Tuesday, January 24, 2012

#McDStories: A Failure For McDonald's. What Have We Learned?

Well, they asked for it. And, they got it. In their attempt at a social campaign last week, McDonald's went to Twitter using the hashtag #McDStories to encourage customers to share personal insights about the restaurant chain.

In short, the plan backfired, and McDonald's soon found that they were curating a slew of negative and/or sarcastic tweets for all to read. So, you may ask, why would they do this in the first place? I have no idea. But, my guess is that they concentrated on the positives of social media, and completely forgot all of the glaring negatives. Perhaps the same oversight put into a TV campaign was not put into one for Twitter because the cost was so low and they figured 'what have we got to lose?'

Either way, McDonald's now finds itself the latest victim of social media because they didn't think it through. They weren't the first, and they certainly won't be the last. But, below are 3 things companies should consider before beginning their next social campaign to include content from the public:

1. Be (at least somewhat) humble. Many may interpret the creation of a branded hashtag in order to collect praise to be an arrogant move. This being the case, McDonald's may have invited more negative comments than they would have otherwise simply because this is irritating to some people. A better campaign idea may have been to focus on the Ronald McDonald House, and share stories about the children that have been helped because of it. Sure, it doesn't focus on the food or the restaurants themselves, but it does bring the idea of McDonald's as a community contributor to the forefront.

2. Know how people feel about your brand. It is a fact that many people enjoy McDonald's. The food, the toys, and the overall experience are a part of a lot of lives. It's true. However, many others feel that the food is unhealthy at best, and resent the fact that McDonald's advertises to children. Not to mention the use of athletes in their ads, another group which requires much more nutrition than McDonald's provides its customers. The restaurant regularly bears the brunt of all fast-food criticism with regard to factory farms and unhealthy lifestyles. Basically, there is a lot of controversy surrounding the brand (Wal-Mart would surely face the same problem if they started #WalStories on Twitter). Now I'm not sure of the breakdown of lovers v. haters of McDonald's. But, let us assume it is 50/50. Is it really a good idea to promote a hashtag asking everyone to contribute their feelings openly? I don't think so.

3. Reflect honestly about your brand. Are people passionate about McDonald's? I mean, even those that eat it several times a week. Do they care much about McDonald's? Or, maybe a better question is whether McDonald's makes a difference in some one's life. A difference that they would want to share in 140 characters or less on Twitter. In all seriousness, what was McDonald's hoping to hear? Stories of families coming together over a bag of value meals? Of children having the time of their lives at the playground? Of someone bringing a sad friend a Big Mac to brighten their day? It just doesn't seem very realistic.

Perhaps a company like Hallmark would have had success with a campaign like this. There aren't a lot of known negatives about the brand for the public to latch on to. They aren't controversial. And, as corny as it may sound, people do tend to look to Hallmark in good times and bad to express their feelings to friends, relatives, co-workers, and more. So, who is going to take the time to trash Hallmark on a #HallmarkStories Twitter campaign? Few, if any. And, with social media, you had better know that going in because brands do not control this medium. They simply participate in it like the rest of us.