Just read about the social marketing snafu with McDonalds and the high-jacking of the #McDStories hashtag by an audience that was, well, less than flattering to the brand image.  Over at, Gus Lubin reported on it and discussed the response from Rick Wion, their social media director - here's my take on it.

First off was the highjacking of the hashtag - no feasible way to prevent it.  If McD was aggregating the posts using the hashtag, dropping the hashtag ASAP from the aggregation was for sure the right thing to do.  The other hashtag used during the campaign, #MeetTheFarmers, went well I think because trying to highjack #MeetTheFarmers would have been harder to connect in the mind of the socially savvy consumer - I think social denizens recognize when they are slamming a brand or a person; brands are fair game, however real people are held in higher esteem.  If the people on the other end of the feed were the real farmers, I think consumers honor that over a brand presence.

Rick and the team did good in first making the assessment and then acting to mitigate any more posts using that hashtag from showing up in the aggregate stream.

Second is the popular perception of the McDonalds brand - yes, when you're in a hurry to grab a quick bite, they are darn convenient and regardless of what you might believe personally, for a big segment of the population, they are very inexpensive comfort food - a lot of people grew up eating McD burgers, which is one of the reasons they are so hugely successful around the world generation after generation.  Like any large corporation though, the local experiences being talked about though are based on the interaction of a single consumer with a single employee and that employee can impact a consumers perception, despite what the HQ marketing team want to have happen otherwise.  

So with the brand experience in the hands of the franchisee and their staff,  the brand definition in the hands of the consumer and the public brand direction only partially being managed by a team of marketers, whats a global brand like McDonalds to do when things like this come up?

IMHO, the answer with what Rick and the team did was right on track - assess the real potential for damage, adjust and respond.  

  1. Assess - the number of posts made in the campaign, by McD and consumers totaled around 72,788 - the #McDStories hashtag was interjected to about 1,600 or so.  How big of a deal is 1.6k vs. 72K?  Around .02%.  Not bad odds for a betting man.
  2. Adjust - remove the hashtag from the post aggregation and drop using it.  The hashtag was used by the McD team for less than 2 hours and then dropped.  Smart move.
  3. Respond - Let the consumer know what you've done, why and resolve any outstanding issues - off line if possible.  The article did not talk about how the MCD team dealt with the fallout, but I suspect there will be little because the people who eat at McD's will continue to do so and those who do not partake in their dining at the golden arches, well... they still won't.

Take away - I'd call the initial campaign a mess, with far from an optimum result but recoverable.  The #MeetTheFarmers is topic that can help show a more human side of a multi-national corporation by putting a human face on the brand.   We'll have to see how consumers consider that aspect of the campaign.  We're seeing a number of agricultural food products take similar approaches with good result.

What we learned in this episode is that you can pick your hastags, but not how consumers will use them. Choose them carefully, monitor real time and be prepared to respond when needed. 

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  • McD did a great job of minimizing what could have been a huge social media fiasco. There's a big lesson here. Companies need to consider all possible uses of a particular hashtag (positive and negative) before launching to determine its risks.

  • Good synopses of the #McDStories, Steve. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of going to McD's on Sat. with my dad. I think I'll go have some #McHashbrowns for breakfast.

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