As Taco Bell proves, managing your social media campaign doesn’t have to be rocket science

The beginning of 2011 has brought to light just how volatile branded social media presences can be. On the one hand you have Lush’s unfortunate handling of their recent website hacking, and the resulting tsunami of negative feedback. On the other hand, you have Taco Bell’s equally combustible taco beef filler swell that barely got a mention online. Both stories highlight how brands’ social media strategies, or lack there of, resulted in case studies to learn from.

Lush’s misplacement of presumably thousands of customers’ credit card details highlights the increasingly complex customer relations driven online world. Whilst in itself the loss of more than three months’ worth of online credit card information is grave for any brand, what compounded the issue is Lush’s somewhat lacklustre response to its social media following.

Having identified the hacker’s attack on Christmas Day, Lush decided to see what happened (as if there was ever any doubt of the thief’s intentions) rather than inform its customers of the attack. As customers were informed 106 days after the initial attack, Lush’s official Facebook page offered some support and advice to its disappointed followers.

Indeed, Facebook offered the ideal environment for Lush users to share their horror stories of calls from the bank and suchlike – it seems the hackers were actively using the stolen information for their own January sale shopping. It is not yet clear why Lush chose to not limit their website sooner as they have now done by relying on PayPal’s evidently safer transactional systems. Perhaps the lure of a January revenue kick-start to 2011 proved to be too tempting.

Taco Bell, conversely, were honest and timely in their response. Faced with the breaking news that their taco meat contained a little more than just pure beef, Taco Bell grabbed the bull by the horns and addressed the issue.

It may have come as little surprise that their menu contains a little filler (read: oats and water, essentially). However, Taco Bell took the issue very seriously and immediately jumped on Facebook to reassure their fans of the facts; resulting in an appreciative and overwhelmingly positive reaction, the likes of which Lush can now only dream of right now.

These two differing outcomes to breaking, negative news illustrate the importance of having a social media strategy in place. What’s clear is that customers expect real-time responses when using channels such as Facebook from informed spokespeople. Do you have your emergency PR / crisis management strategy prepared? Facebook offers people, consumers, advocates and brand ambassadors the perfect soapbox when your brand is doing everything right. But when things go wrong, you need to ensure you have systems and processes in place to communicate openly and honestly with customers, which in turn will help to negate the impact.

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