Twitter and Twitter hashtags are powerful tools in a company’s branding strategy, but poor management can lead to a damaging crisis. As illustrated by last week’s McDonald’s #McDstories debacle, it is painfully easy for hashtags and conversations to be hijacked by disgruntled Twitter users. Perhaps even more painful is this: McDonald’s could have likely avoided this crisis by taking a more realistic look at its online presence and better preparing for a negative response. Instead, the company lost ownership of #McDstories and faced damage to its brand.
No one likes to think, “How can things go wrong?” But, in the age of viral videos and Twitter backlash, it is increasingly important for companies to look at all possible directions of public response. Before the editorial calendars and scheduled posts, understand the conversations that are already happening and how your company fits in.
Conduct a Social Media Audit
A social media audit should be the first step in any digital campaign. Social media audits can be used to gage awareness and unearth user engagement, but they can also determine the tone of the conversations that are already happening.
Prior to #McDstories, a Twitter search for McDonald’s might have shown hundreds or thousands of tweets about the company. Most of these were likely neutral in nature—status updates and location check-ins. However, a deeper look might have revealed that a still significant number of tweets were negative in nature. The audit might have clued the brand in on the potential for negative response to a promoted tweet campaign.
Understand the Medium
Twitter is a highly engaging platform. It democratizes, and users are quick to voice their opinions. If McDonald’s intention was to engage users by asking them to share their stories, they were successful. After all, that is what Twitter excels at.
However, based on the initial tweet, it appears that the campaign was designed to show the connection between farmers and the company, building the brand’s credibility and highlighting its corporate responsibility. While McDonald’s was using a hashtag that seemed to invite followers to share their stories, that was not their intention.
Another hashtag used by @McDonalds is far more understandable on the purpose and the call to action. #LittleThings clearly asks followers to share what makes them happy, and the tag lends itself to a manageable conversation. (Edit: Unfortunately, Hilton Hotels agrees–they had already planned and launched a paid campaign via @doubletree using #littlethings this week.)
Be Responsive, Responsibly
Shortly after the initial backlash, McDonald’s replaced the offending promoted tweet with the less abrasive #meetthefarmers update, but the damage had been done and #McDstories had already taken off. Not only were customers tweeting about poor experiences, but animal rights organization PETA and other activists responded with some harsh criticism and accusations.
Two days later, @McDonalds responded. Not only was this response poorly timed (the Twitterverse had moved on, and it caused Twitter users to further rehash the accusations), but the tweet is unsubstantiated. Unlike PETA and other activists, McDonald’s did not include any links to data or documents to refute the claims. The single, lonely, late tweet did nothing to help the crisis.
Twitter is a crowded and fast-paced medium. In order to successfully manage a twitter campaign, corporations must do their due diligence. Crises cannot be predicted, but proper preparation through social media audits, an understanding of the medium and a responsible response policy can help an organization minimize the damage or avoid the crisis altogether.