Red Cross Tweeting Has A “Sheen” To It

March 9, 2011       Samuel Fanburg      

With seemingly the entire nation transfixed on the misadventures and public scorched earth policy of actor Charlie Sheen, the American Red Cross (ARC) has capitalized on his Internet meme of the Twitter hashtag #tigerblood, propelling the charity into the middle of the condemnation of the television star.

On March 2, the official Twitter account of the ARC tweeted, “We may not collect #tigerblood, but we know our donors & volunteers have a fierce passion for doing good! #RedCrossMonth.” Topping the trending topics section of Twitter, the tweet was quickly retweeted by more than 100 people and is now the third result when you click the hashtag “#tigerblood.”

“When we saw that #tigerblood was the top trend of the day on Twitter, we simply and spontaneously used the hashtag in a tweet thanking our blood donors,” said Wendy Harman director of social media at the ARC.

The hashtag #tigerblood refers to what Charlie Sheen believes is inside his body and due to the sheer ridiculousness of this idea, became a popular topic to parody on the Internet and Twitter, resulting in “#tigerblood” trending nationally for a four day period.

“Although I can see people’s opinion on this tweet going either way,” said Holly Ross, executive director of NTEN, a nonprofit technology membership organization. “I think that it is something perfectly suitable for the American Red Cross Twitter audience. The audience viewing the Twitter feed is a lot younger than its donation base. Followers are also unique by watching the Charlie Sheen online content unfold and believing the tweet was funny judging by how many times it was retweeted.”

The ARC views its Twitter account in two different lights, both placing the information they tweet in a somewhat gray area. According to Laura Howe, vice president of public relations at the ARC, “We view our Twitter account as a way of communicating with our donors and followers, and a way to share official information with our audience.”

Questions arise, though, with cases like the ARC’s #tigerblood tweet, as it was neither information about the ARC nor an official statement from the group. Even though as according to Howe, “(the American Red Cross) has not received any negative feedback about the tweet,” Holly Ross commented, “even casual conversation could be conceived as official information because anyone can see it.”

The ARC learned its lesson of what can happen when it tweets from its Twitter account becomes misconstrued as an official statement. An ARC employee inadvertently tweeted “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer…when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd.”

After a bit of outrage and a blog post apology by Wendy Harman for “an honest mistake,” microbreweries around the country retweeted the message to its followers with a message of donating to the Red Cross. Due to the incident, the American Red Cross saw a slight increase of donations, leading them to set up a separate Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Online Donation site.

With honesty, transparency and a bit of humor, what could have turned into a disastrous PR event became a way to target new donors who might not have previously thought of the ARC.

“I think are going to continue having this tension between what works and what doesn’t,” said Ross. “We are going to continue having these ‘Oh you kids’, moments but being topical is a smart way to get in front of your audience.”