In 2012, McDonald’s released a twitter campaign meant to focus on their commitment to fresh and quality foods. The campaign used two hashtags, “#meetthefarmers” and “#McDStories,” to allow the company and twitter users to share their experiences with the store. What McDonald’s didn’t anticipate was the different ways in which the second hashtag, #McDStories, could be interpreted.
Soon enough, users were sharing brief stories of their experience with the food chain, and it was not positive. The hashtag completely backfired. Within two hours of release, McDonald’s pulled the #McDStories hashtag from their twitter, but not #meetthefarmers.
What McDonald’s did achieve was reach. The hashtag is still being used almost six years later.
What was at stake here was the reputation of McDonald’s and the effectiveness of their social media presence. What did they do to come back from the hashtag horror?
What Did PR Do?
The social media director at the time, Rick Wion, released a public statement through the L.A. Times and said, “As Twitter continues to evolve its platform and engagement opportunities, we’re learning from our experiences.”
In addition to the public statement, Wion also sent out an email which included information regarding the effect taking down the hashtag had.
“Within an hour of pulling #McDStories the number of conversations about it fell off from a peak of 1600 to a few dozen. It is also important to keep those numbers in perspective. There were 72,788 mentions of McDonald’s overall that day so the traction of #McDStories was a tiny percentage (2%) of that.”
In 2012, Twitter was just starting to become popular. It had only 100 million users compared to the 336 million today. Twitter was new and exciting and people, businesses and companies were testing the social media waters.
We can see just how important it is to consider and bounce ideas off colleagues is to avoid vague meanings of, say, hashtags associated with an important campaign.
The wording Wion used in his statements were strategic. Saying, “we’re learning from our experiences,” shows that they acknowledge their mistakes and want to improve.
I think at the time, what McDonald’s did by pulling the hashtag was appropriate. And they only pulled one of the hashtags used in the campaign, showing that they still cared about what they were supporting. They could get away with pulling one hashtag. If they did that today, it would probably receive more backlash from users.
The internet is permanent. Even though they pulled the tag, people still use the tag in their twitter posts today. Social media users are smarter now and they can see through those who try to con them in any way. It’s important for social media directors and public relation professionals to be educated.
I think McDonald’s could have found a way to create an opportunity from the hashtag to better focus on the issues of different stores and locations rather than take it away completely. But overall, what they did was the best immediate choice to defend their online brand and presence.