Taco Bell takes a bite out of Facebook

Fast-food chain gives away free tacos on Facebook to polish its image

After dealing with a lawsuit about the content of its "seasoned ground beef," Taco Bell is turning to Facebook to bolster its image.

The fast food chain's public persona has been hurt since a lawsuit was filed against the company on Jan. 19 regarding the contents of beef used in its products. Taco Bell has been on a public relations offensive defending itself against claims that its meat filling is not what its advertised to be.

Now the company is turning to social networking to tout its side of the story.

After launching a promotional video on YouTube, Taco Bell announced on Tuesday that it will give a free Crunchy Seasoned Beef Taco to anyone who "likes" the Taco Bell Facebook page. People who "like" the page can print out a coupon to get the free taco.

"Throughout the beef class action lawsuit, the response and enthusiasm from our Facebook community has been overwhelmingly positive," said Greg Creed, CEO of Taco Bell, in a statement. "We found it only fitting to reward these 5.4 million fans and a friend with a free taco. It's our way of saying thanks for their loyalty and support."

When someone clicks the "like" button, they gets the message: "Facebook Fans, thanks so much for your support. You rock. Enjoy a free Crunchy Taco on us."

It's a tech-savvy move for the fast-food chain, says Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group.

"This is a very creative move by Taco Bell to get past the "meatless" taco hubub caused by that lawsuit," said Olds. "Taco Bell has been pretty up front in addressing the allegations head-on in the press, but this Facebook promotion takes it to a new level."

With the popularity of social networking, among young and older users, it's smart for companies to turn to sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter when combatting tough times.

"This is a good example of a business using social networking to build a closer tie to existing customers and land new ones," said Olds. "Social networking, coupled with a broader advertising campaign, can now reach beyond the young network-savvy segment and into the broader population -- people who are increasingly participating in social networks, or who at least now know what they are."

In December, IDC predicted that businesses would increasingly turn to social networking sites like Facebook to "establish a free online presence that improves their ability to acquire, engage, and retain customers without the hassle and cost of setting up a traditional Web site."

Earlier last year, analysts at the Yankee Group noted that companies that don't use social networks will be putting their businesses at risk.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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