Peter Blackshaw

Title: Head of digital and social media
Company: Nestlé
Size: 220.08bn Swiss francs market capitalisation; 333,000 employees

INSIDE OUT: When a social vision is healing

When Nestlé hired Peter Blackshaw in 2011 to be its global head of digital and social media, the Swiss food and beverages giant was in the middle of a social media firestorm.

Nestlé, whose products include baby food, dairy products and chocolate, had been accused by environmentalists of using palm oil from companies that were decimating Indonesian rainforests. Its initial response to the criticism—asking YouTube to remove an anti-Nestlé video and warning some Facebook users against posting altered Nestlé logos­—only fanned the flames.

Mr Blackshaw, age 49, had just the right background to help Nestlé reverse course. In 2000, he founded, a website that allows consumers to communicate directly with companies about their products. In 2004, he co-founded the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association. The title of his 2008 book summed up his outlook: Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today’s Consumer-Driven World.

Nestlé eventually agreed to stop buying the palm oil, but the company had suffered a public bruising. Mr Blackshaw resolved to harness social media to improve Nestlé’s relationship with consumers—and change how it did business.

He created a Digital Acceleration Team, or DAT, to train Nestlé employees to make better use of digital tools and monitor all social commentary about the company using special software. The team is tasked with “listening, engaging, transforming and inspiring”, he told Reuters in October 2012. The DAT software captures millions of posts each day on topics of interest to Nestlé. “If there is a negative issue emerging, it turns red,” Mr Blackshaw said.

Nestlé became an active participant online. “Nestlé sells 1.2bn products every day across the globe, and a growing percentage of our brands are supported by digital initiatives,” Mr Blackshaw said at the Ad:Tech New York conference in November 2013. “We produce about 1,500 pieces of original content a day on Facebook alone, and 50% of our Nespresso capsules are sold online. Our brands have a total of 180m fans on Facebook, and that’s growing 5-7% per month.”

In 2013, Nestlé set up an innovation outpost in Silicon Valley to be closer to digital developments. The company is also seeking strategic partnerships with innovative businesses that can help it to better understand consumers’ needs and respond to them more quickly.

As part of this effort to drive internal change, more than 200,000 Nestlé employees now use social tools to work more effectively. The DAT operation produces training videos for Nestlé operating units and oversees an internal social network that helps employees find and work with peers with similar interests. Blogging is encouraged, and the firm has installed DigiTube—its own internal video-sharing system.

Social technologies are “shining new light on ‘informal power’”, concluded Mr Blackshaw in a May 2014 Advertising Age column. Not only can consumers now make or break a company, but previously unsung insiders can shine and make it stronger. Nestlé’s internal social platform “is creating new dynamics of influence”, he said. “Lesser-known voices are rising to the top on the strength of great ideas and new skills, from collaboration to sharing.”





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