How The Red Cross defused a potential Social Media crisis situation

by Mack Collier

Coming off the heels of Kenneth Cole’s recent PR blunder on Twitter, the Red Cross found itself in a potential crisis situation on Twitter a couple of days ago.  Apparently, one of its employees that tweets from the @RedCross twitter account, inadvertently sent a tweet that was meant for her personal account in which she tweeted: “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer… when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd”

To its credit, the Red Cross quickly acted on the ‘rogue tweet’, deleted it, and posted this response:

Now anyone that’s attempted to use multiple Twitter accounts, especially one for your employee or a client, knows how easily this can happen.  And then the employee that sent the ‘rogue tweet’ also acknowledged her mistake on her own Twitter account:

Now all week here we have been discussing the value that evangelists have for companies and organizations.  What happened next in this story perfectly illustrates today’s lesson: Your evangelists will come to your aid in a crisis situation.

The Red Cross’ evangelists on Twitter quickly latched onto the #gettngslizzerd hashtag, and used it to drive blood donations!  Many committed to donating blood and some even took pictures as they were:

And to their credit, @dogsfishbeer, which was mentioned in the ‘rogue’ tweet, also encouraged its followers to get involved in the donation drive:

One of the ways we talked about in the post on creating brand evangelists was speaking in a human voice.  The Red Cross did this, they quickly admitted their error, and apologized.  And did so with humility and a splash of humor.  Then Gloria tweeted out an explanation as well.  How the Red Cross handled this potential crisis situation went a long way in rallying its evangelists to come to its aid.  They quickly forgave Gloria for the tweet, then took the hashtag and used it to drive donations.

This is the power of connecting with your evangelists.  As we talked about earlier this week, they WANT to see you succeed.

What did you think of how the Red Cross handled this situation?  What did they get right? Is there any advice you could give them for avoiding a similar situation in the future?

Kevin Ekmark February 17, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Hah, I was waiting for a Mack response to this!

The Red Cross handled this with grace. Unlike the idiocy of Kenneth Cole, they responded immediately, apologetically, and shrugged it off. In fact, they embraced it, and they brought much needed attention to their cause. I hope Ryan learned to never attach a personal account to her professional account on Hootsuite. That could have happened to anyone.

Ps. I also think she deserves a few 6 packs of Dog Fish Head… particularly the 120 Minute IPA.

Mack Collier February 17, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Thanks Kevin! Yes the WAY you handle the potential issue greatly determines if it becomes an issue. So often we hear about social media backlashes that were fueled by an inappropriate response from the company, or a delayed one (Motrin Moms).

The Red Cross had a swift and appropriate response that not only defused the situation, but converted a negative into an overwhelming positive for the organization. And it gives us social media talking heads a new case study to yammer on about 😉

Gloria Huang February 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Hi Mack,

Thanks for the great post! Yes – we have such an amazing community of supporters on social media, and are very grateful for their support and creative energy. We just try to do right by our audience, which Wendy and our colleague Jackie Mitchell from Chicago did when they crafted the response tweet from @RedCross.

Our most valuable takeaway from this whole thing was definitely the new people we reached- for example, the craft beer fans on Twitter were so great and supportive.

Anyway, thanks again and cheers!

Mack Collier February 17, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Hey Gloria thanks for stopping by and giving your perspective! We have all left tweets we regret, and the way you and Wendy handled this made it much easier for everyone to remember that and sympathize with your situation. Kudos!

Victor Canada February 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Mack, Thanks for this post. Great example of how an organization can learn to laugh and keep it lite and be authentic on Social Media. I can just imagine how many companies would have had a fit… Fired Gloria and then start the spin machine. I already was positive toward the Red Cross but now they’ve moved up a few more notches in my book. Nice hearing from Gloria here as well. Great job.

Mack Collier February 17, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Victor you’re right, a lot of companies would have handled this much worse than the Red Cross did, and probably would have waited much longer to respond, as well. I think we’ve found a new case study for using social media to handle a crisis situation!

Melody February 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm

This is very authentic and genuine. In the end, it made the Red Cross look at human as everyone else, and their audience can appreciate that – They expect an organization that sees people in a crisis and helps in an emergency to be caring, real, genuine and authentic. Just don’t put the beer in the First Aid kit. 😉 😉

Richie Escovedo February 17, 2011 at 10:16 pm

I’ve had my head down buried in work this week and missed this little gem of information and learning. I’m glad I ran across this write-up during some RSS reading. I think it speaks to the simple fact that it’s a good idea (and in most cases, wise) for an organization/company to have a personality. This was a smart reaction to what could have been a bit of a self-inflicted black-eye. I tip my hat to their ability to act swiftly with a simple yet effective response. (Plus, it reminded me that I am due to give blood again early next month.)

Mack Collier February 18, 2011 at 10:51 am

Richie being honest and ‘human’ really isn’t that difficult 😉 This happened late at night, what if it had been at a company or organization that required that every communication go through legal? That could have delayed the response a good 12 hours, and it would have been much less authentic. By simply responding with humility and humor, The Red Cross spoke in a voice that resonated with the people they were trying to reach. Big reason why they turned a potential bad situation into an actual positive for the organization.

Jesse Luna February 18, 2011 at 9:38 am

Great case study, Mack. I like how you pulled together the different parts of the story to give a rich view of the Twitter/SM ecosystem and 24/7 PR.

Mack Collier February 18, 2011 at 10:48 am

Thank you Jesse. Yes I think this really makes the point that responding appropriately and QUICKLY can really improve a company or organization’s chances of defusing a situation like this.

Anne Janzer February 18, 2011 at 11:23 am

Thanks for the story summary – it is a great example, not just for Twitter, but the world beyond. It’s not whether or not you make mistakes, because you will, it’s how you handle them. Plus, it’s good to have loyal followers and a good mission!

Fred McClimans February 18, 2011 at 11:34 am

Mack – As always a good take on a topic. While there is a difference between an employee tweet and a tweet by the head of a company, the way this was handled by all parties involved perfectly illustrates both the “social/collaborative” nature of Twitter as well as the validity of the old adage “If you have lemons, make lemonade.” The entire Red Cross response (including @redcross @riaglo & @dogfishbeer) also demonstrated an often missing lack of humor and the realization that accidents do happen, and that they do not necessarily have to lead to a bad conclusion if you have the right frame of “social mindset”.

Mack Collier February 19, 2011 at 11:53 am

Good thoughts, Fred. And I really think the humility and humor in the responses by the Red Cross really helped frame the response as being ‘aw we all screw up, don’t worry about it!’ from most of us, and made it much easier to forgive and then try to rally to increase blood donations. Wonderful case study in HOW a company or organization can affect a potential crisis by the tone of their response. A human tone.

Scott Brannon February 18, 2011 at 11:50 am

This was extremely clever and illustrates the quality of the professionals in the not-for-profit world.

Are we sure the whole thing wasn’t planned? I’m just kidding.

We are a small but mission successful non-profit that provides mentors to adults at-risk of homelessness, ex-offenders re-entering society, and young adults aging out of the foster care system. I am just getting our social media started. If anyone is interested in giving me advice, tips or just finding out more about us, you can check us out:; FB: trusted.mentors.

Catherine Lockey February 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Social can be soooo creative!

Jackie Riley February 19, 2011 at 11:09 am

Great post. After reading many articles talking about the the red cross situation, I think they handled it with grace and wit. With social media being extremely popular with businesses, it is important to understand why people use them; the personal connection. The Red Cross had a personality and showed that we are all human, whether this is a mistake or not. Red Cross and Dogfish Head made something positive happen.

Wil S. December 18, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Great example of taking quick action to stem the effects of a potential crisis. Shows that it is always best to be honest and sincere when admitting or acknowledging a mistake. It seems that full blown crises occur when a company ignores or tries to cover up an event. Kudos to the Red Cross for their quick actions, and thanks Mack for pointing out the power of brand evangelists. This case truly shows the importance of loyal customers or followers in not only strenghening the brand but in defending the brand and helping to mitigate the effects of potentially negative events.

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