords. Exhibit A: Nestle's official statement on palm oil. Many of the commentators on this Facebook fracas are saying that Nestle should just have kept reiterating what was in that statement and avoided riling the crowd. But what's the point of simply pushing regurgitated pap? How can that be considered good manners? It's managed discourse that means nothing, and I think it's far more degrading to the chances of real communication between corporations and consumers than the damage done by one person who shows his annoyance at a bunch of people who imagine that they are engaging in some form of meaningful social protest by posting complaints about a company while sporting juvenile profile pictures on a Facebook fan page.One of the most popular breakout sessions this year at meetings I attended were workshops/seminars on social media. Often these were led by (forgive me for stereotyping) very enthusiastic, cheerleadery women who could clearly outline all the upside, but had apparently rarely dealt routinely with trolls or ideologues who have discovered the power of "anonymous".
Don't get me wrong -- I think the whole concept of fan pages for corporations is stupid to begin with, and I think Nestle has done some truly vile things in the course of its existence on this planet. But I gotta say I'm kind of loving the nameless gal (or guy) who had the temerity to tell his (or her) critics "Consider yourself embraced." That was real! That was awesome.
He or she will never make that mistake again, of course, and that just contributes to our greater social detriment. Because if we are going to use social media to its fullest capacity, it should be to help us make real connections between people -- not to attack them when they reveal their own humanity. [More]
If you cannot hold your own face-to-face in heated arguments, my suggestion is your ag PR campaign in Twitter could cause you considerable heartburn. And bad actors are just the beginning. Out there on the Internets are many, many people smarter, more articulate, and rhetorically gifted than you who can hand your your virtual head on a platter just for fun. DAMHIKT.
I point this out not to diminish the idea of what social media may be able to accomplish toward ag's perceived media problem, but rather to encourage those neophytes to gird their onloins*.
*Did I mention the problem of fiendishly clever wordplay that few others find amusing?