5 ways McDonald’s influences the online conversation

It’s no fun dealing with false rumors spread by trolls, but would you rather have them convincing everybody your burger is made of worms? Here’s how the fast-food giant fights back.

You do your best to get out the message about the wholesome ingredients in your tasty foods. Then you check the internet to see how you’re doing.

If your stomach is turned by the trolling you find there, welcome to McDonald’s world.

Earth’s best-known fast-food purveyor must be doing something right to have 14,000 McDonald’s U.S. locations and thousands more worldwide. Yet it finds itself in a social media food fight for its reputation.

McDonald’s fends off charges that its McNuggets are made of “pink slime” beef (wrong), that its McRibs are ground pig innards and shoe soles (er, no), and that its burgers are made of worms (presumably harvested by hungry robins after rainstorms).

The Golden Arches isn’t the only organization that must deal with online buffoonery. In a Ragan Training session titled “How to go from speaking at customers to engagement and conversation,” US McDonald’s communications manager Tyler Litchenberger details how the franchise giant changes the conversation. It all comes down to transparency.

Here are five savvy practices:

Address their concerns.

The conversation out there in social media land can get ridiculous, insane. (According to what business model would it be easier and cheaper to buy Nikes or Zappos than pork?) You probably would rather not address such foolishness. Trouble is, nobody’s interested in logic.

“Nobody wakes up in the morning and is like, what is McDonald’s doing on their social channels,” Litchenberger says. “What are they tweeting about? What are they serving? I wonder what their employees are doing or thinking about. Nobody cares.”

Instead, talk about what they are interested in.

That means when somebody tweets (for seemingly the millionth time) an image of an unidentifiable meat—like glop being processed and claims it’s pre-cooked Chicken McNuggets, you might wish to tamp down the falsehoods.

Internet alarmists also like to say that the McNuggets are made of “pink slime,” which is a term for ammonia-washed beef (not chicken), Litchenberger says. Seventy percent of the ground beef in your grocery store is probably pink slime, but McDonald’s doesn’t use that gooey foodstuff at all.

Make the internet your focus group.

Sure, your marketing team has some great ideas about gathering folks in a room, offering cookies and coffee, and asking what they think about your brand. The thing is, they tend to be less honest when they sit smiling at you across the conference table. Go see what they’re staying on social media. (Sprinklr is one tool McDonald’s uses.)

“We went right out and got the real feedback from the internet, which is brutal, by the way—to really know what customers are asking so we could identify it head on,” she says, adding, “The internet is a huge data mine. People are much more honest on the internet than they’re going to be in person.”

To change its means of engagement with people, Litchenberger says, McDonald’s encouraged them to ask their questions through a campaign called “Our Food. Your Questions” so it could debunk myths about the fare at McDonald’s.

Set up a ‘Rapid Response Team.’

Be it known, trolls, that you’re not as clever as you think. Eighty-five percent of the questions McDonald’s rapid responders engage with concern eight main topics. (Worms and pink slime are among the monsters that keep resurfacing.) The company has stashed 650 legally approved replies in a database. If new question arises, responders seek out a McDonald’s topic lead for help.

McDonald’s gives its responders flexibility to humanize the brand. After all, there are only so many times you can restate an approved message without sounding robotic.

“Don’t make it so corporate-y,” Litchenberger says. “They have fun with these people. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s the internet, right?”

Sometimes others in the organization balk at answering questions. A first responder emails, “Hey, I need the answer to this,” Litchenberger says.

The expert replies: “I don’t think that’s something we want to say.”

First responders have learned to be assertive. “Actually, yes, we’re going to talk about this, because we need to talk about this,” they will say. “Someone has asked this question. Will you just give me the information, and I’ll take it back and I’ll share it back in the way that we need to.”

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Find someone trustworthy to drive the conversation.

McDonald’s not only found a spokesman, but also inspired newspaper and TV stories when it hired Grant Imahara, formerly of the show “MythBusters,” to investigate common consumer questions about items on the menu.

This was part of a broader effort to humanize what people think of as a faceless corporation-“the big, bad company,” Litchenberger says. In fact, it is a chain of mostly locally owned franchises-small businesses in communities nationwide.

Court your critics.

In its content, McDonald’s features its suppliers, the people involved in how the food is produced. The rapid responders surprised some critics by replying to their tweets, as when a schoolteacher named Wes Bellamy said he would never eat at McDonald’s again after seeing a (false) meme about the production of McRibs.

The company brought Bellamy to Texas to see how the sandwich is really prepared and made a video of his tour. Afterward, he pronounced himself a believer. Bonus: The Washington Post , Huffington Post and other news media covered his McJourney to pork nirvana.

At the end of the tour, Bellamy tries the McRib, which he admits he had never eaten before: “That’s how I like my barbecue. Messy. … This sandwich is pretty good, man. Actually, really good.”

Later, he even promoted the video on his social channels.

“The commercial came out today, hours before my 28th birthday, and now has over 65,000 views on YouTube,” he wrote on Instagram. “I can’t lie, I actually LIKED the McRib and I had a GREAT time with my guy Grant from Mythbusters.”


Topics: PR


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