Red Cross and Taco Bell - A Social Media Dichotomy

steve olenski
Steve Olenski Sr Creative Content Strategist , Responsys

Posted on February 18th 2011

In a span of a few days, two major companies/organizations showed us how and how not to do Social Media... this is the dichotomy between the Red Cross & Taco Bell.

On February 15th the following Tweet appeared on the Red Cross Twitter account:


Needless to say this is not exactly the kind of message one would expect to emanate from the Red Cross.

Turns out Gloria Huang, a Red Cross social media specialist, inadvertently posted this from the Red Cross Twitter account, instead of from her own personal Twitter account as she had planned all along.

Huang blamed the gaffe on her lack of facility with Hootsuite and eventually Tweeted this from her personal account...


Now, instead of putting their head in the Social Media sand and trying to run and hide from their mistake, the Red Cross came clean, displaying openness and transparency at its finest...Image

To further demonstrate how a negative can be turned into a positive when people just come clean, admit their mistakes and yes, make light of them...


Dog Fish Beer not only acknowledged the incident, but they also asked their fans to donate to the Red Cross.

One final note... this is what the Red Cross posted to their blog about this whole incident...


And Wendy Harman, Social Media Director for the Red Cross, wrote this...

“We are an organization that deals with life-changing disasters and this wasn’t one of them, It was just a little mistake.”

This entire incident should be held up as Exhibit A as How To Do Social Media The Right Way...

As for How Not To Do Social Media, I give you Taco Bell, they of the now infamous "Where's the Beef?" debacle in which a lawsuit was filed over claims from a study that revealed that Taco Bell's "seasoned beef" contained less than 35% beef - with the remaining 65% of the "meat" being made up of water, soy lecithin, maltodextrin, silicon dioxide, anti-dusting agent and modified corn starch.

Personally, I think the anti-dusting agent is quite tasty, but I digress...

If you recall, Taco Bell went to the extreme of taking out full page ads in major newspapers around the country including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times... (click on the image to see the full ad)


Apparently that wasn't enough for the suits at Taco Bell as they recently announced the "World's Largest Taco Giveaway on Facebook" as some10 million people who "like" Taco Bell on Facebook will be gifted with a free taco.


So let me see if I got this straight...

You get sued based on claims that your beef is not in fact beef, at least not all of it...

You take out full page ads in major newspapers for what was surely a hefty sum trying to explain your side of the story...

You then decide to give away your food, for all intents and purposes...

This is wrong on so many levels it scares me... You do not under any circumstances try and "buy" back your customers' trust. This is NOT what Social Media is all about. It's about engaging your customers and the general consumer. It's about being open and honest with them at ALL times, i.e. the Red Cross.

It's not about using the platforms which Social Media provides to "change the subject."

You want to stand by your beef, as it were... fine. But don't try and sway the court of public opinion by offering up your food as some sort of mea taco or some sacrifical burrito...

Of course this being America, I'm quite sure the "World's Largest Taco Giveaway on Facebook" will be wildly successful. After all, this is the land of the free, right?

steve olenski

Steve Olenski

Sr Creative Content Strategist , Responsys

Named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review and a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred, Steve Olenski is a senior creative content strategist at Responsys, a leading marketing cloud software and services company, and a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Digital & Social Media Marketing. He can be reached via TwitterLinkedIn or Email

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I read the whole post, it was good, I agree, and LOLRedCross,

but what I really take away are the phrases "mea taco" and "sacrificial burrito." Those are going to be in my head all day, I might have to name a metal band after them.

Great read and huge props to Red Cross for owning the mistake they way they did. Indeed, behind the keys and the conversations are regular people. I think this shows that, like personal relationships, its best to be open and honest. Glad to know of this outcome :) 

Steve, I don't agree at all. You're comparing a disaster to an oopsie. If the comparison had been between Taco Bell's supposedly false claims about their beef and, hypothetically, the Red Cross grossly mismanaging funds or taking donations from the Mafia, I'm sure you will agree that the Red Cross' response would have been very similar to Taco Bell's. Taco Bell's food qualty is central to their reputation, as honest fund management is to Red Cross's. Surely any rational person reading the Red Cross tweet would realise it was the result of one person's mistake within a huge organisation. But Taco Bell's beef quality *is* the organisation. What were they supposed to do? Write a tweet: "100% beef, rlly! Come taste for urself#honestbell"?