The True Reason for Red Cross’s Expert PR Crisis Aversion? Wendy Harman

In a Twitter client mistake, Red Cross social media specialist Gloria Huang, accidentally posted a middle-of-the-night tipsy tweet via Hootsuite to her organization account instead of her personal account.  Red Cross immediately removed the post and then expertly responded to the situation with tact and finesse. Using humor, they addressed the mistake in a tweet.  Not only did they handle the tweet in a timely fashion (it was removed in less than an hour), they defrayed a potential PR crisis (see: Kenneth Cole).

The prowess of Red Cross’s agility and responsiveness can be single-handedly attributed to the leading social-media powerhouse behind the Red Cross’s social strategy team, Wendy Harman.  A social pioneer in the non-profit industry, Harman’s social strategy at Red Cross was profiled by Beth Kanter (arguably the single-most admired social technologist in the non-profit space) … in 2008!  She has been in the space since 2006, when Red Cross established a listening platform under her direction with the goal to “stop the internet people from saying bad stuff about us” (credit: John Haydon).
She recently told me that they use Radian6 (a leading listening platform) even though it’s typically frowned-upon in the non-profit industry for it’s steep price point, and she said that they are also experimenting with emerging platforms like Small Acts Thrive.

It is no coincidence then that Harman executed an expert crisis aversion to handle the “rogue tweet.”  She posted within 24 hours about the situation on the Red Cross blog in with such candor and honesty that she posted screenshots of the now-deleted tweet.  In the tweet, she circulated correct information by clarifying that Huang was not, in fact, drunk at the time of posting.  And, she made herself readily available for media contacts.

Harman also made light of the situation both by using the #gettingslizzered hashtag that was part of the original tweet as well as referred to the debacle as a a “a little mixup” that was nothing like the “real disasters” to which the Red Cross is accustomed in their daily operations.

The Red Cross, with Harman as a social weapon, have overturned the stereotypes typically associated with non-profit communication as behind-in-the-times, clunky, slow-to-respond, and conservative to instead demonstrate a case study and best practice in PR crisis response.  Phenomenal job, Wendy Harman!

[Credit to Mashable for breaking this story earlier today.]
[Notes: Originally posted 2.16.11 at 6:45pm. Updated with Tweet button.]

6 thoughts on “The True Reason for Red Cross’s Expert PR Crisis Aversion? Wendy Harman

  1. Wow. Thank you Lindsay. I certainly can’t take the credit for this one, as I was fast asleep! Luckily, our outstanding Communications friend from the Chicago Red Cross chapter Jackie MItchell (@your_mssunshine) had my cell and called (of course I sleep with my blackberry on my nightstand) to alert me. I said, “We need to say something funny to acknowledge this quick” and she came up with the content of the tweet. A great mind at work at 1am!

    We’ve been blown away by the positive response to the snafu. We’re grateful for the understanding and support of the community. We’re standing behind Gloria 100% – it could have happened to any of us and she showed incredible grace today.

  2. Lindsay, Wendy’s a good muse. : )

    What is kind of cool about the whole thing is that a loyal friend and @ChicagoRedCross follower (@prsarahevans) saw the tweet and texted me within minutes of when it went live. I continue to believe that no “listening system” is better than a loyal following. It was, indeed, a team effort.

    The sheer horror of Gloria (@riaglo) and the Red Cross taking the fall inspired the humor. For once, I finally told a joke that actually made people laugh.

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