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April 6, 2010

Social Media Protest Campaign Reveals Greenpeace Weaknesses

Campaign & Advocacy

Richard Telofski

 The recent social media campaign by Greenpeace against Nestlé sparked headlines around the world. It was widely viewed as a huge victory for the NGO and a humiliating rebuke of the Swiss food conglomerate. But there is another side to the story—the missteps of Greenpeace and their implications.

Greenpeace has long been at odds with Nestlé over allegations that the company is contributing to the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforest, exacerbating global warming, and destroying the habitat of orangutans. To promote the release of its exposé, “Caught Red-Handed: How Nestlé’s Use of Palm Oil is Having a Devastating Impact on Rainforest, The Climate and Orang-utans ,” Greenpeace called upon its supporters to engage in a direct action protest against the corporation’s usage of palm oil in its products. It posted on YouTube a satirical commercial of Nestlé’s “Have a Break” Kit-Kat ad, depicting an office worker treating himself to a candy bar that turns out, in the video, to be a bloody piece of orangutan finger. A digital conflagration ensued on social media sites that eventually spread to secondary spaces such as Twitter. All of this was well-documented in the online and offline media.

Much of that press focused on the weaknesses and mistakes by the campaign's target, Nestlé. The company did bungle its response. But Greenpeace made its own set of blunders, which I’ve detailed in a five-part series, “The Kit Kat Incident .” 

In part one, “The Kit Kat Incident and an Abuse of Power,” I explore how Greenpeace weakened its campaign by choosing the wrong social media “battle space” and how the NGO abused its power by having its supporters continue to attack Nestlé after the target had agreed to Greenpeace’s demands.
The second article, “Collateral Damage in The Kit Kat Incident ,” points out a potential Greenpeace misstep in the social media campaign’s target designation and raises the question of potential legal repercussions that could result from that mistake.

Is Greenpeace Research Reliable? ,” the third article in the series, discusses the basic research integrity of the Greenpeace report, “Caught Red-Handed.” Legitimate questions put the validity of the whole campaign into question.

In direct actions, NGOs often claim victory by pointing to an impact on a target’s common stock. The fourth article, “Greenpeace Chooses Wrong Success Indicator,” details how Greenpeace chose the wrong stock by which to demonstrate their social media campaign’s success.

The fifth article, “Greenpeace Did Not Influence Stock Price in The Kit Kat Incident ,” analyzes how no financial impact was made even upon the right stock.

Over the past twenty years, NGOs have increased their influence on both corporations and governments. The social media has magnified this trend. I call them “irregular competitors.” But as this series demonstrates, digital influence and campaigns can cut both ways.

Richard Telofski is a digital activism analyst, specializing in the actions of “irregular competitors” such as activists and NGOs, and how they impact corporations using online and offline media. He blogs regularly at www.Telofski.com .


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