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The Crisis Intelligence Blog

Taco Bell’s Social Media Crisis Communications Fail

04 Jun

I have a hard time understanding how large corporations are still failing the basics when it comes to utilizing social within their crisis communications. I watched all night last night as North America spoke, tweeted, posted and conversed about the below picture of a Taco Bell employee, that was uploaded to personal Facebook pages, but quickly found itself going viral online.

tacobell-social-media-crisisImage source

Does it make you think of the Dominos social media crisis of 2009? It sure made me think of it!

As I watched in anticipation last night, to see how Taco Bell would respond and reassure their customers, I went to bed with little hope that they actually knew what they were doing – that they had actually prepared and pre-planned for this type of predictable crisis situation.

Is this actually a crisis situation?

I speak often of the differences between a social media crisis and a social media issue. So is this situation that Taco Bell has found themselves in a social media crisis? Well, let’s see…

  • Does the situation risk having a negative impact on their reputation? Yes.
  • Does the situation risk having a negative impact on their bottom line? Yes (especially if they don’t respond and react accordingly)
  • Does the situation risk having a strong negative emotional impact on stakeholders? Yes.
  • Does the situation have a high-risk potential of going viral? Yes, especially since it already has!

So, yes, for the reasons listed above, Taco Bell is facing a real, live social media crisis.

How did Taco Bell fare in their online crisis communications?

Although I believe that they were quick to learn about the situation, and possibly even quick to react, nothing was really made public. (Again, this makes me think of the Domino’s social media crisis of 2009.)

They posted the below message to the news release section on their website – only thing is that the majority of their audience was on social, not on their website.


This is a good first response. It lets the public know that Taco Bell is aware of the situation and looking into it and it buys them a little time. However, having published this response to a page on their website that is rarely visited by customers and fans, nobody really knew where to find it or that it even existed. This should have been followed with a response made directly to their Facebook fan page, as well as tweeted from their Twitter account.

They did respond to some individual posts being published to their fan page, but that wasn’t enough. In these situations, companies have to assume that the only way to make sure that everybody coming to their page to complain, voice their opinion and seek further information, is going to look in one place and one place alone: directly on their timeline. You have to assume that no one will go searching within comment threads.


If I went to bed feeling a little disappointed then I woke up feeling totally disappointed!

I woke up this morning and first thing I did was check Taco Bells’s Facebook and Twitter pages in hopes that I would find a nice shiny update/statement addressing the situation, informing the public how they dealt with it and a believable promise as to how they will make sure this type of predictable situation will never, ever, ever happen again.

That’s what I hoped. Wanna know what I found?

Not only did I not find any statements made to social, but I also found that Taco Bell disabled their comments on Facebook. Not only did they not respond where their customers were seeking, asking and demanding a response, but they attempted to disable their customers’ voice as well.

They did update their news release page on their website with a thorough and more complete statement. But this is not enough. They absolutely needed to respond to the crisis on social, linking to this more thorough response.


Lessons and take-aways

You can’t be scared of social. You need to respond to crisis and issue situations ON SOCIAL. You need to respond in real-time, as events unfold and as you move forward with the appropriate actions and reactions. You need to plan for these things in advance. In 2013, there’s no excuse to not know and implement the new rules of crisis communications.

Let Taco Bell be a wake-up call. This was a predictable crisis. It happened to a competitor and that situation is still used and talked about in classrooms, corporate trainings, blogs, seminars and webinars to this day. This should have made it easy for Taco Bell to know how to respond and react on social. Instead, due to their lack of being prepared, they got scared, overwhelmed and failed at their social media crisis communications. Please, please, please, don’t let that happen to you!

How can you make sure that this doesn’t happen to you?

By planning, preparing and training your team before a crisis strikes. Learn more about how to plan for and prevent a social media crisis by clicking here.

6 Responses to “Taco Bell’s Social Media Crisis Communications Fail”

  1. Brett June 4, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    Wow, that Taco Bell purple just about burned out my retinas!

    You mentioned the Domino's incident as a comparable, and it's a good one, but Taco Bell also has it's own experience with crisis communications that they should have been able to draw upon to craft a more appropriate response. Remember the lawsuit challenging the beef content in their tacos? I recall seeing newspaper ads, commercials etc. defending the brand. Not saying all those measures are necessary in this case, but that experience certainly should have let them know that a simple posting on their website (which, as you say, no one visits) wouldn't be enough.

    • Melissa Agnes June 4, 2013 at 10:57 am #

      Great points to amplify my message, Brett. As I said, it's unacceptable to see such social crisis comms failures from such a large corporation today. There were lessons to learn from other brands who faced the exact same type of crisis, as well as lessons that they should have learned from within their own brand's history. Total disappointing fail.

      (And yes I agree, that purple sure does hurt the eyes! ;) )

  2. Rich Klein June 4, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    Thanks, as usual, Melissa for your solid analysis/insights about this social media crisis.

    After reading your post, I thought it would be helpful if your readers knew that Taco Bell (and parent Yum! Brands) has had more than six years to learn from past crisis communications mistakes.

    In March 2013, the company again had an opportunity to get it right when its beef product tested positive for horsemeat in the United Kingdom:

    • Melissa Agnes June 4, 2013 at 10:58 am #

      Thanks for sharing Rich! You and Brett both bring up excellent additional points that reinforce my message.

  3. Terrell McCollum June 10, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    I agree with your analysis, Melissa. You have a typo, however, in the following subhead: I believe it should read "How did Taco Bell FARE (not FAIR) in their online crisis communications?"

    (Sorry. I'm a recovering proofreader.)

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