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Nestle Digital Acceleration

At Nestlé – interacting with the online enemy

It looks like mission control: in a Swiss market town, an array of screens in Nestlé’s headquarters tracks online sentiment. Executives watch intently as California wakes up, smells the coffee – and says whether it likes it. This is the nerve centre of the company’s Digital Acceleration Team. By monitoring conversation about its products on social media – right down to “realtime recipe tweets” across the US – they aim to win over a sometimes hostile world.

Other companies, such as PepsiCo, Danone and Unilever, have exploited the opportunities to promote themselves online. But Nestlé is also concentrating on using social media for damage limitation.

Vilified for years for its sales of baby milk formula in developing countries, Nestlé today is confronting its critics online as protesters find newer targets, such as the company’s $7-billion a year bottled water business. The $200-billion food and beverage group set up its digital team a year ago, and says it has doubled spending on social media advertising in the last couple of years.

“People have been complaining about companies forever, but before they did it at the water cooler or at the bar,” said Bernhard Warner, co-founder of London-based consultancy Social Media Influence. “Now they are doing it online and spreading their complaints to disparate communities.”

Nestlé is not the only bottled water producer under fire. Others including Coca-Cola are also accused of undermining public water systems. Groups such as Boston-based Corporate Accountability International, a non-profit which originated in the protests against Nestle’s infant formula, have alleged for almost a decade that bottled water makers damage the environment when they extract the water, waste resources on bottles and shipping, and take what should be a common good.

The fight matters a lot to Nestle, as it’s the world’s largest producer of bottled water. Its brands include Poland Spring, Perrier and San Pellegrino and accounted for almost 8 percent of its sales of 83.6 billion Swiss francs in 2011.

In 2008 it ran an advertisement in Canada claiming that “bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world.” Campaigners in North America have nonetheless persuaded tens of thousands of people to sign a “Think outside the bottle” pledge to drink water from the tap, and pushed some U.S. campuses and municipal buildings to ban the bottled variety.

CODE RED

At HQ, Nestlé’s team of Digital Accelerators is tasked with “listening, engaging, transforming and inspiring.” Each member spends eight-month stints working in the space with a mini TV studio, rather like a busy newsroom or trading floor.

Pete Blackshaw, 47-year old head of digital marketing and global media, is in charge. On a recent weekday, the American and his staff of 30 to 40-year-olds were monitoring the online action on such topics as the latest cute dog photo on the Purina pet food website, or who was drinking Nescafe.

Blackshaw pointed to a map of the world showing California’s Twitter action. He also highlighted how the centre’s screens are set up to spot trouble.

“If there is a negative issue emerging, it turns red,” says Blackshaw, indicating a screen powered by software from Salesforce.com, which is also used by such brands as Dell computers and delivery company UPS. It captures millions of posts each day on topics of interest to Nestle.

“When there is a high number of comments,” Blackshaw adds, “it alerts you that you need to engage.”

That can mean a real-time online response from a team member – each has a small flag indicating their country of origin above their desk – or the team might pass an issue on.

Nestlé says it has strict ‘do’s and don’ts’ for how staff should respond online, including disclosing their relationship to the company if they discuss a product. At the same time, the team is inevitably making up some rules as it goes along.

The company does not pay bloggers for pro-Nestlé posts and follows industry ethics codes, disclosing any “consideration” it gives, such as providing product samples to online reviewers. Common tricks used by some public figures include faking – or purchasing – social network followers: California-based web security research firm Barracuda Labs estimates the average price for 1,000 ‘robot’ Twitter followers at $18.32 (Facebook fans are a pricier $35.59 for 1,000).

Nestlé does not purchase online popularity…..

Reuters: Read the full article

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