A Cautionary Tale Of Hashtags
Doug Bernard | Washington DC
It’s become commonplace to hear people praise the virtues of social media. Facebook and YouTube are replacing radio and TV as the first stop for new movie previews and political advertising. Anyone who’s anyone has their own Twitter page and RMS feed. News outlets all but beg readers to “Like” and retweet their posts (as we hope you’ll consider doing for us!) and well-heeled businesses pay consultants handsomely for advice on promoting products and bolstering brands. Whether you’re a blogger, a businessman or a government, if you want to influence the public discussion, you’re using social media.
But everything has its risks, especially things that are relatively new and haven’t been tested for years. Things like hashtags.
Witness today’s entrant: the McDonald’s corporation. Purveyors of everything fast, McDonald’s quickly moved into social media, using digital tools to help build customer loyalty and counter negative public image. But this week they’re learning how rapidly that social media can turn ugly.
“#McDStories” is a Twitter hashtag the global giant recently launched to market a softer, more wholesome image, asking readers to submit their own happy, wholesome McDonald’s memories and experiences. What they got was neither happy nor wholesome In fact, the idea backfired horribly.
“I like to chomp into a nice juicy McRib after a long day of shopping for dialysis machines,” wrote Nelo Taylor. “Just saw a guy blow 2 snot rockets right in front of mcdonalds. He must be the chef,” tweeted another.The #McDStories hashtag has become a repository of bad jokes and downright insults about the burger chain, and there’s nothing they can do to stop it.
Let’s just say McDonald’s is not loving it.
“This is what happens when the campaign is not authentic!” says self-described “social media observer” Alison Emerson, and she may be partially correct. While social media errors have largely been of the “individual saying something stupid” vein – such as the Chrysler marketing executive who tweeted about his hatred of Detroit drivers – there have been other examples of a company losing control of its carefully crafted social media campaign. Just last year, another fast food chain, Wendy’s, began its “#HeresTheBeef” twitter campaign, trusting that people would say pleasant things about their hamburgers. What they got was a hashtag that was quickly taken over by users making raunchy jokes.
But now that #McDStories is a rapidly trending item on the Internet, it’s a guarantee advertising executives will more closely scrutinize any social media campaign that depends on user input. The lesson: it’s much harder to control a message when you trust the Internet to take ownership of it.