Twitter Campaign Amounts to McDefeat


Image from: ABC News

If you follow the world of social media at all, you’ve probably heard by now that McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign last week that didn’t go quite the way they intended. The plan was to promote McDonald’s “Meet the Farmers” campaign by sponsoring a hashtag, #McDstories, and encouraging people to use it to share stories of the good times they’ve had at their local Mickey D’s. The result, which could be seen from a mile away by anyone except the McDonald’s social media team, was that the tag got hijacked by tweets of horrible things people have seen at McDonald’s, and devolved into general bashing of the fast food chain.

To their credit, McDonald’s was prepared to pull the hashtag should the campaign go awry, as it did. McDonald’s also claims that the media has blown this all out of proportion, and that the majority of tweets generated by the campaign were positive. As far as I can tell, neither side has shown any data to prove or disprove that statement.

The question in my mind is: how on earth could McDonald’s think that a campaign like this would go well? While there are plenty of people who enjoy McDonald’s food, I sincerely doubt that the majority of them feel proud enough to publicly declare it. Clearly, McDonald’s is aware that it suffers from an image problem (to put it mildly), and their advertising campaigns in the last few years have been focused on addressing that. But the response to this campaign shows that they still have a very long way to go.

Twitter has proven time and again that once you release a social media campaign into the wild, you no longer control the message. In a way, that’s the entire point of a social media campaign: social proof. In a store, when you see someone else admiring a piece of clothing, you’re much more inclined to be interested in it as well. Social media marketing works the same way. A successful social media campaign is one that gets people to publicly display their genuine enthusiasm for a brand, which in turn makes their friends curious to find out more about this apparently awesome product.

The pendulum swings both ways, however, as McDonald’s (and many others before them) found out. The internet brings out the snark in people, and one person’s negative tweet can quickly snowball to turn a “hashtag into a bashtag,” as Forbes put it recently. Twitter users seem especially susceptible to this behavior. The public nature of the platform means there’s always the possibility that a clever jab could make you Twitter-famous, even if just for a moment, which in turn means that Twitter users are that much more likely to say something polarizing about your brand, especially if it’s perceived as the majority opinion.

The point is, if you’re thinking about trying a Twitter campaign that encourages people to tweet warm-fuzzies about your brand, you’d better be darn sure that most of your followers, and your followers’ followers etc., actually have warm-fuzzies about your brand, or are at least neutral on it. If you can easily think of a vocal minority that would take pleasure in hijacking your campaign, you’re probably better off using Twitter to communicate directly with the people who actually like you, and reward them for their loyalty, which in turn reinforces their positive opinion of your brand. And that’s the whole point in the first place, isn’t it?