McDonalds Twitter dress down

There’s been a lot said about the McDonalds Twitter fiasco, why it happened and how it could have been avoided.

I think too many companies are using social media as a very thinly – in this case, utterly transparent – way to fish for compliments or get an endorsement. “Tell us why you like us.” “Share your positive stories about us.” It’s no way to start a conversation and build relationships, which to me is what social media really does best.

I think this “crisis” also reveals how dangerous it can be for an organisation to develop a marketing campaign like this without thinking of the wider PR and reputational context of the business. I happen to know that corporately, McDonalds has worked really hard to address a lot of the nutrition and sustainability issues that got raised again when this Twitter campaign went haywire. Had marketing but spoken to corporate communications about this campaign, I’m betting it would never have seen the light of day. But did that happen? Doubt it.

Social media is tripping up companies in lots of different ways, but three of the most common are issues arising because first, activity is planned like this, in isolation within an operational silo that is thinking very narrowly about its remit – nobody thinks about how it will play out in the bigger picture of the business and the state of play with ALL of its various relationships – the Qantas Luxury fiasco is another example of this.

Second, companies don’t quite get the social media genre – it’s about dialogue and relationships, adding value and making an effort. So they fish for compliments instead of starting a conversation.

Third, companies overlook the importance of customer opinion when they make decisions or changes: today, customers will not hesitate to use social media to complain and muster support which often times force the company at least to apologise and in some cases, reverse decisions about products (Netflix), pricing (Bank of America) and even branding (Gap).

In all of this, I did spot that McDonalds released outstanding sales figures and is recruiting 2500 people in the UK. It’s good to talk about the implications of businesses stumbling and looking foolish on social media. This helps us learn about the emerging totems and taboos of this very new channel of communications. But its impact on business isn’t always so significant, and perhaps we should all be less afraid of what people say about us online.

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