The social media strategy of McDonald’s is under the microscope after the fast-food giant took the wrapper off plans to have 14,500 Facebook pages up and running by the end of the year.
PR pros call it an ambitious move that most brands wouldn’t attempt, but one that will require a large investment in staffing, complete buy-in from all stakeholders, and trust between its headquarters and local operations.
And some contend that having too many social media pages and accounts can dilute the impact and contribution of brand ambassadors, since an abundance of local pages could spread them out.
McDonald’s announced the initiative just after launching a marketing effort to dispel disparaging myths about the quality of its food, including that it still uses "pink slime" in its burgers.
Stephen Corsi, SVP of global at Lewis Pulse, applauds McDonald’s for its "brilliant strategy" that he says should help it better address customer-satisfaction and operational issues such as the pink slime scandal.
"Having local Facebook pages for local stores allows them to contain and address any customer-service issues quickly that are a result of actions that happened at a particular store," he contends. "It may not completely stop something from spreading on Twitter, but it gives them a leg up on addressing it faster."
There are also advantages to using Facebook instead of Twitter for such a broad initiative, he adds.
"Facebook’s format also allows McDonald’s to address more complex questions about its food; it allows for longer stories and more visual content than Twitter does. So long-term, it helps the organization," Corsi says.
In terms of the nuts and bolts of running such a large operation on Facebook, he notes that while software automation makes it easy to post messages across pages, the company will need an effective staffing strategy to manage local content.
"I don’t think McDonald’s will have people at the store level managing social media but regional marketing managers," he says. "What that means for McDonald’s is it has to have really good social media governance and training in place so everyone knows how to respond to customer satisfaction and service issues. It will also have to be able to coordinate with local stores so they can do regional specials and promotions."
The initiative was also unveiled two years after McDonald’s suffered a well-publicized backlash on Twitter after it used a paid-for tweet with the hashtag #McDStories to promote the quality of its products.
The hashtag was hijacked by Twitter users with negative stories about its food – and after McDonald’s pulled the hashtag, critics created a new one that quickly gained traction: #McFail.
McDonald’s went public with the Facebook initiative, which will make it the largest brand on the social network by footprint, at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco last week. The Oak Brook, Illinois-based company has been working with CRM software company Salesforce on the initiative. It will also launch Twitter accounts for individual restaurants.
David Martinelli, digital marketing manager for McDonald’s USA, tells PRWeek via email, "We understand the need for more one-to-one dialogue with our customers."
"It is important for us to deliver relevant content at the right time to the right people and play a role in the conversation they are having at the restaurant level," he explains. "As with any launch of this scale, there is a learning curve, but we are confident in the direction we are going and will continue to refine our strategy as this evolves."
Martinelli also confirmed that the pages "will be managed at the local market level," and that both ad and PR agencies in the US will provide local support. He declined to specify the firms that will manage the initiative.
Golin, which has worked with McDonald's since 1957, supports consumer and corporate initiatives for the brand in the US. McDonald’s also assigns PR firms’ regional assignments. For example, McDonald's Advertising Cooperative, which represents about 300 restaurants in the New England region, hired Shift Communications as PR and social media AOR in 2011. In April, McDonald’s brought on Boden PR as its US Hispanic AOR.
As for how the chain will keep individual restaurants on message, Martinelli responded that by "utilizing Salesforce’s Social Studio, our teams are able to see into the comments coming in on all pages in a single screen, review, and respond accordingly."
"We are always sharing best practices with all stakeholders in the program and have defined a singular brand voice for consistency," he added.
Mitzi Emrich, chief social strategist at MWW, says a social media strategy broken down restaurant by restaurant could be smart, but only for community-centric brands.
She cites grocery chain Whole Foods and yoga wear retailer Lululemon as examples of companies that have successfully embraced dedicated Facebook and Twitter accounts for their individual stores.
"Each of their pages have sizeable followings because the postings are tailored to the specific community," says Emrich. "In the case of Lululemon, the content might be about taking a yoga class with local instructors, or going on an organized run."
However, in the case of a brand with many locations, the pages could "end up cannibalizing themselves on social media" because consumers would not know which page to follow, Emrich adds. She also questions whether large brands have enough local talent to make individual pages worthwhile.
"Brands have to ask: Are their local operations distinct enough to warrant consumer and stakeholder followings across multiple pages and profiles," Emrich says. "Otherwise it is just going to be 40 pages of the exact same content, which is just going to cause confusion."
As part of the team at Walmart when it launched its social media strategy, Emrich says, "we really did struggle" with whether or not to have all stores create their own profiles.
"Ultimately, we went with the global page because the experience in one Walmart should be the same as in the one the next town over," she recalls.
Emrich notes that if a brand does decide to communicate via social media more granularly, resources at the local level are a must.
"There is only so much you can do from the top-down," she explains. "You can give them a steady drumbeat of generic content and the guardrails that they need from a brand and messaging perspective, but the bulk of the content has to come locally."
Success in other sectors
In addition to companies such as Lululemon and McDonald’s, brands in the automotive sector have moved toward a social media strategy that includes local comms.
Johanne Pearson, digital advertising manager at Chevrolet, tells PRWeek her brand has encouraged independently owned dealerships to launch and update their own Facebook pages and social media channels.
"We want consumers to have that consistent presence from an overall brand level all the way to their local area, so that it is a very continuous and consistent representation," she explains.
Pearson adds that it is important they post their own community-specific content.
"A lot of our dealerships already have a strong identity in communities, whether through things such as a sponsorship of a baseball team to their involvement with breast-cancer walks," she says, though General Motors supplements content through assets delivered through the platform Promoboxx.
"It can be general content such as interesting features about a new product or ways you can celebrate Halloween with your kids," she notes. "They can really pick and choose what they want. It helps them make sure they are maintaining and bolstering their social media presence."
To date, about 2,000 of its 3,000 US dealerships have leveraged some of the content. Pearson says not all of its dealerships have Facebook pages, but that number has steadily increased.
Fans on Chevrolet’s general brand page are typically enthusiasts, while those liking dealer pages tend to do so because of an interaction with staff.
"We can have totally separate fan bases and in some cases some overlap," says Pearson.