Feb
02

Social media and brand reaction: The McDonald’s Twitter debacle

Yesterday, Jim told the story of how social media helped change Coca-Cola’s campaign to promote the World Wildlife Fund. Consumers became confused and reacted negatively toward Coke’s silvery white can with polar bears because it was too similar to the design of its Diet Coke can.

I live in a Coke/Diet Coke household. My boyfriend prefers the original while I enjoy the less sugary option. We both fell victim to taking a swig out of the wrong can several times before I finally separated the flavors on different pantry shelves. Not long afterward, it was social media to the rescue – at least partially. The social-sphere complained and Coca-Cola listened; at least enough to discontinue the campaign.

Anyone who doubts the power of social media as it relates to branding needs to think again. The lesson from Coca-Cola is that social media speaks volumes for your brand. The next lesson is be careful how your brand uses it.

Can I have fries with that hashtag?

McDonald’s is arguably one of the most well-known fast food restaurant chains in the world. Like thousands of other popular restaurants, they have entered the social space and have scored themselves more than 300,000 followers on their Twitter account @McDonalds.

On Jan. 24, the McDonald’s marketing team paid for a few promotional tweets including the hashtag #MeetTheFarmers. Honestly, this wasn’t a bad campaign idea. They were simply introducing and promoting the farmers who provided staples for their menu items.

However, somewhere in the middle of that campaign, the marketers introduced a new hashtag #McDStories, hoping to get customers talking about positive experiences they have had with the brand. As you can see from the few examples in the accompanying illustration, the hashtag actually invoked some negative comments (although the company’s head of social media Rick Wion tweeted that only 2 percent of the 72,000+ comments to the promotional tweets were negative).

Is it a big, super-sized deal?

Even if Wion is right about the small number of negative tweets, there were still more than 1,000 people telling gross, mean and even horrifying #McDStories the day of the campaign. A simple search of the hashtag revealed that the backlash is continuing more than a week later.

No one wants people discussing the negative aspects of your brand in a public space and, for McDonald’s, it’s still continuing today.

The other downside for McDonald’s is the large number of news stories and blogs detailing the situation and putting the restaurant’s public relations model on the “here’s how not to do it” social media pedestal. While McDonald’s is obviously downplaying the incident, what company wants to be in that spot?

McDonald’s should have known better

It’s no secret that McDonald’s has had its share of battles over the years. Its super-sized menu alone has been blamed for growing obesity problems. The restaurant chain has long been the focus of a string of disgusting urban legends. Dating back as far as 1978, McDonald’s was rumored to use earthworms in its burgers.

So why did the restaurant’s marketing department open up the doors for a social media tongue lashing with #McDStories? I think someone should have recognized the danger in this campaign and put a stop to it before it even started. As it happened, it only took two hours before McDonald’s shut down the #McDStories campaign, but it’s far from over in the social media space.

How it all shakes out

The day after the #McDStories debacle, McDonald’s launched a new Twitter campaign with the hashtag #LittleThings to promote Chicken McBites, a new menu item.

I’m sure they hoped this new campaign would be less controversial and draw attention away from the ongoing negativity they are experiencing with #McDStories. However, I took the time to check out the #LittleThings hashtag and I think McDonald’s is probably disappointed with the results so far. The hashtag is too vague and is being used in ways that have no reference to McDonald’s whatsoever.

The real problem is that McDonald’s lost control of its own promotional tool and now they are afraid to use it effectively. In my opinion, #McDStories is actually a more successful campaign for the restaurant than #LittleThings despite the negativity it brings. People are at least still talking about the brand with the #McDStories hashtag.

If I was on the McDonald’s marketing team, I’d try to tell the entire #McDStories story. I would start with this:

Be careful with your brand in the social media universe. The reactions are always beyond your control.

Then maybe I would treat myself to a double cheeseburger with fries.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] have complaints, allows companies to address them in kind and correct the mistakes in the future. The unfortunate reality is that negative or malicious feedback is inevitable if companies are going… The alternative of censoring users would likely cause more problems which means companies are best [...]

  2. [...] Make sure your hashtag hasn’t taken on another meaning that could prove negative or create Twitter hijacking. (Remember McDonald’s?) [...]

  3. [...] When everyone was watching the 2012 London Olympics, using the same hashtags connected people around the world to the athletes, their sponsors, and their supporters. During the Super Bowl, hashtags enabled everyone to comment in real-time on the commercials, the halftime show, the blackout, and even the game itself. But when McDonald’s agency [no relation to Susan Boyle’s agency, btw] ran #McDStories to encourage people to share their positive experiences at McDonald’s, all of us who make our living from social marketing were cringing, knowing the ugly would hit the fan within seconds. It did! [...]

  4. [...] When everyone was watching the 2012 London Olympics, using the same hashtags connected people around the world to the athletes, their sponsors, and their supporters. During the Super Bowl, hashtags enabled everyone to comment in real-time on the commercials, the halftime show, the blackout, and even the game itself. But when McDonald’s agency [no relation to Susan Boyle’s agency, btw] ran #McDStories to encourage people to share their positive experiences at McDonald’s, all of us who make our living from social marketing were cringing, knowing the ugly would hit the fan within seconds. It did! [...]

  5. […] Make sure your hash tag hasn’t taken on another meaning that could prove negative or create Twitter hijacking. (Remember McDonald’s?) […]