Twitter Story Time Results in McDonald’s Nightmare

By Jason Menard

Social networking can be a double-edged sword – especially if you represent a polarizing corporate figure in the world. Cut deeply by the results of its well-intentioned Twitter campaign, McDonald’s has the opportunity to carve out a positive future – but it all depends on how it responds.

On Jan. 18th, McDonald’s posted a pair of Tweets from its @McDonalds account, both of which introduced the hashtag #McDStories. One post offered a link to a heartwarming video about its potato supplier; the other linked to a corporate page with information on its suppliers. The intent, obviously, was to humanize this massive corporation and show the world how much it cares about its customers.

Instead, Twitter users usurped the hashtag and have used it to share a litany of complaints, stories, allegations, and rumours. From allegations of scalding baby chicks alive for nuggets, to vomiting in the food, to trading sexual favours for McNuggets, there seems to be no end to the variety of tales being told – and little opportunity for the average reader to know whether or not they’re true.

Now that the cat’s out the bag (figure of speech; no reference to the food), what can be done?

What shouldn’t be done is for McDonald’s to come down with all its corporate might and try to squash this Twitter uprising. Nor should it fight back with comments on each and every post. But it also shouldn’t sit back and hope this situation blows over.

We’ve all heard the urban food legends. When I was younger, there were an assortment of stories of dubious nature that would get passed around, usually prefaced by “A buddy of mine knows this guy/girl that works there…” There’s the ever-popular Chinese restaurant that serves cat (we nicknamed the one in our city, Fu Lam Kitty). And, of course, the male employee adding his own “secret sauce” to the burgers.

The difference today is that what was once passed along amongst giggling teenagers, now can circle the world in seconds. Thanks to the Internet, any event can become a global phenomenon within minutes. No longer can companies ignore rumours, innuendo, and falsehoods. But the Internet loves nothing more than to poke a stick in the eye of a big company that’s stomping its cyber feet. You can’t come down hard; you can’t threaten lawsuits. What you can do is be smart, be honest, and address the problem head on.

Look at how Domino’s Pizza responded to potentially devastating videos made by two employees, which made the viral rounds. Critics used the videos as a launching pad for their criticisms of the chain’s food, its quality, and their experiences. It could have been a nightmare, but Domino’s faced the issue head-on. The company’s U.S.president posted a two-minute apology video, and it used the crisis to start its Pizza Turnaround improvement efforts.

Taco Bell took a different approach at first, responding with sarcasm to allegations that its “seasoned meat” included very little meat. It took out full-page ads with the heading, “Thank you for suing us.” The company also posted videos on the Internet and ran a television campaign supporting its meat claims.

Unlike Domino’s campaign, which was completely serious, Taco Bell engaged its customers in a more tongue-in-cheek manner – all the way to the end, when it issued a press release (and newspaper ads) titled, “Taco Bell® Asks Attorneys: Would it Kill You to Say You’re Sorry?” after the meat-content class action suit was dropped. The reason? Because the company wanted customers to know that it had not changed its recipe and that the allegations were false.

We’ve already seen that McDonald’s has already started to fight back against certain allegations. It has twice responded to an @peta allegation that it uses mechanically separated chicken in its nuggets.

That’s just the start. If it were me, I’d compile a list of the most frequent comments/allegations and have my CEO, (or other high-ranking corporate officer), sit down and address those comments. I’d create a section on my corporate site addressing these myths, and I’d use my social networks to explore the truths behind these urban legends.

And then I’d sit back and let my brand advocates do the rest. For as many people who hate McDonald’s and see it as the epitome of corporate greed, there are just as many who love nothing more than downing a Big Mac. They will take up the cause on your behalf – they will be the one countering those myths in the future with your ready-made link. And they will do a better job of protecting your brand than you ever could.

Responded to the right way, at least one of the #McDStories will have a happy ending.

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