On January 24th McDonald’s used Twitter to introduce its fans to the farmers who supply the beef, lettuce and potatoes to this fast food icon. It promoted #meetthefarmers hashtag on Twitter, linking to videos that feature the farmers. This morphed into the chain promoting the #McDstories hashtag which had to be withdrawn after just 2 hours because of a hateful frenzy of tweets.
Many of the tweets were obscene while others were horror stories of bad experiences at McDonald’s. Yet Rick Wion, McDonald USA’s social media director tweeted, “Lots of overreaction on #MCDstories. Here are the numbers: That day there 72,000+ mentions of McD’s. Only 2% were negative.” Yet he did admit fault, “While #meetthefarmers was used for the majority of the day and successful in raising awareness of the Supplier Stories campaign, #mcdstories did not go as planned. We quickly pulled #mcdstories, and it was promoted for less than two hours.” In a different interview, he added, “As Twitter continues to evolve its platform and engagement opportunities, we’re learning from our experiences.”
Here are Public Relations Lessons companies can take from the McDonalds blunder:
It is important to recognize the honest way in which the public sees you. Although McDonalds has been working on changing its image, the company should be realistic about how the public views it and how views can be expressed.
Twitter is significantly more “dangerous” than Facebook. Had McDonalds asked its Facebook Fans to share their stories, it would have gotten far fewer negative responses. That is because McDonald’s would have been reaching out to people who took the time to “Like” their brand. Officials there also would have been able to monitor the comments, delete the inappropriate ones and reply to any criticisms. On Twitter, anyone can respond, regardless of their opinion of McDonalds, and there is little McDonalds can do about it!
Be careful with your #hashtags! Don’t promote or start hashtags that are open ended and can be twisted. Had McDonalds promoted #LoveMcDonalds this could have gone in a whole different direction. Make sure the hashtag leads people to discuss what you want them to discuss!!
Be prepared! Social media results are always unexpected, whether for better or worse. Always closely monitor the progress and have a plan to manage any negative unexpected crisis. That is definitely something McDonalds did well.
The hashtag was not a huge #McFail given the way the situation was handled, but it is definitely a great learning tool for those using social media to promote their businesses. The response to Twitter can be positive, ineffective or very negative. It’s important to know how to shape your message and how to do damage control before your social media presence hurts your brand image.