McDonald's first rolled out the #MeetTheFarmers hashtag in late January to promote the quality of its ingredients and to show off the farmers who grow the produce it uses.
However, when the fast-food giant switched its sponsored tweet to #McDStories, the initiative took a bad turn. Outspoken Twitter users from animal rights activists to snarky consumers panned the quality of McDonald's products and its service. Consumers told unsavory stories about vomiting McDonald's food, finding fingernails in meals, and only eating it while severely intoxicated. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals even accused the company of using mechanically separated chicken in its Chicken McNuggets, which McDonald's vehemently denied – via tweet, of course.
PR Play rating:
3. On the right track
Besides the bad publicity, the fallout also overshadowed many of the company's positive initiatives. For instance, McDonald's unveiled nutritional guidelines last September to appeal to health-conscious consumers and encourage nutritious eating. It also launched a social media contest late last year targeting Hispanic consumers that allowed them to interact with its Twitter handle for the chance to win $25,000 in prizes. Of course, these no longer come to mind when consumers think of McDonald's and Twitter.
McDonald's isn't the first brand to have a #TwitterFail, nor will it be the last. However, its #McDStories campaign can be a teachable moment for other brands that want to use sponsored tweets and other forms of social media marketing. If a company wants to allow consumers to essentially take over its brand's marketing via its Twitter feed or other social media, it must be sure its active supporters will take to that platform in much larger numbers than its critics.