When Social Media Attacks: #McDStories-Nazar Kamangar/bridge consulting blogs
It’s hard to tell what’s worse; launching a social media campaign that no one pays attention to, or launching one that people pay attention to for all the wrong reasons. It’s worth examining how and why a major company has an epic social media breakdown. It’s often easy in hindsight to spot the reasons for the catastrophe, and that can inform your strategy when developing future social media campaigns for your own business; after all, you want to do all you can to avoid swimming with sharks.
In January of 2012, McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign with the paid hashtag #McDStories. Their intent? For the pubic to tweet their charming nostalgic tales of fond family meals and memories shared under the golden arches. What actually happened? Within an hour, the hashtag was used to regale the masses with stories of food poisoning, hospitalization, animal cruelty, and foreign objects found in food. Not the kind of feel-good buzz McDonald’s execs were hoping for.
The plug on the campaign was quickly yanked, with the company’s official Twitter handle itself only using the hashtag twice, but the damage was done. As the day progressed, over 1600 tweets went out using the hashtag, and 68% of those were negative. As the tag started trending, more users jumped on to share their horror stories, unaware that the hashtag was originated by the company itself, in an effort to generate heartwarming stories.
So where did McDonald’s go wrong? First, they used a social media platform where they have no control. Comments and posts on a Facebook wall can be blocked or deleted; tweets, once they start to gather momentum, spread far and wide with no manner of containment. As PaidContent.org puts it, a hashtag released into the wild can’t be recaptured. And second, they used a tag that was too vague. #McDStories has no positive or negative value associated, so there’s no impetus for users to keep the story on message as the company intends. Because there is no inherent positivity associated in the hashtag, it was easy for users to hijack it on purpose, and difficult for latecomers to ascertain the true original purpose of the tag.
To the credit of the McDonald’s social media team, they realized very quickly that the intended campaign had been derailed, and kept quiet about it so that it would die down much quicker. They also tried to redirect people’s attention the following day, using the hashtag #LittleThings. Unfortunately they didn’t learn their lesson about vagueness, and that tag was often hijacked as well. However, the furor had mostly died down by that point, so the new hashtag failure garnered little attention.
The takeaway is this: it’s very easy to roll out a campaign without anticipating the ways it can go off topic and snowball beyond your control. It is important to understand the medium you’re sending your campaign out to. If keeping control of your message is important to you, Twitter may not be the right place for you.