Taco Bell may have a situation on their hands, after a photo surfaced on their Facebook page, showing an employee licking some taco shells.
The photo was posted a number of times on their Facebook page’s wall and went viral on other social networks as well.
Initially, the origins of the photo were undetermined, and it was also not known whether the taco shells were mean for human consumption or meant to be disposed off.
According to new information however, the company claims the taco shells had been shipped to that Taco Bell location in March for training purposes, so employees could practice making a new product before it was available to the public. Two employees were about to throw out the shells when they decided to take the picture, according to the company
Naturally, the photo caused a major PR-headache for the mega food-chain, and as result Taco Bell’s food-handling procedures are once again under intense scrutiny.
It goes to show the perils of not using social media responsibly, and how one bad move can put your reputation in jeopardy.
Taco Bell has since been in damage-control mode, with their representative posting the following message as a reply to the photo:
We have strict food handling procedures and zero tolerance for any violations. We believe this is a prank and the food was not served to customers. We are conducting an investigation and will be taking swift action against those involved.
The franchise says that the Taco Bell employee pictured in the photo has been suspended (update: the employee in question has been fired), and that the shells were for training purposes only and no customers were exposed to them.
Taco Bell customers, as expected, were far from happy, and disgruntled customers also took to social media to express their shock and anger at the incident. One comment on said picture reads:
“It really doesn’t matter if the food was to be thrown out or not. He is a representative of taco bell while working and in uniform, and by doing this AND posting it online for the world to see he is ruining the reputation of the company. Because there are people out there, like many of us who have commented on this post, that will believe that what they see is an employee licking food that is to be served to their friends and family. Who would want to go to a restaurant if there is the possibility that their food is being licked? Stunts like this can easily bring a company down if enough people hear of it, and this was posted on the internet… I’ve already seen one website put up an article about it, and its quickly spreading all over facebook. Joke or not, maybe the person who took the photo should have thought about that before sharing it online.”
The statement issued by the company says that “We do not believe these employees harmed, or intended to harm, anyone. But we deplore the impressions this has caused to our customers, fans, franchisees and team members. This image was clearly unacceptable. It violated the rules and spirit of the contest, and the employees never submitted it.”
There are many lessons to be learnt from this. For instance Examiner.com makes some very good points:
The incident goes to show the power of social media. While Taco Bell may be correct in its assertion that the taco shells were not served to its customers, the company has suffered some loss of customer confidence as a result of the poor judgment of its two employees, including the one that took the photo.
Organizations, including Taco Bell, spend many hours and dollars on improving customer service and marketing their products and services to their target audiences, in the hopes of retaining existing customers and attracting new ones. Unfortunately, companies can be forced to engage in damage control when employees either do not understand how their actions can affect their companies’ profits or they just do not care.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the Taco Bell incident, it should now be apparent why employees, regardless of their role within an organization, are called upon to protect and build their company’s brand. Furthermore, a company has good reasons to worry about their employees’ usage of social media, especially if employees are mentioning the company by name or posting work related photos online.
The young man has hurt Taco Bell’s brand. The cost of his transgressions may not be fully known at this time, but it is safe to say he did more than embarrass himself and the organization. Hopefully, no one attempts to emulate his poor judgment. These type of incidents can cause an organization to be subject to more government regulation and to raise consumer prices to pay for the implementation of a new marketing campaign to regain its customers’ trust.
Yes, apart from the obvious ”don’t-lick-taco-shells-meant-for-human-consumption-and-put-the-picture-up-on-Facebook-later’ lesson, it just goes to show how important it is to have a company-wide social media policy, how important it is to train employees and set ground-rules, as well as the fact that it is very easy to jeopardize your reputation on social media – all it takes is one photograph on Facebook to lose many valuable customers and put a serious dent in your reputation.
It should also be mentioned that such incidents can prove to be detrimental when it comes to your company’s online reputation. For instance here’s what happens when you simply put Taco Bell into Google right now – stories about the incident precede even the link to their own official website!