How social media monitoring guides McDonald’s communications

The fast-food chain brought back Szechuan sauce and launched evening breakfasts in response to online feedback. Here’s how the company knows what to address.

Mcdonald's sauce

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

Why monitor social media? If you’re working for McDonald’s, it has to do—in part, anyway—with Szechuan sauce.

In a Ragan Training piece, “Measure Social Media Success: Crack the code to ROI on any social platform,” McDonald’s director of global social media intelligence reveals how the hamburger Hulk stays nimble in responding to online chatter.

Jolanta Oliver explains how social media monitoring helped bring back—twice—the retired but beloved Szechuan sauce as McDonald’s fans clamored for its return.

“For our team, it’s not about getting reports out the door,” Oliver says. “It’s about getting meaningful insights out the door that will help impact decisions. If there are reports that won’t change behavior, we don’t do that.”

Saucy demands

For a company as ubiquitous as McDonald’s, it is no surprise that social media platforms are decentralized worldwide. This makes online monitoring tools all the more important—particularly when demand erupts, as in the great Szechuan Sauce Uprising of 2017.

As the lifestyles webzine Simplemost reported last year, McDonald’s Szechuan sauce briefly appeared on menus in 1998, as a promotion tied to Disney’s “Mulan.” Last year an episode of the Adult Swim animated show “Rick and Morty” called for a return of the sauce of yesteryear.

“So we did, and had a huge activation,” Oliver says. “Just staying relevant and creating that conversation was fun, and consumers asked for more. And it was a big deal and a fun event for us.”

The sauce initially returned for one day only, but fans made clear that it wasn’t enough. Sauce-deprived households were threatening boycotts. Parents howled that their children were traumatized.

McDonald’s vowed to make things right.

Three pillars

How did the company know to respond? Oliver cites three pillars of McDonald’s social media measurement that help it stay culturally relevant and conversant.

  • Marketing and advocacy
  • Listening and measurement
  • Engagement and care

In addition to its own monitoring through Sprinklr and Crimson Hexagon, McDonald’s receives a “rumor report” from an agency every morning, updating it on what’s trending on social media in the previous 24 hours.

“Out of 50 things that are listed, we’ll activate on four or five of that,” Oliver says.

McDonald’s also tracks the competition, though it doesn’t always respond when Burger King, for one, tries to engage.

Another trend McDonald’s picked up on social media was the demand for breakfast in the evening.

“There was so much conversation in the social space, and we heard them loud and clear,” she says. “We made it happen last year, and it was all based on social media listening and insights.”

Online marketing can pick up other useful information, such as sentiment tracking and health trends in fast-food restaurants.

Positive social media conversations can keep an organization busy, but they aren’t as urgent as negative exchanges, Oliver says. If there’s a safety issue, if the ice cream machines are broken, if the app isn’t working in a store—McDonald’s wants to find out, connect with the customer, and fix the problem as quickly as possible.

“We have to make sure those conversations that are negative don’t go much further,” Oliver says.

Before organizations do any online monitoring or push out a campaign, it’s important to understand what action they want to take in response to data gleaned from social media, Oliver says. Knowing that, they can tweak Crimson Hexagon to look for certain kinds of discussions.

“If I’m looking for conversations around Happy Meals, I can train a tool to look for only conversations around Happy Meal toy characters, Happy Meal hamburgers, Happy Meal cheeseburgers,” Oliver says.

Measuring engagement can unearth useful insights. It matters, for example, if engagement is 20 percent on mentions of Happy Meals, but 70 percent on mentions of Happy Meal toys.

“That to me is a big insight: that happy Meals has a lot of conversation, but it’s really the toys that drive engagement,” Oliver says. “And that’s what I would send to the team.”

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