by Olivia Usitalo

As one of the most well known restaurants around the globe, McDonald’s doesn’t boast about the “Billions and Billions Served” for nothing. According its website, roughly 68 million people are served daily around the world, and 2.5 million of those consumers follow the McDonald’s twitter account. So in 2012, when McDonald’s, having paid for its promotion on Twitter, started the hashtag #McDStories and prompted followers to share their favorite moments eating at the restaurant. The hashtag was a follow up to a previous campaign that proclaimed how McDonald’s got all it’s supplies from farms around the nation. The campaign seemed like a pretty easy way to engage customers… until it wasn’t. #McDStories swiftly fell into a pit of former employees and customers alike who shared their personal horror stories and jokes at the expense of the establishment. Within two hours of the campaign launch, McDonald’s pulled the promotion.
#McDStories backfires   It was a hard lesson to learn, according to Forbes.com, on how “crowd-sourcing campaigns are hard to control (or stop)”.  McDonald’s social media director, Rick Wion, claimed that the negative tweets were far outweighed by the positive engagement the hashtag influenced; only 2 percent of feedback was negative, according to Wion and the PR representatives of the company. They claimed that the negative engagement made for great headlines. “The only reason it is in the press is because many outlets are ignoring the significance — or in this case the insignificance — of the stats about the promoted trend in favor of provocative and tweetable headlines,” Wion told CBS News.
Even if it is true that only 2 percent of the campaign feedback was negative, it did the job in shutting down McDonald’s attempt at a successful social media engagement. Jason Falls, a correspondent from SocialMediaExplorer.com told CBS News, “McDonald’s… had no idea what their true perception in the marketplace was. They didn’t see their brand the way consumers did. So when they tried to portray their brand as something it wasn’t, at least from a perception standpoint, they got dinged.”
This isn’t the first social media campaign gone awry for McDonald’s or other big name companies. As PostAdvertising.com points out, hashtags “embody a part of your brand in as few characters as possible, but they still tell a story”. In a business like fast food, where conversations and brand images can too easily sway to either side, it’s important to stay true to your brand. Honesty and transparency are the best ways to successfully use social media and target online consumers. What McDonald’s did wrong, and ultimately lead to their social media failure, was how they didn’t recognize their brand as it is seen in consumer eyes, and therefore did not properly execute their newer (fresher, healthier) brand image. In trying to foster a new image, without a foundation for that change, McDonald’s stuck itself in the perfect storm; it allowed the conversation to turn against itself.

McDonald's #McDStories backfires
It’s tricky to find a solution for this type of problem, especially because engaging in an open conversation with an online crowd is already balancing on a fragile precipice. If McDonald’s were to try another trending campaign on Twitter in the future, it could try to backup the hashtag with evidence of how it represents their brand. A video, a picture, or a more interactive approach to the conversation could not only let McDonald’s lead by example, but also control the flux of the response. In a campaign that has a high risk of failure, and on a platform that has proven multiple times that failure happens, brands have to be more creative with how they engage consumers in social media. Otherwise, social media could become more a weapon than a asset.

References:

#McDStories: When A Hashtag Becomes A Bashtag. (2012, January 24). Retrieved February 16, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/01/24/mcdstories-when-a-hashtag-becomes-a-bashtag/

How McDonald’s Twitter campaign fell into the fire. (2012, January 27). Retrieved February 16, 2015, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-mcdonalds-twitter-campaign-fell-into-the-fire/

Polis, C. (2012, January 23). #McDStories, McDonald’s Twitter Hashtag Promotion, Goes Horribly Wrong. Retrieved February 16, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/mcdstories-twitter-hashtag_n_1223678.html

Polis, C. (2012, January 23). #McDStories, McDonald’s Twitter Hashtag Promotion, Goes Horribly Wrong. Retrieved February 16, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/mcdstories-twitter-hashtag_n_1223678.html

Thomas, J. Post-Advertising. (2013, April 23). Retrieved February 16, 2015, from http://www.postadvertising.com/2013/04/promoted-hashtag-mcdonalds/

Dugan, L. (2012, January 24). McDonald’s Twitter Ad Campaign Was A #McFail. Retrieved February 16, 2015, from http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/mcdonalds-twitter-ad-campaign-was-a-mcfail/459445

Vryniotis, V. (n.d.). 12 Tips for developing a Successful Twitter Campaign. Retrieved February 16, 2015, from http://www.webseoanalytics.com/blog/12-tips-for-developing-a-successful-twitter-campaign/

Lubin, G. (2012, January 24). McDonald’s Twitter Campaign Goes Horribly Wrong #McDStories. Retrieved February 16, 2015, from http://www.businessinsider.com/mcdonalds-twitter-campaign-goes-horribly-wrong-mcdstories-2012-1