Responding to (and Preventing) Social Media Scandals


Even when you’ve developed a winning strategy for your business, you are still vulnerable to social media scandals. Case in point: Taco Bell’s most recent social media controversy. Let’s review why Taco Bell’s social media strategy generally works, what happened to jeopardize this strategy, and how the fast food giant is recovering from the scandal.

Social Media Ringing All the Bells

This isn’t the first time that Taco Bell has graced the pages of Technology Therapy’s blog. In January, we tipped our hats off to Taco Bell’s excellent customer service on social media when they fulfilled a unique fan request on Facebook. Not only do they have an exemplary response rate to customer comments and requests, Taco Bell truly “gets” their audience and posts content that is compelling to them. They use social platforms to create buzz about new and returning menu items, most recently the Beefy Crunch Burrito and to post engaging images of their products. They’re also famous for making pop culture references with which their young target customers connect, such as the nod to The Hangover in the post below.


Controversy Coming of Its Shell

On Sunday, June 2nd an unsettling photo surfaced on the tex-mex chain’s Facebook page. The image captured an ungloved employee licking a stack of taco shells. Though the origins of the photo are hazy, it has since gone viral, with a new Facebook fan posting or commenting about the photo on the brand’s page every few minutes. It’s clear that Taco Bell did not condone this photo or the behavior it depicted, making the brand the perfect example to show that you do not have control over everything posted on social media about your company. Your customers and employees can post things that reflect poorly on your business and swift responses are crucial when these situations arise.

Shelling Out Apologies

Fortunately, Taco Bell quickly responded to this disrepute. The company released a statement on their website on June 3rd to address the issue, explain how it arose, and detail their actions following the photo’s release. The brand began by stating that their, “food handling procedures are strict and [they] have zero tolerance for any violations.” They then broke down exactly why the photo was taken and how it was released:

“The taco shells were used for training in March before we launched a new product, and were in process of being thrown out. Two employees, however, used them to take a photo for an internal contest in which company and franchise employees could submit for approval photos of themselves enjoying their first bite of the product. The contest had clear guidelines about what was acceptable and unacceptable. This image was clearly unacceptable – it violated the rules and spirit of the contest, and the employees never submitted it. But an employee posted it on a personal social media page in violation of the franchisee’s policies, and it emerged online in social media.”

Finally, Taco Bell assures readers that the compromised taco shells were never served to any customers and that the employee shown in the photo is no longer employed by the company. They have also made a concerted effort to respond to each and every social media comment addressing fans’ concerns and pointing them to their statement.

We admire Taco Bell, not only for swiftly acknowledging the issue, but also for explaining the detailed steps they took to rectify the situation and for taking the time to reply to each customer’s concerns. And judging from their Facebook page, it seems that many diners agree with us.


The Need for a Social Policy

That being said, while a quick and truthful response is good, preventing social media scandals is better. There are steps that businesses can take to minimize the risks of your employees misrepresenting your company on social media. The first of these steps is creating a social policy for your company. This policy will set clear expectations for how your employees should interact with and represent your company on social media. It should also lay out specific consequences for violating these rules, acting as a deterrent to prevent employees from posting negative content.

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