Despite what may have seemed like a catastrophe, Burger King has a chance to turn yesterday's Twitter hack into a public-relations success.
Around noon Monday (Feb. 18), the fast-food giant's Twitter feed was taken over by someone outside the company who quickly changed the feed's icon to golden arches and tweeted "We just got sold to McDonald's."
For the next hour, the feed was filled with more than 50 unauthorized tweets, including some with racial and drug references.
The account was eventually shut down while Burger King's social media team worked with Twitter to reclaim the feed. The damage had been done, but the incident did garner Burger King a ton of attention. In just one day, BK's Twitter account gained nearly 60,000 new followers.
By Monday night, Burger King was trying to make the best of the situation, tweeting to its followers: "Interesting day here at BURGER KING, but we're back! Welcome to our new followers. Hope you all stick around!"
Media publicist Bruce Serbin thinks Burger King's social media team did a great job containing the situation quickly.
"It could have been disastrous, but I think they handled it brilliantly," Serbin told BusinessNewsDaily. "They got out in front of the situation and didn't let it overrun them."
Serbin thinks Burger King did an excellent job of keeping its followers and customers informed of what was going on, which he believes is critical in any crisis.
"In these types of crisis situation, you have to over-communicate," Serbin said. "You need to be honest and straightforward, otherwise rumors will start to spread."
With Burger King back in control of the situation, it is important that they continue leveraging the publicity, Serbin said.
He said providing an incentive for Twitter followers to visit a Burger King restaurant, like giving them free French fries if they bring in a McDonald's receipt from the last week, would help them hold onto their new flock of fans.
"They need something like that to help keep the momentum going," Serbin said.
Customer service consultant Brad Cleveland agrees that a giveaway, if done right, would be an excellent way to help take advantage of what started as a every social media marketing executive's worst nightmare.
"They need to do it with humility and a smile," Cleveland said.
Cleveland said the incident should remind all businesses, regardless of size, that everyone is vulnerable to a bad social media situation.
"It's not if [it happens], it's when," he said.
Cleveland advises all businesses to have protocols in place to make sure they are prepared for a social media crisis.
"Think about how do we prevent it in the first place and what do we do when it happens," Cleveland said. "You need to know who jumps in and does what."
Cleveland also encourages businesses to make sure they are having an ongoing dialogue online so that if someone does take control of a Twitter or Facebook feed, followers will quickly realize something isn't right.
"When you have that ongoing dialogue, they are going to know when something isn't a fit," he said.