February 17, 2011

From #gettngslizzerd to Getting Donations: Red Cross Capitalizes on Twitter Gaffe

Shortly after 11 p.m. on Tuesday, someone named Ryan found two four-bottle packs of Dogfish Head Brewery beer. The more than 260,000 people who follow the American Red Cross's Twitter account were promptly informed of the discovery.

Accidentally, of course.

Gloria Huang, a Red Cross employee, mistakenly posted the comment to the wrong account through the online application HootSuite, which can support more than one Twitter account at the same time.

What the Red Cross did next is an example to other nonprofit organizations that make a similar gaffe. The organization deleted the post, owned up to it on Twitter, followed it with an explanatory blog post, and treated the entire situation with a dash of humor.

Wendy Harman, social-media director at the Red Cross, was awakened by the phone ringing shortly after the post went up. It was an employee at the Red Cross in Chicago wanting to know about the tweet.

“We talked back and forth," Ms. Harman said. "I went in and took it out and said, ‘We need to come up with something kind of funny to say.’"

They decided on this: "We've deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys."

"We’re an organization that deals with major disasters that change people’s lives, and we’re always providing aid for people at their lowest point," Harman said. "And this was a silly little mistake, so we decided to have a little fun with it.”

The results were overwhelmingly positive. At one point on Wednesday, the phrase #gettngslizzerd was a trending topic on Twitter. Dogfish Head Brewery asked people to donate to the Red Cross, and several donors responded by posting that they had donated either money or blood. HootSuite pledged to donate $100. Ms. Harman said it's impossible to calculate the total direct impact of the tweet, but donations were up slightly above average.

"We found so many of you to be sympathetic and understanding," a post on the Red Cross's blog said. "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."

On Thursday afternoon, the blog was down and replaced with a message that it was temporarily unavailable. Harman said her team believes it was from extra traffic tied to the Twitter gaffe, which received wide coverage.

If the site had been up, visitors would have seen a special note at the end of post reminding readers to leave plenty of time between giving blood and drinking alcohol.

“That’s dangerous," Harman said. "You need to be hydrated.”