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Posted on 03.01.2011

Most Important Tool in the PR Bag of Tricks? Humanity.

Things took an interesting turn for the Red Cross last week when an employee accidentally fired off a tweet from the charity’s account instead of her own. No big deal, right? Well, not exactly, given that 270,000 followers of @RedCross received a tweet that read: "Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head's Midas Touch beer...when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd." Those 100 characters were music to the ears of Dogfish Head’s marketing team, which quickly re-tweeted the misfire to its 40,000 followers – setting off thousands of new tweets about the incident. That’s where things got really interesting. Some organizations might have pulled the tweet without giving the incident further mention. Others might have publicly shamed the employee or issued a swift apology. The Red Cross did none of these things, instead joining the conversation with a human – and humorous – tweet: "We've deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys.” The organization’s calm response immediately defused what might have been an awkward situation and humanized the 130-year old organization in a way that would not likely be possible outside of the social media realm. Their expert handling of the situation didn’t go unnoticed either. The Twitter community reciprocated by launching a fundraising and blood donation drive using the employee’s original hashtag: #gettngslizzerd. Soon pubs across the country were running “pint for a pint” promotions, inviting customers to enjoy a free pint of Dogfish in exchange for donating a pint of blood to their local Red Cross. Too often, organizations take themselves too seriously. While this kind of response isn’t appropriate for every situation, this incident offers an amazing case study of how organizations – even those that engage in serious, life-and-death work – can harness the power of social media to expand their communities. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the Red Cross’ use of what is perhaps the most forgotten tool in our communicators’ bag of tricks… humanity. The Red Cross acknowledged this in a blog post, writing: "While we're a 130 year old humanitarian organization, we're also made of up human beings. Thanks for not only getting that but for turning our faux pas into something good." Talk about making lemons into lemonade … Or, in this case, a pint of Dogfish beer!

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