Whether your business has 100 followers or 100,000 fans, you’ve probably already realized that your community needs to be cultivated – and monitored – on social media channels weekly, if not daily.
Recent news about the Taco Bell class-action lawsuit, which was filed against Taco Bell for “misrepresenting the contents of its beef,” is nothing surprising. I’m sure most customers don’t expect they are eating wholesome, organic meals at Taco Bell. However, it’s not the lawsuit that is interesting here; it is the way that Taco Bell warded off a potential crisis by being proactive and effectual on social media.
Taco Bell has already gotten some previous press for their impressive works on Facebook and Twitter; but this is more impressive, and the way they turned this particular misrepresented beef crisis into something positive is a great lesson for Internet marketers as well as for online reputation management professionals.

First step: Address the issue

A confident and clear message doesn’t let the customer’s mind wander. If there is a potential issue that arises within your business, you should draft up a press release, distribute the content, and then promote the content on social media. Taco Bell did things a bit unconventionally but it was more personal; they initially responded to the claims with a video on YouTube that featured the company president and a concept officer, explaining exactly what the issue was. They didn’t hide behind the fact that their beef was only 88% beef, and reasoned that spices and water are the other mystery ingredients. One advice, though: don’t think you can say everything in a single tweet. If you’re going to use Twitter, don’t just post a message; link to relevant content. That’s because 140 characters will never be able to give enough information to prevent a PR crisis.

Next step: Give thanks for support

The next step that Taco Bell’s social media team took to handle their public relations crisis was to thank customers for support. They went to Facebook and Twitter to announce that they were offering “fans” a coupon for a free Crunchy Seasoned Beef Taco. Sometimes a resolved issue can bring a community closer together, and that’s very true in this case. Taco bell didn’t try to sway their critics, they went to social media to cater their loyal customers and strengthen brand loyalty. Even in small businesses, a loyal customer base will stick with you through the tough times.
This is where social media strategy gets a bit more difficult. We all know that customers aren’t fans of businesses just to get products pitched to them. They want to be a part of something unique, creative, and exciting. Companies that use social media to just sell and solicit to customers thus struggle with engaging a community.
Small businesses everywhere are finding that their Yelp, Facebook, and Twitter strategies, used in conjunction with a proper Web presence, can enable them to provide more information to their potential customers. This information has a real possibility for turning into something positive. So claim your business pages on Google, Facebook, and Yelp, and you will be set up to react immediately in the case you get a negative review.
Businesses that are relying on social media already can leverage these tools for damage control on bigger issues. Address any issue on a personal level and then reciprocate with a simple “thank you.” If you are a startup business with little social media and PR direction, it may be beneficial to establish a following on social media now; ask for opinions and promote dialogue with your customers. You may need to win them back in the future. It definitely is a bold move handling your PR on your own, but sometimes, only the bold are rewarded.
About the author: Matt Krautstrunk is an expert writer on everything from social media marketing to merchant services based in San Diego, California. He writes for Resource Nation, an online resource that provides merchant credit card processing services advice on purchasing and outsourcing decisions for small business owners and entrepreneurs.