Can bad news be good publicity?


Luke Brynley-Jones is the co-founder of Influence People, which runs social media conferences in the UK, Europe and USA. They’re hosting Social PR 2011 in London next Monday, 28th February.

If you joined the rest of the world in cringing at the Domino’s Pizza social media PR disaster a couple of years back – Taco Bell seems to be pointing the way for large corporations in dealing with negative online buzz.

The company has come under fire for selling beef that’s only 88% beef. Now personally, I never imagine anything we eat in fast food chains is real food, but maybe I’m a cynic. In any event the company has come out fighting with a YouTube video from it’s President, plus positive posts on it’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Mashable reports that this has had negligible effects on the bad press they’re getting – but then, Mashable mentions Taco Bell’s “45k Twitter followers”, and this morning they’ve got 80k – so they look to have signed up an extra 35,000 followers in the past few weeks. Clearly, someone’s supporting them.

The key thing is – they’re making their case heard.  The very fact that Mashable has publicised their CEO’s explanation means that half the blogosphere now knows there are two sides to this story. I suspect we’ll see a mellowing of criticism as the story evens up and people realise (if they didn’t already know) that “meat” isn’t always 100% meat. And guess what? A few million more people will know about Taco Bell. In a business in which familiarity with the brand is half the battle, that’s a tidy upside to a bad hair day.

Looking back to the Toyota recall disaster in 2009/10, which many excitable people thought could be the end for the Japanese car giant, some reports showed that their active response to the problem via social media actually led to a bounce in interest from buyers.  Simply by engaging – albeit against a tide of negative sentiment – they raised the profile of their vehicles and reminded buyers of their, usually, very high standards. These people didn’t have a death wish. They were simply responding positively to the question subliminally posed by negative media press “Do you really want to buy a Toyota car?”

P.T Barnum once provided a famous insight about all publicity being good publicity – and I guess there’s no reason why social media shouldn’t form part of that adage.

Luke has kindly offered We Are Social readers a 10% discount on the Social PR 2011 ticket price, by entering the discount code “wearesocial” when buying a ticket directly from their website.