Nestlé achieve the highest ranking on our index thanks to both corporate and dedicated Twitter handles that are active on sustainability. This, combined with an approach that emphasises their partnerships has helped Nestlé gain recognition for its commitments.

Leadership driven by impact

The food and beverages giant, Nestlé, tops SB{influencers}100 thanks to two Twitter handles that are both active on nutrition, food security, agriculture and social issues combined with an approach that emphasises partnerships and commitments. These factors help them achieve the highest levels of interaction (such as favourites, retweets, shares, comments) seen in the index as well as an impressive audience reach.

Transforming reputation through social, one audience at a time

From being criticised for irresponsible business practices in the 1990s and 2000s, Nestlé have made strides in turning their reputation around. Social media has played no small part in this, as the company’s Digital Accelerators Team has been using social media 'listen, engage, transform and inspire' for issues management for a number of years. As noted by the Reputation Institute’s Nicolas Trad in a 2012 Reuters article, “They have a very strong reputation among the general public. However… perceptions of key opinion leaders – such as academics, regulators, nutritionists, NGOs and the like – are much weaker than those of consumers.”

Given their top ranking here – are we now in a position to say that Nestlé are winning over opinion leaders and therefore their most influential critics? Certainly the approach the company is taking appears to focus on this audience in particular.

Challenging communications that link back to the business purpose

In large part, the consistently strong engagement achieved is due to the Twitter account dedicated to their Creating Shared Value (CSV) sustainability strategy. This channel balances information on the company’s approach to material issues, broader industry initiatives the company participates in, alongside updates from live events. The corporate Twitter is less active on CSV, but plays a complementary role in regularly sharing commitments and key partnerships to an audience of more than 70,000. This suggests that the CSV programme forms a core component of Nestlé’s overall corporate communications strategy and one in which delivers reputation-enhancing value to the corporate brand.

When Nestlé make a commitment, people sit up and notice

What the Nestlé example shows, is the power of partnerships to increase legitimacy through association. Both the corporate and CSV Twitter channels highlight partnerships and NGO engagement, for example with Rainforest Alliance and Oxfam.

What surprised us is just how much these kind of posts spark interaction and engagement. During the six-month period analysed, the most shared piece of content was an announcement by @nestlecsv of an extended partnership with the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) – retweeted 239 times. The corporate handle’s retweet of the original tweet ensured the update was shared a further 200+ times. No other company we have looked at in our study has achieved this level of impact from a Twitter announcement of this kind.

Opening up and reaching more opinion leaders through events

Nestlé are one of a number of companies with well-known sustainability strategies that have hosted live events to engage stakeholders on material sustainability issues and crowd source solutions. For the CSV Forum in October, Nestlé used social media to expand the reach of the event. More than 150+ tweets on the day shared quotes and insights from speakers, and allowed input without controlling the conversation. Nestlé’s own content used the #csvforum hashtag both during the event and afterwards achieved an impressive average of eight retweets each.

Back to consumers: could Nestlé be more proactive to pre-empt scepticism?

Nestlé’s channel their CSV and sustainability communications through Twitter – and to a lesser extent, LinkedIn – their influence is limited to followers of these channels. On the other hand, with only a handful of relevant posts over the same six months, Nestlé’s Facebook is rarely used to discuss sustainability with consumers. This platform is also where the company is still criticised, as otherwise innocuous posts are frequently hijacked for specific campaigns in the comments. Hopefully, Nestlé can learn from its own success with talking to opinion leaders interested in CSV through Twitter, to engage in a similar, open and honest discussion with the public at large.