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Social media is presently viewed mainly as an advertising platform, but that is changing. The rapid development of Web 2.0 is expected to have a profound impact on the relationship between consumers and businesses.

Ingredients manufacturers are involved in social media but appear to be missing the point. Their communications are directed at businesses or employees when they should be focusing on educating end consumers and driving ingredient demand.

Rising interest in ingredients

The efficacy of FMCG products is a key topic on social media sites, with consumers frequently writing reviews to share their opinions on various products. But even though ingredients can be directly linked to effectiveness, discussions about them tend to be limited to safety issues.

For instance, after coming under the scrutiny of pressure groups, Johnson & Johnson launched a website to educate consumers about its ingredients policy, aiming to reassure them about the safety of ingredients such as formaldehyde releasers, parabens, 1,4 dioxane, phthalates, triclosan and fragrances. The company is committed to removing or reducing the usage of some of these in its formulations. However, the website is not a two-way communication platform even though the company says it is interested in receiving feedback from consumers.

It is a shame that ingredients are mostly highlighted in negative comments about biological or environmental toxicity. And as we all know, negative publicity has more impact and is more memorable than positive coverage. Despite focusing on the bad aspects, the discussion phenomenon has shown broader consumer interest in the properties of ingredients. Thus, a more proactive attitude could actually benefit ingredients companies.

Ingredients manufacturers should be more involved in the dissemination of information on social media sites about the ingredients they produce. This represents an opportunity to turn negative feedback into positive comment. This could be achieved by raising consumer awareness and knowledge, with ingredients manufacturers having an educational role to play, supported by science. Ingredients manufacturers should identify sensitive ingredients and bring them to the fore before they come under scrutiny.

Beyond Facebook and Twitter

Large ingredients companies are active on Twitter and Facebook, which they use for announcements about social activities, sustainability initiatives, partnerships, financial results and the workplace environment. But, communication about new ingredient launches is sporadic.

There are exceptions, however, with BASF differentiating itself through activities on YouTube, Flickr and SlideShare, sharing science-related multimedia content, while Lonza runs science-related webinars on its Facebook page.

As well as using traditional social media, some companies have embarked upon innovative initiatives. Sephora runs an interactive website named “Beauty Talk” where consumers converse about various beauty products and have access to experts. Clinique, meanwhile, offers consumers the ability to chat live with beauty consultants.

Ingredients manufacturers should follow such initiatives and look beyond obvious platforms and forms of communication. They should also seek to interact directly with end customers and build “personal” relationships with them. It is time to stop delegating communication and control to fmcg manufacturers. Running forums, “borrowing” followers of big beauty and personal care companies on Twitter and directing some tweets at them and acting through blogs and opinion makers would help to achieve that aim. It would also be a good idea to create a new platform where they could talk directly to consumers and receive feedback. In doing this, they could promote their ingredients and influence ingredient demand.

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