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24 May



Social Activism = Major Reputation Issues for Brands

May 24, 2011 | By | 4 Comments

©2010 Herbi Ditl

When I was in Atlanta last week at the Digital Summit, Dallas Lawrence spoke about “Social Activism” in his piece during the Reputation Management session and it made me realize how much power activists can hold over a brand online.  Surely people can topple governments via social media but I was unaware that activists had the exact impact on brands worldwide.

Take for example last March, Greenpeace’s “Ask Nestlé to Give Rainforests A Break” initiative to stop them from using palm oil in their products.

The video has 443,555 views and was named Best Viral Video 2010 at the Viral Video Awards during the Berlin International Short Film Festival. Nestlé quickly responded by stopping the purchase of palm oil and releasing this information in April 2010.

In June of 2009 FedEx launched Brown Bailout, an online campaign against UPS that claimed:

“UPS lobbyists have buried a short 230-word legislative bailout deep inside the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009 currently before Congress. It’s worth billions to ‘Big Brown’ at the expense of today’s American economy that thrives on next-day commerce.”

The site drove ridiculous traffic and has over 325,000 “Likes” on Facebook. The clause was later removed from the act and FedEx claimed victory, but the Brown Bailout site is still up and active (the last post coming from February of 2011).

Arguably the most powerful act of social activism came from Eric Jackson in January of 2007, when he uploaded his video Yahoo! Plan B to the web.  At the time of this video, Jackson only held a meager 96 shares of Yahoo! and had about 10 readers on his blog.  He was interviewed by CNBC and other investors quickly joined Jackson. Before he knew there was a voting bloc of about 2.6 million shares behind his cause.  Yahoo!’s CEO Terry Semel soon resigned after the massive outcry for Plan B, with Eric Jackson receiving worldwide praise for the changes.

Reputation Management is one of the biggest and most important topics in Social Media today. How do you respond to problem with your brand online?  What is your reputation management disaster plan?


  1. Norwegianbear

    I think all this social media is way overblown. In fact a lot of the web optimisation is overblown because the one statistic that often seems overlooked is what happened to sales–not for a new sensation, but for an average company that sells average prpoducts on the web to average customers. Toppling a CEO is bringing news to like minded people who has an economic interest. They are motivated to act. This is widely different than a couple of human monkeys asking Nestle to give the rain forests a break by changing their products. It may have caused a lot of greenies to view the video, but how many purhcased Nestle to start with, and the crucial question: Did Nestle loose any sales, and did they feel compelled to change their formula? A lot of these skeemes have an uncanny ability to drive the wrong traffic, so be ware of the web experts!

  2. Norwegianbear thanks for sharing! I think you need to read further into the Nestle issue. They had to create a whole new system for how they handled the collection of palm oil costing the company serious money (legal issues, surveying, serious background checks on business operations, trying to prevent deforestation while still collecting palm oil). Next they had to try and stop the Social Media Crisis they had created with the, “Thanks for the lesson in manners. Consider yourself embraced. But it’s our page, we set the rules, it was ever thus,” Facebook Post. They then had to create a Social Media Reputation Management and Compliance plan and team which I know was not cheap. Finally they had to respond and apologize to all accusations, in a timely manner. Sales were lost and costs went up so I still see this as a major loss for Nestle and a major lesson for brands globally.

    Here is a good blog post on the PR problems Nestle faced because of Greenpeace:

    I know you say Social Media is “overblown” but it’s hard to believe that people would be able to overthrow governments globally without being connected via social networks and social media to organize.

  3. JP Scoggan

    I think this is a positive effect of social media. Prior to social forms of communication on the web, a shareholder with 96 shares would never have their voice heard. But a small voice can gain momentum by combining with other small voices. The ability to create more democratic interactions with regards to consumers, brands and governments (witnessed recently in several forms in the Middle East) is a paradigm shift for our world.

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