Using paid promotional hashtags on Twitter to market the company for a 24-hour campaign, McDonald's likely imagined receiving happy feel-good tweets in response to their #MeetTheFarmers and #McDStories tweets sent from their official Twitter account
The #MeetTheFarmers tweet was intended to promote the company's guarantee of fresh produce and quality meat used in their products and was focused on stories about McDonald's food producers.
That hashtag generated some attention from Twitter users, and while the one went negative, it appears to have still been manageable.
However, little did the corporation know what was to come once the Twitter account launched the next portion of the paid Twitter promotion. McDonald's sent out two tweets using #McDStories as a promotional hashtag. One of which said, "Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day"
Users quickly turned the tables on McDonald's when they hijacked McDonald's #McDStories hashtag and turned it into, as Forbes' Kashmir Hill
coined it, a "bashtag". The fast food giant's #McDStories tweets was met with a barrage of negative sentiments reflected towards the brand.
In fact the social media marketing initiative went so badly the company pulled the hashtag within two hours, reported the New York Daily News
. McDonald's did, however, leave #MeetTheFarmers and it is still up today.
McDonald's said the company knew to understood to expect the unexpected.
“With all social media campaigns, we include contingency plans should the conversation not go as planned. The ability to change midstream helped this small blip from becoming something larger,” the company’s social media director, Rick Wion, said in a statement. “As Twitter continues to evolve its platform and engagement opportunities, we’re learning from our experiences.”
Wion said only 2 percent of the mentions on the campaign were negative and said media reports exaggerated the negative tweets.
But even 2 percent is a significant number of tweets, and they are still out there. One Twitter member, Erik Boles
asked Wion "you're saying that 98% of all McDonalds mentions that include the #McDStories hashtag are positive?'"
To which Wion replied, "not saying that at all. Of ALL of the tweets on the day of the campaign only 2% were about McDStories."
Social media has added a unique dimension to marketing which can be seized for opportunity, however, unlike traditional marketing channels which are generally one-sided promotion, social media is unique in the sense that its unpredictable and very two-sided communication.
And once a backlash commences, it's hard to stop. A company has little control over what comments people launch from their own accounts, and with the hashtag, it has potential to take a proverbial life of its own.
reported Wion said, “Within an hour, we saw that it wasn’t going as planned. It was negative enough that we set about a change of course.”
Today the backlash continues as tweets containing the #McDStories hashtag are still coming in now that the story has had a regenerated interest. As Paid Content's Jeff Roberts writes, "The episode also shows that, in the case of Twitter, a hashtag released into the wild can’t be re-captured."
Here is a sampling of the percentage of negative Tweets users have sent out in response to the promotional hashtag (perhaps they should be called harshtags?)
Kendall Thornton, "I almost had a McDonald's relapse...then I saw the #McDStories campaign. Cravings gone, forever."
Mark Zohar, "McDonald's customers don't want to tell #McDStories. They just want their fries, mechanically separated chicken parts & wallow in shame."
Skip Sullivan, "One time I walked into McDonalds and I could smell Type 2 diabetes floating in the air and I threw up. #McDStories"
Christopher Weyrauch, "If @twitter slips another McDonald's #McDStories into my news feed I am going to ship them a box of fish heads. This needs to stop."
There were some positive responses too, but the ones which were most prominent to this writer were ones coming from employees.
Social media has potential, but the right marketing ploys have to be in place before its launched because once the wrath is unleashed, no matter how large or small, the outcome can get ugly. And then what happens is the company has to place energy into defending its brand, such as McDonald's
did with this tweet: