8 ingredients in McDonald’s social secret sauce

Upset about critics? Try crossing swords with the mayor of New York City. And hear how the wisdom of Charlie Sheen can help you pivot away from your big crisis.

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Cute kid, that Evan. Just like all 3-year-olds. Except, perhaps, when he finds a Littlest Pet Shop toy in his McDonald’s Happy Meal instead of the Wolverine he’d ordered.

A girl toy! And his mom didn’t have time to return to the drive-in window and swap the thing for the action figure.

Stressed preschooler, stressed mother. She tweets, “Oh @McDonalds, do you know what it does to a little boy to find the Littlest Pet Shop in his Happy Meal instead of a superhero??”

The message could have been lost in the worldwide torrent of Twitter wisdom, and the chain might have been down a couple of customers, suggests Rick Wion, director of social media for McDonald’s. But McDonald’s was monitoring. It mailed Evan the toy, along with a card that read, “You tweeted. We listened.”

McDonald’s won some permanent fans. And the mom turned out to be an influential blogger who told her following, “I’m lovin’ it.”

In the RaganTraining video “Fans and foes, lovers and haters: Social media in a post-consumer age,” Wion offers a supersized serving of social media savvy. Here are just a few of his pointers:

1. Listen well.

McDonald’s has 29 million fans on Facebook, and another million on Twitter. There are 3 million tweets about McDonald’s every month. Others might despair at the immensity of the task of tuning in. Not a good idea, Wion says.

“We have a huge audience that we can tap into,” he says. “We also have a huge audience that can turn on us very quickly.”

So, listen. McDonald’s says Radion6 works well, but sometimes things pop up in Google Alerts that Radion6 didn’t catch. Vary your weapons.

Listening also means (sigh) “slogging through the mud” on Twitter. “I have a whole team, but I do every week,” Wion says.

2. Take a stand (responsibly).

When New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg wanted to ban sodas exceeding 16 ounces, he used Twitter to urge McDonald’s to fall in line.

Wion’s team consulted with legal and government affairs, among other internal players, before responding to the boss of America’s biggest city: “.@mikebloomberg We trust our customers to make the choices that are best for them.”

Retweets flourished among McDonald’s followers.

Wion summed up their sentiments: “Yeah, McDonald’s, you know what, if I want a 32-ounce soda, I’m going to get a 32-ounce soda. In fact, I’m going to go get one right now.”

3. Witty diversions defuse crises.

On one hand, you just sit back and enjoy the free publicity if musical impresario Sean “P. Diddy” Combs says your strawberry lemonade, with a touch of Ciroc, “is going to be the drink of the summer 2012.” Better yet if he promotes it under his hashmark #McSwag.

What to do when things go awry? Occasionally McDonald’s in New England and Canada serve an entrée called McLobster. One day, seemingly for no reason, #McLobster began trending. And not in a good way.

“People are saying the most disgusting things you could ever imagine,” Wion says.

McDonald’s got nowhere with an initial attempt to douse the flames. Later, as cultural trailblazer Charlie Sheen’s inspiring antics were making headlines, McDonald’s tweeted an allusion to his catch phrase: “Winning.”

“Despite all the rumors there r no plans 2 bring #mclobster or mcsushi 2 the US menu. We r working on a new menu item called McWinning.”

That drew 25,000 retweets in two weeks. The negative chatter about McLobster immediately vanished, and the talk turned to brands’ piggybacking on the news.

4. Rotate your team.

Could you stand sitting on Twitter for eight hours a day? Neither could Wion, so he set up a rotation system. McDonald’s divides up monitoring duties among a range of people who also have other responsibilities. Each staffer takes a half a day per week, for 90 days.

5. Listen to critics; move for customers.

Sure, you’d like to stuff a burger in the mouth of the relentless troll who hates you but can’t stop yacking about you, but there’s not much you can do about him. Customers are a different story.

Separate and triage day-to-day customer service apart from brand issues, Wion says.

6. Avoid the shotgun response.

Focus on the medium where a given discussion is happening. If a furor is confined to Facebook, you don’t panic and start hosing down Twitter with replies.

7. Be prepared.

Use scenario planning, and create canned materials to increase your response time. You probably know the big risks that you have, Wion says. Take a day to plan a war room: “If this were to happen, what would we do?”

Also, develop an archive of content you keep at the ready. When launching a campaign, McDonald’s has anywhere from a couple dozen to a couple hundred tweets already written.

8. Become an armadillo.

Be thick-skinned. So you didn’t like what that troll said about your organization? You ought to read what they said about McLobster.



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