Matt O'Connell | Feb 01, 2012
iStrategy San Francisco‘s two day conference in Silicon Valley concluded today. The event was a treasure trove of experienced minds in digital marketing and social media, begging to be tapped for knowledge. In addition to compelling Keynote Presentations, the conference provided a range of expertise funneled through targeted workshops, interactive classes and case studies.
One of the most informative and topical Keynotes came from Rick Wion, the Head of Digital Marketing for McDonald’s. Wion’s most recent social media campaign for McDonald’s was a touted by the media as a very public failure. The fast food giant invested in paid hashtags on Twitter which included a “#McDStories” hashtag, intended for fans and followers to share their love of the company. The tag was quickly taken over by haters, who began telling all sorts of disgusting stories about their McD experiences. With this very publicized misstep leading up to the keynote from McD’s lead Digital Marketer, the crowd was eager to here what he had to say.
Wion offered up a couple of success stories to start things off, starting with the story of a woman who had used Twitter to share a disappointing experience with a Happy Meal toy for her son. She was sent a personal, handwritten note along with a correction of the issue and became a huge advocate for the company. Wion offered some examples of the value of seizing timely opportunities that come your way. McDonald’s noticed that P Diddy was tweeting about an alcoholic drink he created (the “McSwag”) which included some of McD’s heavily marketed Strawberry Lemonade and though they couldn’t partner with him because of the alcohol, supported his sharing of the invention. They also exploited Charlie Sheen’s famous fallout with the public by renaming one of their sandwiches McWinning, earning some sweet, sweet tweets.
Addressing some urban legends about McDonalds, Wion denied that the burgers are only 15% beef, insisting they’re 100% (methinks he doth protest too much?). There was a rumor about African Americans getting a surcharge which Wion also squashed, as well as the myths about “mechanically separated chicken,” which according to Wion, isn’t even legal.
Wion also addressed the hashtag campaign failure, first by offering up the excuse that it was not as much of a disaster as the press made it out to be. According to him, only 2% of the tweets were actually negative, and it didn’t even make it into the top ten trending topics. I suppose that’s some consolation. His attempt was to squash the splashback into the category of vocal minorities and biased individuals that get too much press.
While it may not be a good sign that Wion spent a lot of his time squashing myths and denying bad rumors, he did have some useful advice for his audience. Not the least of which: have thick skin, because people only want to hear the worst stuff, and will spread it. Should problems arise, the response can be more important than the situation, and you must be prepared. Have prewritten statements already prepared for possible scenarios. Have a buddy on the legal team with whom you can discuss those kinda crazy campaigns you want to run. Make sure to tell everyone the truth about the situation, including your own staff.
Wion suggested that personal, heartfelt stories and passion are what will connect you to your audience in the social media landscape, and that the timing of your campaigns is critical. You have to know which situations and events to utilize and be prepared to do it. Wion also advised that humor is always a good approach, especially when you’re a fairly mainstream CPG brand.
What we took away from the presentation (aside from a new adult drink recipe) is that nobody is invulnerable to a PR failure, especially when you are mobilizing the public to do the work for you, which is one of the main goals of a social media campaign. But with that said, you can’t be afraid to cannonball right into the lake. All you can do is be prepared for barracudas.
About the Author: Matt hails from Boston and has a background in Film and Writing. As weather phenomena go, he prefers earthquakes to Nor'easters these days, so he's currently residing in the East Bay. He produced a feature film called "Night Sounds" after graduating from Emerson College, which premiered at a film festival in Massachusetts. Matt continues to write screenplays and work in the film community, while working as a freelance copywriter, editor, and part-time member of the Hound.