Nestlé India and its instant noodle brand—Maggi, have been in the eye of the storm for the past few weeks.
The incident has created quite a stir on social media with reactions ranging from disbelief to outright outrage. Simplify360 has been tracking the conversations around the subject and found out that nearly 28 per cent of the more than 4.43 lakh mentions were looking from an assurance from the company.
Surprisingly enough, Nestlé took a long time to come out with a proper response despite nearly 19,000 mentions since the controversy broke. Even then, the reply came across as tame and far from convincing.
“It is just not a problem with Nestlé. Most of the brands lack a proper ORM (Online Reputation Management) strategy unlike the West where every possible crisis is considered and a response pre-decided between the management, the PR and the social media team,” opines Gautam Mehra, Business Head (Social Media) at iProspect Communicate2. According to him, the company committed a number of errors by trying to sweep it under the carpet, replying late, getting defensive and only then finally apologizing. “You have to be prompt, transparent and forthcoming, otherwise you will never be trusted,” he added.
“In today’s fast-paced digital world, where conversations happen every second, speed really matters. The fact that Maggi didn’t interact with its consumers on social media for two weeks since the controversy sparked off, only added to more speculations,” says Suveer Bajaj, Co-founder and Director (Media Operations) of Foxymoron.
The head of another social media agency, speaking on the condition of anonymity, agreed that ORM in times of crisis is difficult for all brands. According to him, the most important thing for Nestlé was how it would respond now. “They will need to build back the trust they have lost with customers. This has to be their primary objective,” he said.
As pointed out earlier, Indian brands have rarely shown a knack of handling these “social media crisis” and there have been a few over the years. The normal reaction is to adopt the “Ostrich” strategy.
On the flipside, when, last year, Amul found itself with a consumer complaint, it created a different kind of social controversy. Post the complaint, which was posted on Facebook, Amul behaved as a conscientious brand should and investigated the issue and posted a lengthy (and, perhaps, somewhat high-handed) explanation on Facebook. The company received plaudits from the online community, but the issue got murky when the consumer alleged that Amul had not been entirely honest in their explanation and might have actually tampered with screenshots which they had posted.
If it is true, then this shows a different side of the matter; that in their zeal to close controversies as soon as they spring, brands might resort to any means possible. Barring a few cases, social media management, which has become such an integral part of the ORM process is still something that Indian brands struggle with and this was apparent in Nestlé’s case too.
The reasons for this are myriad. At times, it does become difficult to respond immediately as there might be legal aspects that need to be thought about first. However, this does not account for the almost lackadaisical attitude that we have seen in some recent cases. Chetan Asher, Founder and CEO of Tonic Media also feels Nestlé should have been more nimble in responding to comments on social media.
“A little more proactivity in sending out the right messages would have helped them. Perhaps they could have made a video explaining their side of the story. The important thing in such cases is to be quick in putting across your point of view and then trying to amplify it (on social media) before the issue gains too much momentum,” he says.
On the CRM side, we have seen a number of brands make efforts to improve response time and customer conversation but this is still a rarity when it comes to crisis management. Asher believes that the way to solve it is by sensitizing the different internal teams (legal, PR, etc.) on the importance of responding quickly on social media.
This is something social media professionals we spoke to agreed with. For example, Bajaj was of the opinion that in such cases, an active approach from the brand is crucial. “Acknowledging the issue and being as transparent as possible, really helps in safeguarding consumer trust. Taking ownership and ensuring a corrective action can even turn the upset consumers into brand loyalists,” he added.