Using social media can be a simple and effective way to market a brand. Such social networking tools have seemingly fallen into the laps of corporations and have provided them with a new venue to connect with their customers on perhaps a more interpersonal level.
That, however, was most likely what fast-food giant McDonald’s thought when they launched their #McDStories campaign earlier this year. For those who aren’t quite familiar with this story (which ironically has become a McDStory itself), last January McDonald’s created a social media marketing strategy on Twitter which focused on the notion that customers would use the #McDStories as a hashtag to express feel-good and positive stories regarding their experiences at the fast-food chain. Yet, this was not the case. Not at all.
Instead, the hashtag backfired on them and ultimately the campaign became a failure as well as blueprint for how not to use social media. In other words, people used the hashtag to instead share their gross, disgusting, and sometimes disturbing stories about their true McDonald’s experiences.
This clearly is social media marketing gone wrong. This story, however, shouldn’t merely be a reminder of the potential dangers of investing in social media (especially those more traditional companies) rather it should be a reminder of the importance of understanding how social media operates, and also how to effectively communicate your brand using these tools.
Here are two reasons why this social media campaign failed and why others can just as easily fall on its own sword:
1) Trying to be something you’re not
One of the fundamental issues I see with this marketing campaign is that McDonald’s tried to become something they are not; they essentially did not stay true to their brand. Companies typically fall under three categories in which they can be categorized: price, convenience,and image. These categories are also important to the marketing of the brand as they represent what the company is all about.
In this case, it seems as if the #McDStories campaign steered toward representing McDonald’s as a brand of great image when everyone knows they are a company based on their cheap food prices by comparison.
Instead of trying to convey McDonald’s as a lifestyle brand they should have tried promoting themselves as a company that does great charitable work as well. Yes, you can get ‘great cheap food here’ but also you can sleep well at night knowing that you are helping donate to the Ronald McDonald House of Charities!
2) Refraining from seeing social media as an essential tool to connect to your customers
Traditional senses of marketing and advertising usually translates into a ‘one-sided mirror’ streamline of communication: this is what we have to offer you, should you choose to accept or deny. But social media marketing works exponentially different in the sense that tools such as Twitter gives the public — the customers — a voice that can be heard, and more importantly, seen permanently and immediately.
If you are a company and you create a hashtag to promote your company (even with such silly marketing schlock as #McDStories) then you better be prepared to receive your mailbag’s worth of hatemail. I see it as this: social networking media should be viewed as a public suggestion box — you’re going to get cruel notes stuck together with gum, but if you look deep enough, it should be easy to find the desired responses from your dedicated customers.
McDonalds however did somewhat come to their senses as their Twitter status now reads: We’re here to listen and learn from all of our fans and followers.