Home > Advocacy, Breastfeeding > Response to PhD in Parenting about Nestle

Response to PhD in Parenting about Nestle

A blogger that I really admire and many of you follow too, Annie at PhD in Parenting, played a major role in the Twitter storm surrounding the Nestle Family blogger event.  How did one woman make such a big splash?  By standing up and asking her fellow bloggers one question really.  She asked them how they “feel about supporting a company that puts profits ahead of the lives and health of babies.
What followed was a fantastic series of questions presented to Nestle, which they, in turn, “answered”.  I use quotations because I can’t really say that double-speak is an answer.  She has provided the full text of this conversation on her blog and is finally nearing the end.  As she prepares to respond to their final message she is seeking comments from her fellow bloggers and I decided to offer my thoughts here.  Here is what she posted:

As a follow-up to the Nestle Family event and a lot of the misinformation and doublespeak that Nestle passed along to the bloggers, I decided to send them some follow-up questions.
The last question on the list was:

Moving forward, what steps do you plan to take to use social media and engagement with bloggers to get input into corporate policies and practices? Or are you looking to social media simply as a cost effective marketing tool?

Nestle’s answer to this question was:

We are always looking for ways to engage in meaningful dialogue with consumers and others interested in Nestlé. Certainly, engaging in social media will continue to be one of many ways we try to do that. We welcome ideas from you and your readers. We hope you’ll visit us at http://creatingsharedvalue.org to share your comments, opinions and questions.

I should also add, for context, that Nestle deleted its @NestleFamily twitter account and has directed people to send their questions to @nestlecsv instead.

What do you think?

What do you think of Nestle’s answer? What do you think of its track record surrounding the Nestle Family event? How do you think Nestle should be using social media?

So what do I think?  Is it possible for a company that has made no real attempt to offer true, honest, and verifiable answers to make any positive use of social media?  Is it reasonable for me to even think they could or should?

It is obvious to me that any corporation worries first about their bottom line.  If it hurts the stock or value, it isn’t good for the company.  But shouldn’t we be holding corporations to the same ethical standards that we hold individuals to in this world?  If a doctor or any person knowingly manipulated another human being in a way that caused them death or serious illness there would be an outcry against them.  We have become more upset as a nation about a man stealing life savings from people than we have about a corporation peddling formula to women who can’t afford it and can’t prepare it safely, knowing that after the free trials are gone, so is their own milk supply.  So, is it realistic to think they will change?  The skeptic in me says no.  But, is it OK to sit by and not say anything?  My whole heart says, NO!

I think that Nestle has proven through their interactions with this blogger that they are not interested in any form of “meaningful dialogue with consumers and others interested in Nestlé”.  Actions speak louder than words!  They are very willing to assign someone to communicate their talking points and attempt to save face, but not to have a true dialogue.  If they were really willing to sample the blogging community for input, they would have taken this opportunity and run with it. Instead they pulled the @nestlefamily  twitter account, as it was overrun with negative comments.  I truly believe that their involvement in social media will continue to be a safe and protected display of their company.  They will not ask difficult questions or offer real insight.  They will continue to spin the realities of what they are doing and pass blame and responsibility elsewhere.  And all the while, children will continue to die.  It will require governments to step up and create meaningful and supported legislation to get this company to do what they should be doing in the first place.

So, Annie, to answer your questions… Will Nestle use social media the way I think they should?  No, not at all.  They have proven that.  I think this event was evidence that Nestle is only interested in their bottom line, not in the lives of their consumers or the world they have such a large impact on.  I think that their answers were contrived and I agree that they were mostly double-speak and missed the heart of most of the questions.  I think that they will continue to use social media as only a marketing tool, not a platform for effective dialogue.  I think that they will continue to pretend that this unrest and boycott don’t truly exist.  And the saddest part for me, is that I don’t know how to change any of it.  I can choose not to support their company (which is very difficult when they own so much) and encourage others to do the same.  However, for me, the biggest change I can make is working towards a movement in our world that empowers women so that they do not need Nestle to do for them what they can naturally do themselves.  By supporting breastfeeding worldwide, by giving to causes that raise awareness and provide resources, I can make a difference.  The fewer women that use the formula that is pushed on them, the fewer babies that die.

So, I may not be able to change the culture of a company, but I CAN and WILL play a part in changing the culture of the world!


  1. November 19, 2009 at 7:59 PM

    I agree with you. Nestle isn’t interested in creating real dialogue. In fact, many companies are not interested in creating real dialogue using social media, they want to use them only for promotional purposes. The problem is that social media isn’t really a one-way promotional tool. If you are going to engage in it, then you need to be willing to open the conversation.

    The most shameful thing, for me, about the Nestle Family debacle is that this company encouraged and allowed bloggers to take the heat for them. Unpaid people, individuals, put themselves on the line for this company. That is even less acceptable from a social media standpoint. Step up to the plate, engage, and do it yourself, I say.

    • November 19, 2009 at 10:41 PM

      Most companies are not interested in the dialogue, but some are doing better than others. Here is a blog with a list of some companies that are making a difference in customer service by utilizing Twitter. These are definite #score stories as opposed to Nestle’s #FAIL story regarding using Twitter. And you totally nailed it, it is the engagement that sets these companies apart. Thanks for reading!

  2. Jen
    November 19, 2009 at 8:30 PM

    I am a sporadic Twitterer. But I did see a bit of this Nestle craze a while back. Thank you for defining it and for giving your time and energy and skills to sorting through it for me. I tend to be cynical. But I guess here I don’t need to be. I feel a kinship with you for your opinions. So I will think positively about what I can do to change things and not expect to find change from folks who are looking most to benefit their companies.

    • November 19, 2009 at 10:46 PM

      I am glad you could relate to my feelings on this issue. It is so difficult to see something so important and feel helpless. I feel like I am constantly bouncing back from the cynic to the starry eyed do-gooder. 🙂 Probably not a bad place to be since it keeps me realistic, but also eager to look for ways to do what I can. If you are interested in the Nestle issue in particular, Annie’s blog that is linked in my article is a wonderful resource since she did sooo much foot work to gather information. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

  3. November 20, 2009 at 4:15 PM

    Annie has handled the conversation from her end extremely well. I’m not at all surprised at Nestle’s behavior to date in this latest chapter of the saga. Same song, second verse a little bit louder and a whole lot worse sums it up in my opinion.

    I agree with you that it’s pretty futile to expect Nestle to do more than mouth platitudes our direction. I wonder if we can continue the conversation regarding the use of social media into how breastfeeding advocates can utilize social media to hold companies like Nestle more visibly accountable (to the general public) for their actions.

    • November 20, 2009 at 10:30 PM

      You are so right, Annie has done a tremendous job! She has such a commitment to seeing this to the end. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have known anything about this!! I love your quote “Same song, second verse a little bit louder and a whole lot worse”!

      And you are so right that we should continue to bring this information to the public through our own use of social media. In fact, I think I might write about that soon. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

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