Alex Steer

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Nestlé, Facebook and tone of voice

529 words | ~3 min

Less than 24 hours since it happened, there's been plenty of coverage of Nestlé's rather fatal decision to tell contributors to its Facebook fan page that their posts will be deleted if they use profile pics that are alterations of Nestlé logos or product. (The post was prompted by protests on the fan page about the use of palm oil in KitKat bars. See here for useful context.)

The post has prompted an absolute storm of hate messages on the page, and rightly so. Nestlé is, frankly, not a brand that enjoys an enormous amount of consumer warmth. Fairly or not, it is still haunted by the memory of the baby milk issue, for a start. So being all heavy-handed would never get a good response. Brands using social media have no more clout, nor any more right to lay down the law, than any other account-holder. If they want to be part of the conversation, they have to be prepared for that conversation to be pretty frank sometimes, and they can't assume they can control it. This is definitely not rocket science. What I'm saying is so well understood by marketers that it is tiresome to have to write it, and Nestlé should definitely have known better.

But this is not just a PR blunder. It's very damaging for Nestlé's brand because it shows that they are not in control of their tone of voice online. The following exchange (pinched with thanks from Digital Inspiration) shows that whoever was moderating Nestlé's Facebook page at the time felt able to get away with a tone of voice that was sarcastic, hectoring and aggressive:

Nestle Greenpeace Facebook social management

Tone of voice really matters, and so does consistency. Some brands do it really well and end up sounding really distinctive within their categories - think of Ben and Jerry's, for example, or the new campaigns from Tesco Mobile or Kotex. But even if you can't craft an ingenious tone, the least you can aim for is an engaging, friendly and inclusive tone that you carry across all your communications. Nestlé's website is a model of fairly bland but clear and inoffensive tone. Its Facebook page has destroyed a lot of that tonal equity in less than a day.

This tonal collapse will be costly. For now, it demonstrates a lack of foresight, and a fair degree of contempt not just for the contributors to its Facebook page (who are now showing contempt right back) but for the medium itself, implying that the brand can't be bothered aligning its tone with the rest of its communications output, and by extension that social media and the people that use it don't much matter.


# Alex Steer (19/03/2010)