By Michael Bishop
For some companies, social media can be more harmful than helpful. Some organizations use social media to gain support and popularity on popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Other companies’ ventures into the social media sphere don’t go quite as smoothly as they envisioned. The latest example? Intel. This week, the company shot itself in the foot via Facebook.
According to The Oregonian, a small protest petitioning Intel to support the Conflict Minerals Trade Act took place at Intel’s Ronier Acres in Hillsboro, Oregon on Monday. The bill would regulate the global trade of conflict minerals that has fueled the ongoing war in the Congo and has taken the lives of over 5 million people.
But what do conflict minerals have to do with Intel? Few people realize that high tech electronic companies use the valuable metals and minerals found in Africa’s mind in smart phones, laptops and other electronics.
Supplementing the physical protests, a grassroots campaign to gain support for the bipartisan bill made its presence felt on Intel’s Facebook page. On Tuesday, Intel’s Facebook page began being flooded with hundreds of comments asking the company to endorse this House Bill that would end the exportation of “conflict minerals”.
After the influx of activist activity on the Facebook page, Intel freaked out and deleted protestors’ comments. This really irked the activists and those participating in the conversations on Intel’s Facebook wall. Their voices were being silenced. Overnight, while the company continued to face growing scrutiny, it decided to repost all the deleted comments on its Facebook wall. However, by early Wednesday, Intel had disabled all comments and told its fans that it was in the process of creating a forum for this topic to be discussed. After Jonathan Hutson, of the Center for American Progress posted a blog about the issue on www.dailykos.com, Intel began allowing comments once again. Intel’s latest Twitter update links to a new statement on their corporate blog regarding the conflict minerals issue related to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Here’s a response to an Oregonlive blog about the conflict from Intel’s Kelly Feller.
Today we at Intel were reminded about the power of Facebook—and the effect of seemingly small acts, by both passionate advocates and by well-meaning social media employees.
We at Intel would first like to apologize for deleting some comments and temporarily shutting down our Facebook page for comments for a brief period of time this morning. I can tell you that our intent wasn’t to silence the valuable opinions of our Fans. In trying to remain sensitive to all our Fans, we often delete messages that are political in nature or could be perceived as spam (messages with the exact same language repeated, instead of ongoing conversation or dialogue). However we should have been more sensitive to the very important topic at hand. For that we are deeply sorry.
Facebook has given us human beings who work at Intel an amazing opportunity to connect directly with our Fans and customers. This has been tremendously rewarding for us personally. However because we are human we will make mistakes. Hopefully if our Fans have been to our Fan page before they have seen that we don’t have a history of deleting comments that are critical of our products, policies, or programs. We appreciate all perspectives and will continue to provide a forum for everyone to share their feedback with us. But I do hope folks will take this opportunity to add value to the dialogue and not simply repost the same message repeatedly. We love conversation and look forward to continuing that conversation.
Yet, no matter what statement comes forth from Intel from here on out, its decision to delete comments and silence protests in a public forum was an irreversible, well-publicized social media blunder. The foolish, panic-induced decision also makes it seem like the company was avoiding publically taking sides on the bipartisan bill that is now passing through the Congress. The damage has been done. The problem, conflict and Intel’s terrible resolution have already gone viral. That is the danger of social media. Word travels quickly and decisions are public and often irrevocable.
Sound familiar? Nestle had a similar “Facebook Fail” in March when Greenpeace launched a campaign against Nestle, claiming that Nestle was destroying the rainforest and populations of local people and orangutans. The battle took place on Nestle’s Facebook page and it quickly became very public and very ugly. Many other people got behind Greenpeace’s campaign and soon Nestle’s Facebook page was littered comments from activists and protesters who supported Greenpeace. Nestle’s Facebook administrator became pompous, sarcastic, snotty and rude. The administrator began specifically insulting certain people in the Facebook group while responding to these comments, which only added fuel to the fire. By the time Nestle could properly address the situation, it was too late. The ordeal popped up across thousands of blogs and Twitter trending topics. In the end, Nestle had to apologize. Now Nestle has publically taken steps to ensure people that its ingredients won’t harm the rainforest.
The activists won that battle and they will most likely win in this battle too. The conflict has gained attention and the protestors’ cause has gained support. See, it is not only companies and popular organizations using social media to good use; activists are using it to lobby for change.
Activism warfare through social media is here to stay. To generate change, activists are now using Facebook comments and wall posts to “politely hijack” the Facebook’s of powerful organizations and political figures. Facebook campaigns are frequently being organized to flood official Facebook pages with comments and petitions from activists. You can see it on Intel’s page now. The entire page is filled with comments asking them to support the Conflict Minerals Trade Act. You can also see it on Nike’s page. Facebook and Twitter have become cheap, extremely affective weapons for activism and change.
Organizations put themselves in jeopardy when they join social media communities. It is a high risk/ high reward situation. But as grassroots social media activism grows, companies and organizations that use social media need to be prepared to deal with public scrutiny and pressure that they may face from activists and protestors. If they are not prepared, conflicts like this and the Nestle case will arise. But if companies can defend themselves and communicate with activists and protestors in a respectful manner, they can really booster the reputation of said company or organization.
Oregonlive coverage of conflict: http://www.oregonlive.com/business/index.ssf/2010/05/intel_says_sorry_after_social.html
Jonathan Hutson’s article on Daily Kos: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/5/19/867896/-Intel-Freaks-Out,-Shuts-Off-Human-Rights-Protest-on-Facebook