You Don’t Control the Medium

If you seen the news recently, you’ve probably heard about the Twitter campaign that McDonald’s launched using the hashtag #McDStories. You can see one of their promotional tweets to the right.

They had great hopes to inspire stories about Happy Meals. The campaign took a horrible turn and made news headlines around the world. You can see a sample of the unfavorable tweets connected to their #McDStories hashtag.

There is an important lesson about social media that we can learn from McDonald’s misfortune.

A Shift in Control

Traditional mass marketing channels like television and radio have historically seen organizations control the medium and the message. It was push marketing that only allowed messages to flow one way – from companies to consumers.

Social media radically changed marketing activities by allowing consumers to communicate back with companies. They can participate together with companies to create a collaborative message. There is great potential for amazing marketing messages to be created, but there also exists great risks.

The control of social media doesn’t exist with organizations, but with the public. Any organization that thinks otherwise, is doomed for an awakening similar to what McDonald’s experienced.

Avoid the #Bashtag

Many blogs are referring to the Twitter hashtag #McDstories as the bashtag for obvious reasons. Experiences like this are never 100% avoidable because you don’t control the medium, your customers do. But there are some ways to mitigate the risks:

  • Know the environment. What are the potential hotspots that your social media campaign could uncover or draw attention to?
  • Pilot test. Before rolling out a social media campaign broadly, pilot the concept with a small group. The potential backlash will be minimal and it may make you aware of issues.
  • Be specific. The hashtag that McDonald’s chose, #McDStoires had a lot of ambiguity and opened themselves to the negative comments. One possible suggestion would be #YummyMcD which would lend itself to comments with more positive sentiment.
  • Have a rapid response plan. No matter how rock solid you think your campaign is, always plan for the worse-case scenario. Once McDonald’s realized the campaign had taken a turn for the worse, the stopped using the #McDStories hashtag. The damage had been done, but the adjusted their tactics.

What are your thoughts about consumer power on social media? Please share below.