When will brands with a corporate reputation problem finally realise that social media – whatever its siren attractions – is not for them?
Not yet, as evidenced by the so-called ‘McFail’ initiative. Last week, McDonald’s (yes, the Brand the World Loves to Hate, see my earlier post), bought two ‘promoted tweets’ – Twitter’s answer to generating advertising revenue. The aim, apparently, was to persuade McDonald’s customers – those presumably with an excess of serotonin in the bloodstream – to share their happy-clappy experiences with the world.
Surprise, surprise, the clickable Twitter ‘hashtag’ McDStories was purloined (very easy to do) by mischievous malcontents. Very soon, instead of reading about McNuggets like Grandma used to make them (not), we were subjected to tsunami-force tirades on alleged animal welfare abuse, wage slavery, food poisoning induced by McD fare and graphic descriptions of the bodily symptoms that accompany it.
By about 1400 hours Eastern Seaboard Time, D-Day, Operation McDStories had been ignominiously aborted. “Within an hour, we saw that it wasn’t going as planned,” explained a baffled Rick Wion (pictured), McDonald’s social media director. “It was negative enough that we set about a change of course.”
Too right, Rick: a 180 degree one, to avoid losing your job.
Before you ask what planet Rick and his McD chums live on, let me explain: it’s the same one inhabited by the folk at Dr Pepper (owner, Coca-Cola), Nestlé, Wendy’s and Qantas. All of these brands have, at various times, lived under the narcotic delusion that social media is a marcoms nirvana utterly divorced from the everyday travails of brand management – and experienced brutal cold turkey on discovering it is not.
When they go well, social media campaigns are a dream: they inexpensively capture the zeitgeist. But the gains are purely tactical, while the reverses, however infrequent, tend to have asymmetrical, strategic consequences. Why? Because negative high-profile media coverage brings the feckless actions of Rick and people like him to the immediate attention of their CEOs, for all the wrong reasons. You can bet that, if McDonald’s chief Jim Skinner was previously unaware of Wion’s existence, he is no longer. #McDStories has, with one fell blow, managed to poleaxe Jim’s precious Good News story: burgeoning corporate growth in Q4. Not great for Rick’s career advancement, I suspect.