Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Where's the Beef" Taco Bell? Five tips on managing this crisis


Two decades after Wendy's commercials featured Clara Peller asking, "Where's the beef," we may have a sort of answer: Not at Taco Bell, according to a lawsuit filed this week. There are a lot of articles about the it, but you can check out an LA Times article, "Taco Bell buzz on the 'beef' class-action lawsuit."

Here are some points to consider for Taco Bell.
  1. Although its attorneys have clearly advised the company to limit its comments to a public statement, the company needs to go beyond that statement. Taco Bell may feel that by aggressively fighting the allegations through ads, public relations and social media, it risks raising awareness about those claims to people who might not have been aware in the first place. That's outdated thinking, circa 1997. You can no longer expect bad news to disappear in a news cycle -- you've got to expect that people on Facebook and Twitter will comment.
  2. The initial statement made some good points by saying that it buys "beef from the same trusted brands you find in the supermarket, like Tyson Foods" and that its starts "with 100 percent USDA-inspected beef." But Taco Bell should also consider ways it could provide content that will help fans support the company on Facebook and Twitter. The fact is Taco Bell's statement doesn't provide enough -- um -- meat, for Taco Bell fans. Or, the right meat.
  3. For example, audiences on Facebook and Twitter need different information. For example, on Taco Bell's Facebook page, 947 people indicated they liked the company's statement while 368 people posted comments about the allegations. While there were a lot of people whose comments indicated the allegations would not affect their loyalty, there were more comments than I expected for a fan page of people who were upset by the allegations. What's interesting is that a quick scan of the 374 comments, only three people said anything about USDA beef -- and only one of those was not negative ("You start with USDA beef... but what do you end with?" posted Nicholas Ensz.) And the only one to mention Tyson was a Tyson employee. Meanwhile, a quick scan of Twitter for Tyson and Taco Bell found that people did use that sentence from Taco Bell's statement. Unfortunately for Taco Bell and for Tyson, people added sarcastic comments, with a lot of LOLs. Searching for USDA and Taco Bell generated posts in which people claimed that "USDA says meat should consist of at least 40 percent meat." I'm not sure if that's true or not, but having started out in food PR, I know that the USDA definitions can be confusing for those outside the industry. For example, the USDA maintains different definitions for "American cheese" and "American cheese food."A quick scan of Twitter for Tyson and Taco Bell found that people did use that sentence from Taco Bell's statement. Unfortunately for Taco Bell and for Tyson, people added sarcastic comments, with a lot of LOLs. Searching for USDA and Taco Bell generated posts in which people claimed that "USDA says meat should consist of at least 40 percent meat." I'm not sure if that's true or not, but having started out in food PR, I know that the USDA definitions can be confusing for those outside the industry. For example, the USDA maintains different definitions for "American cheese" and "American cheese food."
  4. Seems that the allegations against Taco Bell are also raising issues for Tyson and USDA. So another recommendation would be for Taco Bell to be in close contact with Tyson and the USDA -- and that if it tries to defend itself in the future, it should point out that it purchases beef from providers other than Tyson.
  5. As a franchiser, Taco Bell needs to make sure it provides its franchisees with content they can use when asked by customers. The statement doesn't provide much about that, doesn't even make the point about its commitment to "conducting its business in an ethical, legal and socially responsible manner" or to providing quality food at a great price. There are a lot of Taco Bell accounts on Twitter, most of the ones set up by franchise groups do not seem to post on a regular basis. None of the ones I saw -- @TacoBellChicago, @TacoBellDetroit, @TacoBellTruck, @TacoBellWestMI, @TacoBellCanada, or @TacoBellCanada -- had posted anything since the lawsuit was filed. Corporate silence doesn't mean that people aren't talking about you.

What do you think? Are there other steps Taco Bell missed? How has Taco Bell responded well?

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