McDonald’s scales to meet social media demands (video)

In a recent #MMchat session, I referred to McDonald’s as a social media best practice and said they should give me some free fries for the reference. In a tribute to the way McDonald’s is “tuned in” to its audience, Rick Wion, the company’s director of social media, responded to one of my tweets and said that he would indeed buy me some fries.

What resulted was even better … a lengthy discussion and a short video interview when I got to meet him live at SXSW. Talk about the business benefits of Twitter!

How does a global icon like McDonald’s — one of the world’s most important brands — engage with millions of customers? Well here’s the answer in this video. I think you’re going to love this interview. We touch on some very significant topics about the research that went into their effort, humanizing a brand, staffing up for an initiative like this, and where it will lead.

Would love to hear your comments about this. We may even be able to get Rick to answer a few questions.

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  • Fascinating about the way that some tweeps are returning on particular days. Why? How do they know who takes care of which day?

    Do they change the avatar each day? i.e. Dana at McDs, Joe at McDs…etc.

    I think it’s also interesting that Rick talks of waiting “a year” before engaging with conversations. There’s a strong emphasis on listening here and it’s an important strategy. But I think for small businesses you’d have to be more proactive earlier on.

  • No, they don;t change the avatar. They use a McD logo but after each tweet they “sign it” like this ^MWS

    Thanks for asking for clarity on this Jon. I should have made it more clear!

  • Lisa Reath

    Congratulations Mark. That was a great interview with Rick. Thank you for posting it. It sounds like their Twitter efforts are really working for them so I hope they don’t ever decide to do auto replies. That’s what poeple expect from a large company and the fact that they are engaging personally is what makes it so cool. And as far as the business benefits? Well… got me thinking McDonalds right before breakfast!

  • I feel like I’m the negative Nellie this week!!! I have had quite the opposite experience with McDonald’s.. Anytime that I have tweeted out to McDonalds, I have gotten zero response and I have tweeted out to them quite a few times. Now, I do not expect a big brand like McD’s to become BFFs with little ol’ me but as the mom to 3 kids and a unit 1 mile from my house we’re there more often than I care to admit. This particular unit is having a fair amount of growing pains but the one that kills me is that I have to ask for ketchup or will end up with none. As a matter of fact my last tweet to McD’s was this, verbatim – “@McDonalds – If there is something in my order made with potatoes, I should not have to request ketchup” .. I’m not tweeting for free fries but I would like some ketchup with them w/o having to ask. If I can help make them aware of little things out in the field, I’m happy to do it.

  • So nice to hear from you Lisa! It’s been too long! : ) Thanks for taking the time to comment today.

  • Well that certainly reflects the growing pains of social media, doesn’t it? To me, the fact that McD has a successful social media program at all is almost miraculous but your story shows the two-edged sword of social media and I think an issue all these brands will have to deal with — once you create an expectation of engagement, you can’t let people down.

    Thanks for this very important insight today, Kristen.

  • I’ve had this conversation with quite a few companies who are “thinking about” getting started with social media. I’ve stressed to them that if they are going to put out the red phone of engagement, they MUST be there ready to answer it. I know how daunting of a task it must be for a major brand like McD’s to keep up with all the noise.. I’d give anything to see their “war room”!

  • He, haven’t watched it yet…but just had to say (in case I get side-tracked) that I’ve just won a bet with myself. I bet myself you’d interview Rick Wion at SXSW when I saw your Tweet exchange happening live.

    I now owe myself 10 British pounds! Right, let’s see this video.

  • Great Mark! Thanks so much for clarifying this. I think it’s an interesting strategy and one that I could see myself recommend to clients.
    I wonder how they’re collecting the data on this to measure their success.

  • Good interview. Rick seems like a really nice guy. I’ve tweeted him a few times in the past (including to ask him if he gets free fries) and he always responds. I felt a bit bad for him when he got such a kicking over McDonald’s claims about increasing footfall with its Foursquare event last year.

    My one reservation with what he said was this idea of using initials at the end of a tweet to signify a human being. Yes, it’s better than just having an anonymous corporate avatar/profile – people use social media to connect to humans – but there’s an even better way in my view.

    Use a corporate profile to comunicate in a way that connects the tweets very strongly to a brand. But also use ‘face’ avatars with a logo, like Scott Monty’s at Ford: as a layer of human engagement that’s slightly detached from the corporate brand. That way, you get the best of both worlds.

  • Good interview. Rick seems like a really nice guy. I’ve tweeted him a few times in the past (including to ask him if he gets free fries) and he always responds. I felt a bit bad for him when he got such a kicking over McDonald’s claims about increasing footfall with its Foursquare event last year.

    My one reservation with what he said was this idea of using initials at the end of a tweet to signify a human being. Yes, it’s better than just having an anonymous corporate avatar/profile – people use social media to connect to humans – but there’s an even better way in my view.

    Use a corporate profile to comunicate in a way that connects the tweets very strongly to a brand. But also use ‘face’ avatars with a logo at the same time (like Scott Monty’s at Ford ) as a layer of human engagement that’s slightly detached from the corporate brand. That way, you get the best of both worlds.

  • Great video. I came across your blog from the Klout article you wrote on Ragan. Now I will have to add you to my daily reads!

    Great to hear of a company structuring their social media department right and as a social strategist, I’m glad to hear that it’s not just one person who owns it day in and day out! This keeps all the content fresh. (Although …I’m sure there are still organizational and content challenges to sharing the handle.)

  • Hello Jon, hope you’re well. I disagreed with the use of initials (see my comment above) because I still think it’s a little impersonal. Better to use a ‘hybrid avatar’ – part brand logo/part human face. Scott Monty’s, as I said above is a good example of this.

  • Hi Michael, I agree actually. That’s what I do on Twitter too. Must update my Disqus avatar !!!

  • Wow… The power of social media isn’t found entirely in the media portion, but more so in the connecting of individuals, of entities. It’s the “social” aspect that makes it different from all other “mass” medias.

    What I find most amazing on twitter is that there are so many that actually do listen and do respond. Being so giving of the ever precious commodity of time. The giving of time is a mark of true service.

  • Touchee 🙂 Sadly, most people are OK with being let down or letting others down, so there are companies present online via social media channels that probably will fail, for this reason alone.

    What do you think: is this just my impression or gut feeling?

  • Kristen,

    I’m sorry to hear that our team didn’t respond to you when you. I’ll make sure that it doesn’t happen again. In reference to your tweet, ketchup isn’t automatically given because some folks don’t like ketchup and it would be wasteful (of both resources and money) to automatically give it out. That being said, I will also ask our operations team if front counter staff are generally directed to offer up ketchup.

  • Great point. The link in our bio goes to “longer form” bios and pictures of each person.

    We are also looking at a new Twitter feature that will list the name of contributor of a particular tweet within the structure of the tweet itself.

  • Thanks Rick, appreciate the feed back. Keep up the good work.

  • I’m not sure I understand your question but in general I do not think people are OK with being let down, especially in this age where one small problem can lead to an online shouting match. There was a blog on the NYT today about one customer who is lodging a one-man attack on a restauant because of a long wait (that was, at least in part, heis own fault). This ubiquitous voice can wreak havoc with well-meaning businesses. The consumer is extremely powerful in this digital age. Thanks, Codrut.

  • Jon and Michael, I agree that you should use a face instead of a logo if at all possible and wrote an extensive blog post about that and also included the point in my book. However in the case of a globale brand that is 24 x 7 and tweeters are on shifts. I think this is a viable strategy, especially since they coombine it with the whimsical bios on the website. Thanks for the discussion gents!

  • That is HILARIOUS. Am I that predictable? Predictable good quality … that’s what you meant to say, right? : )

  • Veronika, I’m so glad to have you here on {grow}. Thank you very much for sharing your comment today!

  • It’s a great case study, isn’t it? Thanks for the comment Thomas!

  • Thanks so much for joining in, Rick!

  • I am finally getting a free moment to check this out now. This is fantastic. I wish we had a year to listen to conversations. I have been trying to listen and talk and learn as I go along. This is just such a great concept for a larger company.

    I even bet it could work for a smaller company too, by getting a couple of Tweeters instead of only one.

    What great input to end the day. Thanks for this post, Mark.

  • Nice piece, Mark. Congrats on copping the #FreeFry… I knew you would get traction when you threw down the fry-gauntlet in #MMchat and everybody wanted to ‘fry-jack’ you, that is, get in your fries. That said, I am impressed with Rick’s approach to the McDonald’s social initiative. His patience is impressive. I am jealous of the resources that allows Rick the luxury to ‘watch’ for a year, and more impressed with his decision to ‘watch’; prudent decision. Although Rick quickly qualified his thinking on FAQ Tweets–‘do we automate some tweets?’–I think it provides a valid glimpse of a ‘social tomorrow’. Other resource-rich organizations are surely considering a similar semi-automated path. I don’t think Rick will endorse an automated ‘fast-social’ road-map (it doesn’t make much sense and he watched–to learn–for a year!); however, ‘fast’ is clearly in the corporate DNA of the king of ‘fast-food’, McDonalds. It’s back to an Efficient v Effective debate!;) Time for a 4-square!

  • Rick.. I have a loooong F&B background so believe me, I know food cost issues. I love our new little McD’s Cafe and want them to succeed but every time I’m there, feel like I need to run in with my F&B managerial skills that are peppered with rah-rah customer service! Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment of Mark’s blog..that means a lot to me.
    And really. I would love to see your social media/marketing war room. I’m a geek mom..what more could you ask for??? 🙂

  • And Rick..a flashback to how much this geek mom loves McD’s…

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  • Hi Mark. Love this interview. I give McDonalds a lot of credit on Social. Is it moving Burgers? No. Do they have tons of engagement on Facebook? No. Not in the scheme of things when you take into account how many customers they have world wide. I have blogged about this.

    BUT they do things right that at key. They listen and they engage. I have followed them for 18 months and they respond on Twitter. Now just like starbucks I bet half the Twitter and Facebook mentions are people just saying ‘I’m at McDonald’s eating’ which really has nothing to do with the Brand other than the fact they have so many stores and serve so many people. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t filter and analyze that data.

    Second their tweeters I am pretty sure are college grads (or in college). I had a great experience with one last summer when I tried to joke with McDonalds about the fillet o fish (maybe I told you this). The joke is that at a store the workers are clueless about what kind of fish. Someone in Australia told me this on Twitter. So I tweeted it. @Kty_McD answered in less than a min with the actual fish composition. But the point is Katy might be an intern but she is smart.

    Lastly as I end my blog on your blog 8) they got smart and devolved twitter to local levels. Just do a search and you will see how many accounts they have.


  • I guess I was meant to say… people are used to feel let down by others. Just look around in your niche. Are there any scam artists? In my field: internet marketing as well as in the blogging blogosphere, some people promote products they cannot vouch for, products or services they didn’t even test…

    So, if someone gets burned once, then maybe several times… which is the norm in the IM field, by the way… they ‘re getting used to this type of approach, and put even honest marketers and entrepreneurs into the “Internet is a big scam” cup.

    It’s a vicious circle consumers get attracted to, and only a few are aware of and perhaps they cannot really get out of it, on their own.

    Twitter and FB makes it easy to spot scammers, or not. They’ll still find ways to get past the filters, I guess…

    What’s your take on that? Hope I’m not diverting the discussion.

  • I think the McD SM war room would make a great blog post. I may have to make a trip to Chicago with my video camera! I ahve actually been to their campus several times for trainign programs and it is a wonderful environment.

  • Not at all. Valid concerns. I think if you get caught up by scams and negativity you will lose your bearings in life and simply be disheartened and depressed. I think this is especially an issue in your field where black hat SEO and orther crap can really make you question the human race. But the mark of a real leader is to be above all that. Stay centered my friend, stay true, feel what you feel but choose how you react.

  • You’re welcome Nancy. It was a great opportunity to meet somebody like Rick who is doing it right.

  • Very good insights Robert. You’re really getting the hang of this stuff, aren’t you??? Excellent comment!

  • Well said. I’ll bet they think think this effort does move hamburgers on some level though, otherwise why do it? Everything you do and everything you don’t do communicates about your brand. McDonalds is nurturing a friendly, wholesome, humanized brand and this approach makes a lot of sense as an extension to that. My only question is, what IS the limit to this? When do you hit a point of diminishing returns and “engagement” and problem-solving devolove into idle chat with millions of people around the world. Tough calls ahead I think for companies scaling along this model.

  • This is Mark Schaefer day! 8)

    I agree it does move some hamburgers. I have a Macro and a Micro view. Macro is if I look at the McD. Income Statement is this driving movements right now for stock price or bonuses for the CEO? No. But do you turn away the chance to even make just one person a rabid brand ambassador if you can? No. But you and I like to measure ROI because it’s very important for the survival of a business over all.

    I have this discussion with Chris Baccus because he runs this stuff for ATT. How many people can you really handle for customer service or to sell to when it’s people to people via Social.

  • Lexy at @ClearpointPR

    Hi Mark,
    I love everything about this! I’m so impressed by all the things McDonald’s is doing right – monitoring and tracking, humanizing their brand, combining PR and customer service…all really smart. I thought it was interesting that they monitored for a year before joining the conversation; as a PR firm that represents mostly tech companies, we’re seeing more of our clients opting for that route. While not as popular as “fries”, their products are getting talked about, and it’s important for our clients to monitor and track the conversation for a period before jumping in.

    Great real life example of best practices. Hope you got some more free fries!

    ~Lexy at @ClearpointPR

  • Well, to honest, the last thing I need is free fries! ; ) The opportunity for the interview was a much better deal! Thanks for commenting Lexy!

  • Tom Heapes

    Thanks for this interview, I’m going to show it to my social media and PR class at the University of Central Missouri. We’re looking out to see what kinds of PR careers might be available for new grads…maybe professional tweeter? Great to hear about the listening experience too, speaking in the same voice as those who are talking about you.

  • Fantastic, Tom! Glad to hear this will help your students!

  • Great interview. I just wrote about how Air France failed to react to a massive increase in #AirFrance trending last weekend (200 tweets per hour) and I think they could learn a few things from the Golden Arches.

    I love how they really humanize the brand with different profiles for their twitter managers. Their Twitter team is really a great example.

    Now I wonder how reactive are they if a crisis or a negative sentiment abt the brand pops up on Twitter?

  • Well said, John. Thanks for this comment!

  • Great article! I tried that with @ScottMonty though I didn’t get a free Ford! 🙂 I loved the interview. Thanks for sharing it!

  • Bo

    Great interview, interesting to hear a part of McDonald’s Social Media strategy!

  • Yeah, we could have gone on with a lot more questions. An interesting view. Thanks Bo

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  • This is extremely interesting. His comment about shifting resources from the call center makes huge implications for the future of customer service. While you & I and other forward thinking marketers know the power of social media in terms of customer relations, there seems to be far too many large companies not listening to their customers.

  • I think this is an enlighted and practical view from McDonald’s. They are simply tuning in to the “new” conversation. It’s still fundamental good marketing, isn’t it? Thanks, Brad.

  • Hi Mark – I realize this post is now two weeks old but it really got me thinking and inspired me to do a 3 minute film on the topic of Twitter avatars. Thought you might like to see it: I’m going to make it the first of a weekly series.

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  • I love seeing this from a major corporation. We can all learn so much from this. Thanks, Mark!

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