Last August, McDonald's decided to create a group of bloggers, which now has 400 members, to give them access to information on food, nutrition, and more. It isn't the fast-food giant's first blogger campaign, but the company is receiving criticism for giving online writers free gifts and parties.
McDonald's PR consultant Josh Ainsfeld said the initiative was created as a way to “teach” people how to become brand ambassadors through social media. However, one reason the firm is seeing a backlash is because most of the bloggers chosen for the program were already McDonald's fans.
In 2010, McDonald's held a campaign for 15 bloggers, inviting all of them and their families to the company's headquarters in Illinois and paying for everything from food to car rides to the hotel stay. Some critics said the trip was a way of getting the bloggers to write positive stories about the company, but Rick Wion, director of social media for McDonald's USA, told The New York Times that bloggers “are key influencers” for the brand.
“We need to make sure we're working with them,” he said.
Many companies take bloggers on trips or send them gifts, so McDonald's shouldn't be the only brand in the spotlight for these activities. In October 2011, CGPR helped Agron, Adidas' exclusive distributor of its outdoor sports division, select 12 bloggers for a trip to Adidas' global headquarters and testing facilities in Herzogenaurach, Germany. Pampers has also interacted with bloggers and other consumers by helping them throw in-home baby shower-themed parties with its products.
While bloggers are often viewed as members of the media, they don't have to follow the same rules that many journalists do, so they can accept as many gifts and trips as they want.
It seems like McDonald's is just joining the bandwagon on blogger events and campaigns. As long as the company remains transparent about the initiatives and what they entail, criticism will most likely taper out.
Correction: An earlier version of the story described McDonald's blogger initiative incorrectly. The blogger program is US-focused.