Gini Dietrich

How Red Lobster Flopped Their Social Media Gift

By: Gini Dietrich | March 2, 2016 | 

How Red Lobster Flopped Their Social Media GiftBy Gini Dietrich

Look, it can happen. It is Saturday, and you may have gone out with friends the night before, maybe you’re even nursing a hangover.

It was a long week and all you want to do is curl up in front of Netflix and order in pizza (or even Netflix and chill…ahem!).

The last thing on your mind is whether or not your brand is mentioned in a Beyonce single.

There is a break between Netflix episodes and you pick up your phone to see several alerts to the brand social media account you manage.

This is unusual, so you pause Netflix and open Twitter.

I’ll be darned! Beyonce mentions Red Lobster in “Formation” and her fans are now tweeting to see your response.

While you do have a process to monitor social media on the weekends, you aren’t expecting to have to get a hold of the powers that be to craft a response, and tweet something clever in real-time (within the moment, at most an hour).

Red Lobster Flopped Their Gift

This is expected. Oreo changed that in 2013 for every brand’s community manager, when they responded in real-time about the lights going out at the Superdome during Super Bowl XLVII.

You’ve already lost time because you were watching Netflix and maybe 30 minutes went by before you saw the tweets.

Now you have to work the process, go through the chain of command, and get some creativity…and this must all happen has quickly as humanly possible.

And, even though you are moving quickly, it still takes eight hours to respond with this:

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That’s creative and cute, sure. But it took eight hours and the world FREAKED OUT!

And a Crisis Ensued

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Why did it take them eight hours to acknowledge and respond?

Were there a lot of legal hoops to go through?

More importantly, why did they keep digging themselves into a hole after seeing such negative reactions?

Prepare for a Social Media Crisis

Here are a few things every organization should have in their communications toolbox to bring them up to the speed of social media.

1. Define your voice to stay true to it. Responding to a pop culture reference doesn’t mean you completely abandon your brand’s voice. A company like Red Lobster has a more conservative voice, whereas Starbucks is more playful with their interactions on Twitter.

There are two mistakes brands make when it comes to interacting on social media:

  • Not having a clearly defined voice and brand identity; or
  • Completely abandoning their identity for a cheap win.

Your customers who follow you on social media are familiar with your voice. They will know if you are more playful or conservative, and they expect nothing more than consistency. If a brand sent out a message completely off-voice, the customers would either think a social media manager accidentally sent out a personal tweet, or the brand is trying too hard.

A quick look at the Red Lobster Twitter feed reveals that they don’t send out many broadcast tweets, so it’s hard to determine their brand voice. It does tell us that they are more conservative with their use of social media.

Does this mean Red Lobster doesn’t have a clearly defined voice?


Without a clear cut voice to catapult from, the response time gets slower and slower for brands.

2. Give your agency and internal team the tools they need. In addition to a clearly defined brand voice, brands need to arm their social media team with as much as possible. Another side effect of not being active with original content on social media is lack of approved language for social media managers to use. When there is no heavy content calendar, the pool of approved language a social media manager can pull from can be nonexistent.

In the case of Red Lobster, the “Cheddar Bey Biscuit” could have been an acceptable immediate response if the social media manager was empowered to make that word play to buy the team more time to respond. Buying that time may have been important to Red Lobster because Beyoncè’s lyrics aren’t all that wholesome. That could have contributed to the hesitation to respond in real-time.

If they had brand guidelines with clear dos and don’ts in addition to voice, and approved language, their response would have been a lot faster.

3. Stay on top of your brand 24/7. There’s no way Red Lobster could have known Beyoncè was going to drop her single when she did. Still, if you are going to have a social media presence, be prepared to have it 24/7. You don’t have to have someone responding to customers around the clock, but you do need to have alerts and notifications, along with an escalation plan to act and respond fast.

As we saw, even good media can quickly turn sour if you don’t strike while the iron is hot.

4. Don’t make it worse with excuses. Their response flopped, their audience reacted, and then Red Lobster continued to make it worse. Not everything you do will be a win. That’s a given for any brand. How you respond to negative feedback has the potential to turn a flop into a win. Unfortunately for Red Lobster, they just kept making it worse.

Their response was borderline flippant. With the eight hours they had to prepare their original response, the team should have also come up with approved language and a response plan for both positive and negative feedback.

The Twitter tide can turn in a split second, and if you’re not prepared, you will get swept away.

P.S. If you want to talk crisis, issues, and planning for an eventual social media story, join me and Josh Ginsburg (the CEO of Zignal Labs) for a free webinar on the topic on Monday, March 7 at 2 p.m. ET.

A version of this first appeared on the Zignal Labs blog, where you will find me writing twice each month.

image credit: shutterstock

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Sound advice here Gini. But do you think that Red Lobsters’ customers will decide not to dine there because of this Twitter storm? I suspect it won’t have much effect on sales. Still, it seems a shame to waste such an opportunity. Perhaps the team is working on something smart, and longer term, to leverage the Beyonce gift.

  • In fairness, the Oreo tweet was anything but “real time” – try 18 months worth of planning.

    I feel sorry for Red Lobster. Given the context of the lyrics that surround the RL mention, I’d imagine the brand managers were thinking, “Okay, great mention, but she’s talking about a good f”*cking meaning Red Lobster as a reward.” And then the lyrics to the rest of the song, which are already causing controversy elsewhere.

    So, does RL want to be involved in that? Maybe, maybe not – you weigh up the pros and cons (“hey, we looked cool on social but our brand took a hammering customer-wise”. It’s a juggling act.

    And, because it’s Beyonce, yes, the last thing you want to do is get it wrong, something is accredited to the tweet that wasn’t there (racial, gender-based, etc) and all hell breaks loose.

    Let’s be honest, RL were always in a no-win situation here.

    Looking at the lyrics, did all the other brands mentioned come up with a cool response? Or was it just RL that the masses went after, because, you know, social media?

    • Laura White

      I have to disagree slightly with you, Danny. Having read the article you shared. Oreo’s social media plan might have taken 18 months, but that specific tweet was very much real time.

      I’m currently writing an article on a how to of “newsjacking” and responsive marketing. Oreo having such an extensive social media plan, to me, defines best practice of responsive marketing. I think it echos Gini’s article in that mistakes can happen if it’s not clear who’s doing what and how.

      • Hi Laura,

        But the point remains, it was planned for 18 months, as part of a very aggressive relaunch of Oreo in the social space. That, and the fact that the Super Bowl lights going out are a little less worrisome for brands to react to than a song that has received multiple accusations (some warranted, others less so) against it, and the tone of the song, etc…

        You can bet RL’s legal team needed a lot of sign off for this. Working in Government, and the risk factor involved in having everything you say micro-scrutinized, I completely empathize with how long they took to ensure all the I’s and T’s were crossed off.

        • laura.white

          Sorry, I wasn’t very clear. I do agree with you that RL were stuck in a difficult position. But I do wonder if they had a better social media plan, similar to Oreo, then whoever was in charge of tweeting that night might have felt a bit more confident in sending sooner. This is mere speculation, I have no idea what their social media policy looks like!!

          Additionally, I wonder what the reaction would have been if, to be entirely safe, they just did nothing, didn’t respond at all!
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          • Hehe, sometimes that’s the better approach. Which is why I’d be really curious to see how many of the other brands mentioned in the song deemed it necessary to tweet anything.

  • contrast that with what happened with Girl Scouts and the Oscars this past weekend:

    We do some work for them here locally and it was fun to watch this unfold.

    • I love that they raised $65,000 … and that celebrities were holding out $100 bills to give the girls. You go, Chris Rock!

  • Great post Gini and an interesting example too!
    What a waste of an otherwise golden opportunity for them… it all turned to a crisis instead.
    Just goes to show the importance of monitoring tweets and ALWAYS having a plan or a process in place not just for when customers complain on social, but also when you suddenly get a mention from higher places. What are you going to do with that attention?

  • Laura White

    I just read this article, which states Red Lobster wouldn’t change their response if they had another chance:

    • Interesting! If I were them, I wouldn’t change it, either. I would have just gotten it out a lot, a lot sooner.

  • Poor Red Lobster… What pressure to stay on top of Social Media 24/7!

    I’m sure by that point, eight hours later, they had to have weighed the pros and cons of even tweeting a response at all (one would think).

    Still, I doubt anyone is going to actively choose not to go to Red Lobster because of this disaster. If anything, Red Lobster may have gotten even more attention for it. Regardless, these are some great tips to think about for anyone who’d like to avoid a similar disaster.

    • Mmmm…cheddar bay biscuits. If anything, it’s made me crave one (or 10)!

  • Desiree Dahlson

    Tying an important topic such as crisis messaging to a current event that occurred recently is really helpful to see crisis messaging at work (or not working in Red Lobster’s case.) Just goes to show how important it is to constantly stay updated with all social media platforms and be ready to engage when the time comes. Red Lobster had such a great opportunity and took way to long to come up with a lame response, bummer.

    • I did think their response was fun and cheeky, but in today’s digital world, eight hours is a lifetime. Total bummer.