The challenge of control in the age of social media – Garnier, the Israel-Gaza conflict and the threat of boycott

How much damage has Garnier Israel done to the Garnier global brand through its local actions? (image source: http://www.deliberation.info)

Listen long enough to any communicator working for a multinational in an emerging market and they’ll touch on the issue of what is called ‘corporate’. The concept of centralized communications, of control being exerted from head office over global communications is understandable – corporations want to ensure that the message being disseminated is consistent with the aims of the company as a whole. Rather this than each country office doing as they wish, which may result in local messages which are not in alignment with the global communications.

Combine this with the reach and immediacy of social media, and the implications for going off-message can be explosive. Many brands have been implicated in the recent Israel-Gaza conflict, and issues such as this have the ability to polarize opinion, particularly online where millions have been expressing their support for and anger with one side or the other.

While many of the brands who have been targeted by Pro-Palestinian groups advocating for boycotts have in effect kept their own counsel and said nothing (with the exception of Starbucks which took the step of reiterating that it neither operates in Israel nor supports the Israeli army), Garnier was caught out by its local operations.

Halfway through the conflict Garnier Israel had donated 500 gift packs to StandWithUs, an Israeli advocacy group which promotes the country to the world through social media. During July and August StandWithUs also undertook a number of domestic initiatives such as providing gift packs to soldiers on the front line and in support functions.

First, StandWithUS donated the 500 gift packs from Garnier to a group of female Israeli soldiers. The organization then promoted the handout on its social media channels (most prominently on Facebook), with the following comments:

“We are honoured [sic] to be delivering these “girly” care packages for our lovely female IDF fighters!

Today’s delivery of care packages was stocked with thousands of products for our girls protecting Israel. They even received facial soaps and minerals, so they can still take care of themselves, eve while defending the country.

Shout out to the Garnier Israel|גרנייה for the amazing donation of facial soaps, minerals and deodorants!”

Unfortunately for Garnier, the post was quickly picked up by Pro-Palestinian social media goers. As the UK’s Independent newspaper noted on Saturday the 9th of August, the Facebook post alone had been shared over 22,000 times and had garnered 3,000 comments, most of which were calling for a boycott of Garnier products. The post has also inspired a hashtag, #BoycottGarnier, calling for consumers to shop buying the brand. Even Garnier’s own brand ambassador to the Arab World, Hind Sabry, took to the media to voice her displeasure at what had happened. The Independent curated some of the reactions to the post which I’m including below.

A week after the now-infamous post Garnier USA released a comment distancing itself from the donations by Garnier Israel (have a look below). But, is this too little, too late? In a globalized world of brands which are commonplace in every country on the planet and which need to appeal to as many consumers as possible, what can companies do to ensure that the action of local entities doesn’t harm their global image when it seems that nothing can be communicated to an external audience in private?

“Garnier values peace and harmony and has a strict policy of not getting involved in any conflict or political matter. The hand-out of about 500 products was part of a local retailer initiative. This was managed strictly at local market level and we are very sorry if anyone was offended,” Garnier’s Corporate Communications Director Ms Kerr said.

In the age of social media, the assumption has to be that if the message is going to alienate a specific stakeholder group, then just don’t put it out there, period. For corporations the size of Garnier, that’s easier said than done.

PS To make matters even worse, Garnier’s apology has reportedly upset Israelis who have now vowed to stop buying the company’s products according to the Times of Israel.

This Eid, are our words enough or should we do more?

I love Eid, the name given to the two major Muslim festivals. Eid one of those times that reminds me of Christmas or Easter. It’s a time for family, for giving and for being with those that you love. But this year, I’ve not been feeling the same festive spirit. Maybe it’s due to the three-year-long conflict in Syria, which has claimed over 170,000 lives? Maybe it’s the news coming out of Iraq, where one of the world’s oldest civilizations, is on the bring of being torn apart by religious fanatics and sectarianism. Then there’s Libya, where the population has found itself at the mercy of the numerous militias who remained armed and in control after the fall of Gaddafi. And finally, there’s Gaza.

During Eid, it’s customary to wish others a wonderful year ahead; we say to one another, “may every year find you in good health.” This year, I feel the need to do more. In this region, we often feel the need to blame others for our troubles. However, we have to start rolling our sleeves up ourselves, and doing what we need to do to make our region better, for everyone in it.

We have to work towards opening ourselves up and not just tolerating but accepting and embracing those who are different. We should help to educate others, to pass on to them the skills that they will need to find a job and build a career. We need to raise our voices, and tell our governments to work together for the interests of the entire region rather than a select few.

There’s many things that need to be done, and the best people to act are us. For too long we’ve relied on others to help, be it governments at home or abroad. This Eid, I am going to act and volunteer more for the causes that I believe in. I will raise my voice as often and as loud as I can do for those that have been silenced. And, I will donate to charities and organizations that are on the ground and that I know are making a difference.

I hope that these actions, though not much, will make some difference to others. This Eid, what are you doing? Do you feel the same, and, if so, will you join me and turn your words into actions? Let me know.

#GazaUnderAttack – using Whatsapp to begin a social media campaign

As you’re on the internet reading this, I’m assuming that you’re aware of the events unfolding in Gaza and Israel. Social media has become part of the campaign on both sides to raise awareness for what is happening.

As of 11pm Gaza time, a campaign has begun on Twitter to talk about what is happening in Gaza and spread the word, using the hashtags #GazaUnderAttack and #PrayForGaza. What’s fascinating is that those behind the campaign have used Whatsapp to spread graphics on the campaign a couple of hours before it began. The tactic should have allowed the organizers to spread the awareness as quickly and as quietly as possible, to group their supporters and get them active on Twitter all at the same time. In essence, you’re creating a wave of support online, without anyone on the other side being forewarned.

I’ll be watching this intently, in the hope that that the two sides call a ceasefire as soon as possible. I for one hope that #GazaUnderAttack can be a force for good, to stop the suffering.

The #GazaUnderAttack image was spread via Whatsapp before the campaign was launched on Twitter

The #GazaUnderAttack image was spread via Whatsapp before the campaign was launched on Twitter

Social media and diplomacy – @IsraelintheGCC, Israel’s virtual embassy in the Gulf

The launch of the @IsraelintheGCC twitter account is a cheap but potentially effective media channel for the Israeli government

The launch of the @IsraelintheGCC twitter account is a cheap but potentially effective media channel for the Israeli government

No matter your political persuasion, you have to admit that the Israelis are an ingenious bunch. Their latest idea is a simple concept, a virtual embassy for a part of the world where there’s little/no Israeli State presence, the Gulf. Israel, which doesn’t enjoy official diplomatic relations with any of the Gulf states, has launched a ‘virtual embassy in the Gulf’ through Twitter. The account, which is named @IsraelintheGCC, aims to “open lines of dialogue” with people living in the Gulf according to a report by the UAE-based English-language daily Gulf News. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, the person behind the idea is Yoram Morad, Director of the Department of Digital Diplomacy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel.

Not unsurprisingly, Israel has always faced challenges when trying to communicate its point of view to its Arab neighbours. However, that hasn’t stopped the State from engaging various mediums to argue for its policies. Israel launched an Arabic-language television channel in 1994 following the announcement of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The establishment of the @IsraelintheGCC twitter account follows news of a potential re-engagement between the Israelis and Palestinians as well as mounting pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment programme.

It could be argued that Israel has been much more active than the Arab states in terms of communicating its key messages – there were plans to launch a Hebrew-language channel in Egypt as of last year according to the Christian Science Monitor, but I haven’t heard much in the way of an actual launch.

The messaging employed by @IsraelintheGCC, which is being run by the Twitter account of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, would appear to be aimed at propagating a more diplomatic tone than that of Israel’s internal politics. The account, which has tweeted 21 times to date, has only quoted the country’s Prime Minister twice (its fair to say that Bibi Netanyahu wouldn’t win many popularity contests in the Gulf), but it has talked about social media in the Arab world, sustainability issues, and wished followers a Ramadan Kareem. The one time Netanyahu has been quoted was in relation to European sanctions on the Lebanese organization Hizbollah which isn’t well liked in the Gulf due to its pro-Iranian stance. There are tweets in Arabic too. Have a look at some of the posts below.

Over the past couple of years social media has allowed companies, politicians and celebrities to directly bypass the media and reach out directly to anyone that wants to listen. Now the same can be said of social media for States who, for diplomatic reasons, cannot establish a physical presence. I’ll be following the account, and am looking forward to seeing how long this project lasts, how much dialogue it generates and how successful it becomes for the Israeli government.