Restaurant giant Hardee’s Food Systems was planning a $30,000 donation to the Red Cross in response to a series of severe storms when a devastating tornado hit Joplin, Mo., on May 22. I interviewed Jenna Petroff, public relations and social media manager at Hardee’s, about the use of social media to help the community in the wake of the tornado in Joplin, which is a few hundred miles from the company’s St. Louis headquarters.
What was your experience with the Joplin tornado and its aftermath?
Although we had significant damage to several restaurants in various markets in the weeks prior, the Joplin storms were so horrific and the damage so extensive that it was difficult to get confirmation on our Hardee’s family. With three restaurants in Joplin, two were heavily damaged. I then saw this tweet come across my dashboard:
“RT #Joplin #Missing [name withheld] 22y/o works at @Hardees on Rangeline. contact Kenna.”
Further e-mails and phone calls ensued, and I was finally able to verify with 100% accuracy that all employees were safe and sound.
The difficulty in this situation is balancing the natural human need to reach out and say, “Yes they’re fine. Call him at this number,” because you can’t do that. There are privacy concerns, and quite frankly, although one wants to believe the best in people, there are those who prey on disaster victims.
So it was a fine line we had to tread between wanting to assure everyone it was okay, and that was after many tense hours of confirming beyond a doubt that they were, but in a manner that was respectful of both the individual and the community that had lost so much. But it was with great relief that I was finally able to hit send on the following tweet: “All of our #Joplin employees are safe and accounted for. Rangeline re-opened this morning at 7 a.m. Thanks to everyone for your concern.”
What interaction did you have with victims and their families, and how did social media factor into that?
[After that tweet], I sat back, had a slight moment of emotion and moved on to the next task — building more money into the donation. With the help of my marketing team and research and development team, we were able to organize a limited breakfast sale right here in the headquarters’ lobby on the morning of the check presentation to the Red Cross. That money was earmarked specifically for the Missouri Tornado and Flood Relief Fund.
Additionally, we put together, very quickly, a share-night program for all of the restaurants in the St. Louis DMA (close to 60). We donated 20% of our sales from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 2, and kept Red Cross donation canisters in the restaurants throughout the weekend.
There was no time to ship canisters to the stores. Instead, I sent an internal communication about our Red Cross efforts and asked for help. The restaurant checklist was full of volunteers by the end of the day.
Although we had a press release for local media to cover details, this wasn’t something we wanted to be self-serving about by posting on the wire. I solicited friends and partners not to share a tweet from Hardee’s, but to share the link from the media outlet. I can’t reveal numbers yet, as they will be remitted at the end of the month, but it was one of the more successful share nights we’ve done in the community.
Stay tuned tomorrow to read more about what Hardee’s learned from the Joplin experience and how it affected the company’s social media efforts.