The new PR reality of social media and brand engagement means accepting the fact that the audience can drive the conversation, and that the days of top-down, message-from-on-high broadcasting of positions are long, long gone for any organization looking to engage in the digital realm. Because the whole point is…
Engagement, not broadcasting.
Big difference. This point is certainly not lost on McDonald’s, a long-standing brand and corporate giant by any measure, who has long been making strides in new media. And their realistic acceptance of this new truth is serving them well as they recently experienced and rose above what could have been a major PR/digital disaster for the history books, what with having a promotional hashtag hijacked for unintended (read: negative) purposes.
As summarized at Ragan.com:
The promoted hashtag #McDStories led to some unwelcome comments about McDonald’s experiences and some plain old trash talk….The hashtag was part of a campaign to showcase the company’s food suppliers. Initially, the campaign used the hashtag #MeetTheFarmers, but it switched midstream to #McDStories. Soon after the changeover, the conversation started to change. The brand saw about 2,000 mostly negative comments in about two hours.
Crisis! Negative comments! Oh noes!
But Rick Wion, director of social media for McDonald’s U.S.A. puts this in its proper perspective:
“There are a lot of people who are trying to make a name for themselves by trying to be funny on Twitter,” he says.
McDonald’s switched the promoted tag back to #MeetTheFarmers within an hour of noticing the adverse reaction, and in about 15 minutes or so, the whole thing was over, Wion says. He notes that in the time people were using the #McDStories hashtag, people mentioned Egg McMuffins five times as much.
“The rest of the conversation that took place that day, #MeetTheFarmers, there was 10 times more conversation about that, and it was almost all positive,” he says.
The whole incident showed that some hashtags can open brands up to a beating. “If anything, the lesson of #McDStories is that we can be an easy target for people who are uninformed.”
Good for McDonald’s, staying on top of their messaging, then monitoring and quickly adjusting to avert a complete and total fail on Twitter. The company took an important step by reacting appropriately, and seeing the whole of what was happening with sentiment and their foray into digital PR via public engagement.
So let this be a lesson for any company, business, or individual participating in social media: you are part of the conversation, but only part. It goes both ways, and you need to be ready to deal with both the good and the bad. Respect to McDonald’s for working to get it right.