Yet another important development through the merciless tendencies of social media – this time being used negatively to tarnish a big brand’s online reputation. The target is popular Swiss food company Nestle, and the social media bully is Greenpeace.

For two weeks the Greenpeace online army has been driving negative sentiment towards the brand, encouraging users to “boycott Nestle” due to the company’s involvement in purchasing palm oil from an Indonesian company that has been accused by Greenpeace of the mass destruction of rainforests in the pacific that are home to endangered Orangutan populations.

The anger against Nestle ignited when a Greenpeace report was released depicting a parody of the infamous ‘Kit-Kat’ brand logo, which has been doctored to read ‘Killer’. This logo has been brandished all over the web in the past two weeks, in conjunction with a graphic YouTube parody that entails a morbid display of a man “Having a break” with his Kit-Kat. When he proceeds to open it, he pulls out what appears to be an Orangutan finger and starts to chew on it.

Nestle has since made formal complaints to YouTube about the defamatory nature of the Green Peace video, but the copies continue to surface on YouTube and elsewhere on the web.

It’s getting pretty nasty for Nestle, and as the vilification of their brand continues, it is abundantly clear that their public relations efforts via their social media platforms are only rubbing salt in the wound. The biggest mistake the company made was to attempt to go authoritarian in the governance of their Facebook page by threatening users with fan page deletion if they were seen with any branded logos in their profile pictures.

It seems that Nestle’s PR disaster contingency plan has since been put in place… but I think it took them a while to get something in effect (which might suggest that they never had one in the first place?). If you look at it now, the company’s Facebook fan page is now littered with various links to articles aggrandising green initiatives, public statements relating to the company’s decision to abandon the supplier of the palm oil and their intentions to address an alternative source to palm oil.

But the damage has already been done. Big brands are the most volatile when it comes to negative sentiment online. The company failed in its duty to properly educate staff about public relations online and the ‘ripple’ effects of the social web. As the company goes into damage control and tries desperately to salvage any positive reputation it will be interesting to see how long it will take Nestle to recover from such a debacle.