Monthly Archives: October 2009

NestleFamily, breastfeeding and social media

I have a great amount of data from the recent NestleFamily twitterstorm. Luckily, I was able to see the storm coming. As a few of the attendees began tweeting about meeting up a few days prior to the start of #NestleFamily, I could see that there was going to be some fallout. My interest had been piqued a few months earlier with the Nestle “What’s for Dinner” junket that received some backlash (which I was a part of, albeit briefly).

Even though I was prepared for it, I doubt anyone saw the enormity and longevity of the community’s outrage. The tail of it is still going. This was a key happening on Twitter, and it had far more impact than the Motrin Moms speedbump. I would argue that Twitter’s community has morphed again as a result. Focus on the types of junkets mommy/daddybloggers who call themselves “PR friendly” accept, and what it says about who they are doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There were real responses from the community. Many negative. This great post by cynematic discusses this responsibility further.

My research

I manually copied thousands of tweets using the #NestleFamily hashtag. I also created an online survey that people were invited to complete during the twitterstorm. I’m very excited to have that data. The 66 completed responses are authentic, grabbed at the time it was all happening, and the qualitative survey responses are about as true to real emotion as you can get – people were telling me what they were doing at the same time as doing it. That’s not easy to get when questioning people about their about online activity. When I write it up it will be a chapter in my thesis, and probably a paper/conference presentation as well. I’m going to write up a short version of the results and post it here on my blog soon.

The most positive outcome has been the amazing work done by Annie, aka @PhDinParenting, who took the opportunity to ask some very pointed questions of Nestle. Nestle has been responding to her questions, so good on them. And Annie has posted their responses in the best, most transparent means possible. She then adds her own analysis and research, with links that are exhaustive, informed and inspiring. It is her work that represents the future of real journalism. It’s why I say that the future of journalism is social.

My question to Nestle

I kept largely out of the limelight on this twitterstorm so as not to taint the data I was collecting. I did, however, want to find out Nestle’s views on the dismal rate of breastfeeding in the USA. Nestle promotes its substitute milk in the USA, and with the USA’s very low rate of exclusive infant breastfeeding at 6 months of age, I wanted to find out what they thought about it all. I submitted the question as follows:

As a premier substitute baby milk manufacturer and marketer in the USA, I’d like to know what your opinion is about the fact that the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the USA lies at just 12%, when the WHO says it recommends 100% exclusivity for the first six months.

Your Nestle site states that WHO is the “gold standard” so I’m assuming you would agree this statistic is troubling.

Why do you believe this statistic exists? Do you think it can change? And if so, how?

It took a few weeks (I think Nestle lost my question, and then located it when I enquired again about their response), but their response is here:

Thank you for contacting us. We apologize for the delay in our response and we appreciate your patience.

At Nestlé Nutrition we support the positions of the American Academy of Pediatrics and WHO that exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of age is best. The most recent statistics from the 2008 CDC Breastfeeding Report Card (2006 data) show that the national average from exclusive breastfeeding is around 13.6%, which is below the Health (sic) People 2010 goal of 17%.

According to the CDC Infant Feeding Practices Study (IFPS) II (http://www.cdc.gov/ifps/ , there are many reasons why mothers might stop breastfeeding, ranging from difficulty with sucking and latching to worries about producing enough milk. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/122/Supplement_2/S69#T2

We believe that optimal infant health is truly the goal and we advocate for more infant feeding support and education for mothers, regardless of whether they breastfeed, formula feed or both.

We are encouraged by the improvements reported in breastfeeding initiation and duration and will continue our efforts to educate and encourage mothers to give their babies a healthy start. That includes providing education and resources for her, and if she cannot or chooses not to breastfeed, or chooses to supplement her breastmilk, we provide high quality, iron-fortified infant formula-the only safe and healthy alternative to breastmilk.

Robyn Wimberly RD,LD.
Nestle Nutrition Contact Center

So there you go. I have my own thoughts on this response. The final paragraph, to me, is just disgraceful – it’s written very poorly. It seems to be saying that Nestle’s substitute formula is the only “safe and healthy alternative to breastmilk.” I know that those words “safe and healthy” are definitely not something I agree with. But I’m a breastfeeding advocate, ex-journalist and PR queen, and am used to spin. I have done the research. I know what I know and have made up my own mind. The US Government has initiated the Healthy People plan, but where breastfeeding rates are concerned it is failing – and it doesn’t reflect the WHO “gold standard” referred to on Nestle’s own site. There are holes all over this response. The last paragraph made me wince. I think Annie does a brilliant job of dissecting these responses and calling out the holes. I’m not going to do that here. I recommend you read all of Annie’s work, and if interested in more, you can read my short research blog piece on Breastfeeding in America, see the Ignite presentation, or email me for the full papers to see how the numbers stack up. And then make up your own mind.

So what does all this mean?

Now, I know that this storm has ended up being thrown in the “too hard” basket by many people on both sides of the fence, as well as those who sit on top of that same fence. Statistics are being used pragmatically. Manipulation of data is rife. There’s aggravation, and it becomes personal for many who feel attacked by even discussing it. For many, it sucked the ‘fun’ out of Twitter.

But the fact is, this milestone proved the resilience of the microblogging community. It’s opened a conversation that will bind the community even more solidly. It’s given us a view of people that we didn’t know before. People to both connect with, disconnect from, and understand better, even if they disagree with us. If Twitter were really nothing more than messages about eating candy and frozen dinners, then this storm wouldn’t exist. People have taken it upon themselves to get better educated about something they might not have known about before. They were provided links and questions. They had the opportunity to follow up, and go deeper into the issues than they have ever been led by mainstream media, and Nestle ended up without the buffer of media to spin their messages to.

Key Learnings

For the community: Mainstream media is no longer an excuse for not knowing about stuff. The depth of information you have is up to you and your attention span. That’s a hard responsibility to own. In Nestle’s case, I congratulate anyone (including some attendees) who tried to find out more information or followed it up, no matter where you ultimately sit on the ‘issues’. I challenge those who simply sought an easy path and blindly continued tweeting Nestle-friendly inane statements on Twitter, without addressing any of the twitterstorm. It won’t, in the longer term, help your credibility in the community. The really influential people in this equation can be easily identified. And that’s awesome.

For companies: You don’t get to own your messages any more. Social media represents a revolution, not an evolution. It’s another tool in your promotional strategy, but you have to be ready for the real conversation. The one where your comments get called on. The one you don’t direct. And you will never have the last word unless the community deems it to be okay.

The three steps to being influential in social media

To be influential in social media takes effort. It doesn’t just happen. You can’t buy it. It’s not advertising.

So if that’s what it’s not, how can organizations and people get to be really influential? Here are the steps to influence. When you and your brand get it right, that’s when you get to influence others.

Find Relevance

Your first mission is to produce content that is relevant to the people you’re seeking to influence. That sounds pretty obvious, but so many people and companies don’t really have a great snapshot of their target market. They’ve spent so long with basic demographics that are ballpark indications of who their market is that they’ve lost touch with the real personalities of these people. In social media we’re no longer talking about eyeballs, or about mass market publications that look after great big segments of a market. Instead, you’re looking at individuals. Yes, those individuals tend to move in packs – they’re communities of similar people. And those communities have some people with bigger voices. But that can change in an instant, and one bigger voice doesn’t mean they influence everyone in that community. They are individuals first and they are all powerful. Some will love your brand, others won’t care much, and others might detest your brand. Spend some time working out who they are, what their interests are, and what they really think before even trying to produce content for them. Be relevant.

Find Resonance

Readers of my blog know I love to talk about resonance. You can create all the good quality content in the world but if it’s not hitting the mark and connecting with people in a solid way, you’re not getting social media right. It’s a massive error to think that simply creating good content leads directly to influence. You need more than that. You need to produce content that makes people talk about you. Retweet you. Post the article to their Facebook account or write about it on their blog. When they do that, they’re demonstrating their personal involvement with your content, and that’s what you want. Not just for the eyeballs to hit your page, but for the message to be meaningful to them. To the extent that they’ll tie their name to it and go talk about it elsewhere.

You need to create resonance.

One caveat here, particularly for brands and companies running them, is to be aware that to achieve resonance you need to really understand your audience, and remember everything you say reflects on your brand. I wasn’t kidding before with step one. These people have opinions, are smart, engaged and want to work with others in this space – but don’t think you can control the conversation or give half-assed engagement or try to pretend you’re not the person representing the brand, even if that’s not your intention. A great example is the furore surrounding Nestle right now on Twitter. The good news is that while you’ll get called out for crappy behavior of any kind, the social media community wants you to get better. They will celebrate with you when you do, and they’ll be your loudest proponent. If you really listen, and really work with the community instead of trying to manipulate it you’ll get there and find resonance (I’m kinda hoping Nestle eventually realises that.)

Nirvana – Influence

When you’ve achieved the first two steps, that’s when you can seek to be influential. And you’ll see results. You can invite people to play with your new stuff and be confident that because you have resonance with them, the brand will be welcomed enough for people to want to try it out.You can be a thought leader. You can gain a few minutes of peoples’ time to talk about stuff, and they’ll really listen to you.

It doesn’t matter if you have a personal brand or the biggest brand on the planet. Everyone wants to be influential. Using social media is a great way to discover influence through resonance with a target audience you may have forgotten. Rediscover people. Don’t treat social media like other forms of promotion. It still sits in your toolkit, along with other areas like advertising and sales promotion, but it works differently. Get it right and you’ll find the opportunities you are looking for, with the people who matter most.

Barnum’s Zing Zang Zoom is still ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’

PT Barnum is recognised as being one of the heavyweight players in the history of advertising. He was also the father of personal branding. While you may not agree with his tactics, he has inspired masses of advertising practice and his stamp remains.

Any time you see something promoted as “jumbo” size, that word comes from Barnum. The term “white elephant” is also his. The story goes that Barnum had found success with a circus that included elephants. A competitor, trying to outdo him, got hold of a rare white elephant for his circus. Barnum’s response was to whitewash one of his own elephants and advertise the life out of it, not only eliminating the “unusual attraction” the competitor had, but also reducing the reasale value on the rare elephant itself.

Barnum’s the father of hype. He’s the guy that began the whole idea of the limited edition. The panic of missing out. He said “Once in a lifetime opportunity.” “Be the first to see…” and “Last time ever!” Think of all those music artists doing their ‘final’ tours. They leverage that messaging. It creates a sense of urgency.

Some of the more ugly aspects of Barnum’s advertising involved the sideshows and unusual freak shows he liked to use with his circus. He’d attract people to see the bearded ladies, the midget called Tom Thumb, and the dog-faced boy, to name a few. He sought to profit from the abnormalities of others. He saw that people would pay to see it, and he made the most of that opportunity.

Barnum is world-reknown, even today. He created The Greatest Show on Earth! And that name has stuck through all these years. Even in Australia we know of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Of course, these days it looks a little different to the Barnum circus of old. There are still elephants, but they’re not painted white and in fact the circus has its own Center for Elephant Conservation.

Happily, I was invited with my kids to experience the Barnum and Bailey, Ringling Bros. Circus here in Denver courtesy of Feld Family Entertainment. I really wanted to see what this world-famous circus was like. Having animals in a circus today is still controversial, so I chatted with some friends beforehand and was really very pleased when I believe about 80% of the circus acts were not animal related at all.

I remember being brought up with Disney stories and Little Golden Books where the elephant in the circus is unhappy. These elephants were lovely to see. And they smelled of animal wash. They smelled a lot. So did the tigers for that matter. I’d happily help wash an elephant, but you can sort someone else to do the tigers thanks.

The boys and I had a really great evening at the Circus. There was one reference during the show to the Big Top, but we were in the Denver Coliseum, so part of the magic of that is lost. I did expect sawdust and perhaps to be a little closer, but the acts were spread all around the “ring” so it meant we got a good view and for some things we were really close up. While Harry was sitting there hoping someone would fall (he’s 11 and he’s a boy), Charlie was just loving all the circus antics. They loved the dog tricks in particular – which reminded Charlie of our own dog training experiences – and the humour of the tigers and trainer had him in giggle fits.

It really was an evening out for the boys and I that we enjoyed thoroughly. Charlie was asking the next day if we could go again, he enjoyed it so much. A tip if you’re going to head down there, is to of course eat well before you go. Eating at Denver Coliseum means you get really crappy food for an incredibly expensive amount of money, and of course they don’t let you take in your own food. To save you some money, you know I’m a coupon queen, so thanks to Feld, to finish up the post I’m giving you a discount code so you can get in cheaper when you book your tickets through ticketmaster. The show runs until October 11. You can see all the details here at Ringling.com and scroll to the bottom here to see another video we took on the night, of the female human cannonballs!

Ringling Bros. Coupon Code Details

  • The coupon code is MOM — four tickets for $44 Monday-Friday, and $4 off tickets for all weekend performances.
  • The tickets can be purchased from ticketmaster and by entering the MOM code in the “MC promotion” box when purchasing tickets.
  • Minimum purchase of 4 tickets required; additional tickets above 4 can be purchased at $11 each during the week and $4 off on weekends.
  • Offer not valid on Circus Celebrity, Front Row, or VIP seating.
  • Cannot be combined with other offers. Service Charges, facility & handling fees will apply .