Consumers Compelling Social (Media) Change from Businesses

Social Media has redefined the way companies interact with consumers. As mentioned in my previous blog post The Internet: A Global Community, the growth of digital business and web based social networks, has resulted in the Corporate Social Responsibility movement. Companies can no longer avoid their responsibility to global issues. Consumers and NGOs are using social media to force companies into changing business practices.

Examples in the Past- The Bad, The Ugly

The Bad- BP and the Oil Spill4642019486_2814c34f641

On April 20th 2010 an explosion of an oil-drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in the death of 11 workers and spilled 5 million barrels of oil into the ocean. As news of the spill broke, people became irate. As the fury of consumers grew, BP continued to say very little in response. BP’s twitter presence was so lacking at the time that even their brief attempts to use the platform to address the issue resulted in failure.


Tweets to BP

BP’s lack of social media presence resulted in parody accounts such as @BPGlobalPR. Using the hashtag #BPCares, this parody site responded to public outcry. This hastag caught on and eventually was used by others to enforce the parody.


Tweets using #BPCares

By June of 2010, the parody account @BPGlobalPR had 175,000 followers, and BPs actual account @BP_America had only 15,000. As expected, BP was displeased by these parodies and requested Twitter to remove the accounts. Unfortunately for BP, twitter has a policy that permits parady accounts. BP did “successfully” get the parody account to change their description. The author decided to change the description from “This page exists to get BP’s message and mission statement out into the twitterverse!” to “We are not associated with Beyond Petroleum, the company that has been destroying the Gulf of Mexico for 52 days.” (read more ) Twitter was not the only platform that they fell flat on. Facebook pages advocating the boycott of BP were getting more traction than BPs actual Facebook page. (read more)

Screen Shot 2016-10-01 at 6.05.19 PM.png

Boycott BP Facebook Page

When BP eventually did respond to the issue they spent over 50 Million on a television add. The slow reaction and media selection of BP’s response came off as a desperate attempt to “save face” not a genuine apology. Consumers took to social media to rebut this failed attempt. Famously, CEO Hayward attempted to apologize by saying, “I’m sorry. We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”

Looking back at this social media mess, BP has made some changes to their CSR initiatives. Their social media presence on platforms such as twitter has increased dramatically and they have bulked up the sustainability section on their website. Providing information regarding their impact, positive and negative.

They are using their social media presence to keep consumers aware of what they are doing in terms of worker safety and sustainability. If their CSR initiative is genuinely core to their business is very much still in question. After an environmental and public relations disaster like this, it is difficult to change consumer opinion. They have learned their lesson the hard way about CSR consumer engagement on social media.


The Ugly- Nestle and Palm Oil


On March 17th 2010 an environmental group Greenpeace launched an attack on Nestle for their use of palm oil. This campaign was launched on Youtube and publicized the forest clearing that results from the production of palm oil. The video contained a graphic depiction of a Kit Kat turned into bloody orangutan finger. This was meant to symbolize the effects of palm oil production on ecosystems. This video received over half a million views and was sited on many other social media platforms by outraged consumers. (read more)

Nestlé’s immediate response was to demand its removal on the basis of copyright infringement. Many consumers were asked to remove their profile photos of the Kit Kat logo that had been transformed to read Killer. Instead of squelching consumer response as Nestle hoped, it ignited it. It was at this point that Nestle pivoted their approach to solving this issue.


Angry Customers and Nestle

Phase two of Nestlé’s response was to suspend their palm oil sourcing and meet with Greenpeace. Together the organizations helped to vet sourcing options for palm oil and selected the most sustainable.  This situation also prompted Nestle to set up a “digital acceleration team” that is responsible for monitoring consumer sentiments on social media. This team uses all segments of the business to respond rapidly to consumer concerns, in order to avoid another catastrophe. (read more)

Nestlé’s Facebook and Twitter page that was once plastered with outraged customers, now regularly posts information regarding their initiatives. Their cover page even states their priority as “More Good in Food.” Nestle has also entered “round table” organizations and continues to work on ethically sourcing palm oil. They have a comprehensive outline of their palm oil policy on their CSR page.




The Best Defense is a Good Offense

The Good

Companies have learned from the public failings of others. The key to avoiding these public relations nightmares is to have a strong offense, engage your consumers before it is too late. Companies that are doing this effectively include Unilever’s Sustainability Lab. The Sustainability Lab is a public forum of experts from government, business, and NGOs. These experts help solve global issues revolving around Unilever’s business. They also invite consumers to get involved in the problem solving, and publicize their results via social media with the hashtag #sustainableliving. This mindset is referred to as Collective Action, which is also featured on their social media platforms. Another company that is engaging with the social media and CSR effectively is Campbell’s soup. Dave Stangis, the VP CSR officer, is regularly available on twitter to publicize the companies CSR programs, and personally address customer concerns.

Screen Shot 2016-10-01 at 8.17.16 PM.png

Unilever #SustainableLiving Tweet

Companies have grown significantly in terms of CSR and social media in the past decade. There is a greater respect for public opinion that has resulted from these examples. Overall companies now understand that in order to operate in a global community, they need to understand and honor the power of consumer opinion on social media.




  1. Great article! I can’t believe how careless some of these firms were in their gaffs early on, but it’s good to see they’ve learned and taught countless other companies lessons about corporate accountability in the 21st century. Hopefully this trend continues and leads to steeper consumer demands of firms.

  2. kdphilippi18 · ·

    Interesting post – I really enjoyed learning more about how different companies have handled these situations. It’s crazy to think that BP could have avoided a massive advertising campaign if they would have better managed and responded to their social pages. Most times – all it takes is for consumers to think they are being heard to avoid a PR nightmare. However, I think your point about whether or not BP’s new CSR initiative is genuine is also very true. If it is fake or forced, it won’t be successful with consumers regardless of how responsive they are.

  3. Wow, what a meaty post! I’m glad you could turn your former presentation into a great blog!

  4. bishopkh1 · ·

    Great post! Really interesting to see the contrast of companies doing PR well on social media and those who aren’t. It definitely emphasizes the need for companies to have teams dedicated to maintaining their brand on social media, especially in crisis times, like BP’s oil spill. It definitely says a lot about companies who chose to remain silent during times like those – consumers definitely remember it for years after.

  5. This is such a great post on the use of social media in crisis PR. In my business writing class last night we were actually discussing different corporate strategies for delivering “unpleasant news,” which can be as small as sharing the firing of an employee to managing the fall out from a security breach. The classic move was for the company to stay quiet until they gathered all information and could then deliver only an excerpt “as needed” to the public. Social media has really turned that on its head, because now people expect an immediate response to their inquiries during crisis time. A company can look even worse (untrustworthy, unresponsive, ignorant, etc.) if the news of said crisis breaks from an external source, like another Twitter user or blogger. I think you hit the nail on the head here with great examples about how social media was an asset in these crisis situations. Good job!

%d bloggers like this: