How Global Brands Win With Social Engagement

Guest AuthorAugust 10, 20164 min

Hyperaware companies are less likely to be taken by surprise. They are also harder to disrupt because they can sense their own vulnerabilities and adjust their business models and processes accordingly. For example, hyperaware companies understand when their customers are disgruntled and why. They can also zero in on what customers truly value about their products.

Likewise, when a company is hyperaware of its competitive landscape, it understands the strengths and weaknesses of traditional rivals and the potential impact of new lines of business or acquisitions. In addition, hyperaware companies anticipate which nontraditional competitors (startups, incumbents from other industries) could threaten their market position and the technology-enabled business models they could use to cause disruption.

Hyperawareness In Action: Nestlé

Digital media has rapidly become a critical component of the marketing and communication strategies of consumer packaged goods firms. Most take a very structured approach to managing digital assets, such as social media sites, but this wasn’t always the case.

Back in 2010, Nestlé, the world’s largest food company in terms of revenue, was just beginning its journey as a social media powerhouse. At that time, it maintained multiple Facebook pages and Twitter feeds across its brands and markets. Each site was maintained independently with some basic oversight from head office. Unbeknownst to Nestlé, the environmental activist group Greenpeace had created a video critical of Nestlé’s policies about sourcing palm oil. Greenpeace claimed that Nestlé’s demand for palm oil, a key ingredient in chocolate, was leading to deforestation of primary rainforests in tropical countries such as Indonesia, resulting in loss of habitat for orangutans and other wildlife. Greenpeace produced a spoof video of a KitKat commercial in which one of the characters opens a KitKat wrapper to find an orangutan’s finger in place of the chocolate bar, and proceeds to eat it with bloody consequences.

Greenpeace uploaded the video to various video-sharing sites, including YouTube and Vimeo. Nestlé became aware of the video only after it had gone viral, and by that point it was too late to remove it (they tried). Worse, on the first night after the video was released, viewers began posting negative comments on Nestlé’s corporate Facebook account. At that time, the site was monitored by two interns, who took it upon themselves to respond in an antagonistic way to the commentary. The result was predictable. Nestlé was roundly criticized for its inappropriate response to the incident and its flawed approach to social media management. The company ended up issuing an apology and promising to work with Greenpeace to address the palm oil situation.

Nestlé learned a tough lesson from this experience, and made sweeping changes to its social media and digital engagement policies to prevent a similar situation from occurring in the future. Five years on, Nestlé has an impressive social media presence. There are more than 200 million fans of Nestlé brands on Facebook, and the company publishes more than 1,500 pieces of social media content every day. But reaching this point took a deliberate and highly innovative approach to hyperawareness.

In 2011 Nestlé established sophisticated social media monitoring capabilities through a new program called the Digital Acceleration Team (DAT). The DAT brings together dozens of people from around the world on eight-month assignments to work in digital listening centers. The first DAT Center was established at Nestlé’s headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland. Since then, 12 local centers have been set up around the globe. As a possible indication of its perceived importance to the company, the DAT Center in Vevey is located one floor above the executive suites.

The DAT Center at Nestlé headquarters, which resembles a NASA control room, is equipped with rows of flat-panel displays streaming real-time information about social media activities related to Nestlé’s brands. Data flows in from all the major social media platforms, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube.

Data visualization applications contextualize incoming data so that the team can efficiently identify salient developments and trends. Staff have access to millions of posts, as well as metrics such as conversation volume, sentiment level, best-performing content, and many others. The team members can track online sentiment about Nestlé’s top brands, and how their brands are being discussed online compared with those of competitors. The DAT Center in Switzerland has also deployed a tool called “Pulse” that integrates data on customer service inquiries, effectively pulling in perspectives from beyond the social media realm.

By integrating these many sources of listening, the teams working in the DAT Centers maintain a holistic understanding of their brands’ digital and social engagement. But the capabilities of the DAT Center are not limited to listening. Workers can also engage directly with consumers and communities online if they receive an alert about unusual activity. For example, they can answer consumer questions via social networks, and can publish new content based on algorithms that pinpoint ideal posting times to maximize readership. Automated alerts also identify unusual patterns, such as an unexpected spike in post volume on a particular topic. This allows the team to take rapid action in the event of a brand crisis, which is critical in an environment where sentiment can intensify (or reverse course) in a matter of minutes.

The program also helps spread a culture of hyperawareness across Nestlé’s worldwide operations. Many of the program’s graduates lead digital marketing in their local markets. In fact, while the hyperawareness capabilities of the DAT Center add tremendous value to the company, Nestlé views the investment primarily as a form of leadership development. The company’s executives understand that hyperawareness must become a foundational part of the firm’s operations to ensure future success in the Digital Vortex.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Jeff Loucks, James Macaulay, Andy Noronha and Michael Wade. Excerpted from their book Digital Vortex: How Today’s Market Leaders Can Beat Disruptive Competitors At Their Own Game

The Blake Project can help you with your social engagement strategy. Email us to find out more.

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