NEW YORK (MainStreet) – When McDonald’s (Stock Quote: MCD) began promoting the #McDStories hashtag Wednesday on Twitter, the idea was to get people talking about their experiences with the fast-food giant. And in that sense, it was a rousing success: The phrase exploded in popularity as Twitter users across the country shared stories of their visits to McDonald’s.
Unfortunately, McDonald’s learned a harsh lesson in social media marketing: When you encourage people to talk about your company, they’re not always going to say nice things.
While McDonald’s own tweets on the topic tended along the lines of “When u make something w/pride, people can taste it,” actual customers were less inclined to toe the company line. “I haven’t been to McDonalds in years, because I’d rather eat my own diarrhea” reads one top tweet by @Muzzafuzza. Another user, @Jetsonjetsonjet, referenced a viral video of a mouse crawling through a bag of hamburger buns. Meanwhile, animal rights activist @michellevegan tweeted that “@McDonalds scalds baby chicks alive for nuggets,” and linked to a site run by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It was retweeted more than 100 times.
Yes, it appears McDonald’s lost control of the narrative here.
Such dangers are inherent in using social media to promote your brand. Sometimes it’s an isolated gaffe, as when the marketing professional running the Chrysler Twitter feed inadvertently tweeted his distaste for Detroit drivers. But attempting to enlist the masses on Twitter or Facebook for brand promotion carries its own set of risks. When Wendy’s paid to promote the #HeresTheBeef hashtag last year, users responded with bawdy innuendo and other tweets completely unrelated to hamburgers. And in the summer of 2010, Coca-Cola was forced to apologize when a complicated social media contest for Dr. Pepper resulted in a pornographic reference being posted to a teenager’s Facebook page.
The counterargument is that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and that it’s better to err on the side of being open and communicative with consumers. But you have to wonder, does one of the biggest fast-food chains in the world need more attention?
Matt Brownell is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @Brownellorama.