"As an insurance measure, due in part to a recent string of robberies, African-American customers are now required to pay an additional fee of $1.50 per transaction," read the sign captured in a photo and Tweeted to the cosmos last weekend. McDonald's promptly Tweeted that it was a hoax, and then issued a shorter reposte that read "That seriously McDonalds picture is a hoax" (the RT'ing of the photo had run under the tisk-tisk headline "Seriously McDonald's").
The social media experting wave came soon thereafter, with most of it crediting the company for responding so quickly and effectively (it helps that McDonald's spends a lot of money on social media stuff, so it has earned some positive kwan from major vendors in the space). There were also stories about how fast and important Twitter can be, and I'm sure that the case history is already appearing in agency new business presentations to serve as another datapoint for the centrality of "conversations" on Twitter to any brand reputation.
The amazing thing about rapid 140-character communication is that is as lasting as it's fast. Waves and spikes of brand name mentions might seem meaningful on computer dashboards programmed to track them, but the correlation to reality is, well, a correlation, at best and as much as it's invisible. We marketing types have argued for brand awareness developed and retained over long periods of time, and I guess advocates make the case that each short-term blip adds to this aggregate memory and, as such, is important.
I'd be willing to bet that the hoax didn't tell anybody anything they didn't think they already knew, and that it told the vast majority of current and would-be customers absolutely nothing
So what would you have told McDonald’s to do about it? Here are three thought-starters:
- Turn it into an opportunity -- Why wasn't the immediate response not just a denial but an invitation to visit an outlet and see for ourselves? How about an "ask one of us if it's true, and get a free Coke" pitch? Seems like a natural moment to step out of the virtual space and make something real happen (since that is the underlying worry about negative Tweets anyway, isn't it?).
- Make it into a bigger prank -- You've heard the cliche "fight fire with fire," haven't you? Why couldn't McDonald's have issued a number of nutty Tweets that made the African-American hoax seem like one in a series of nonsense declarations? "Aliens must remove helmets before being served" or "short people can only order small drinks." It could have come up with a contest for customers to invent the silliest, most inane statements about the restaurant chain, and rewarded the most idiotic with free Big Macs (or something). Something as unserious as the hoax pic kinda doesn't deserve to be taken seriously?
- Ignore it -- Perhaps the boldest and most sensible thing would have been was for McDonald's to ignore it, maybe answering to real media requests for comment with "you've got to be kidding?" Maybe it could have skipped the corporate blather and directly asked its store personnel to respond, if they so chose, on their own Twitter accounts? Any responses would have been far more authentic that way, and that includes having no response at all.
What do you think?
(Image credit: The offending pic)