Be Careful What You Ask For

By Lippe Taylor / Posted on 26 January 2012

I always say that marketing is a spectator sport … we can learn a lot from each other.  This is particularly true in social media, where consumer behavior and brand activation is still uncharted territory in many ways.

Just recently I wrote about how Walgreens learned that it can’t buy love on Twitter with a promoted trending topic like #ilovewalgreens.

Well yesterday, McDonald’s learned a similar lesson with #McDStories – the brand created a hashtag to tell stories about the quality of its food, and asked for stories back from its consumers as well.  McDonald’s started the stream, and then opened it up.  Well … what happened over the next two hours of warp speed tweeting is incredible.

The stories quickly turned snarky with tweeters posting comments about how bad their experiences have been at McDonald’s.  Not exactly what the brand was hoping for.  Even some tweets back and forth with PETA.  McDonald’s was looking for a love fest, and got something far short of that.  The brand quickly shut it down.  It made national news … McOuch.

There have been similar instances with the airline Qantas, the band Nickelback, and Kraft Mac & Cheese.  Instances where the brand was hoping to open up a positive dialogue with its Twitter followers and instead got a lot of criticism.  Criticism about bad customer service, cheesy music, and poor product quality.  Things inherent to the brands that perhaps they were not prepared to defend.

Nickelback responded by responding to every single tweet – often with a snarky comment in return.  Worked for them and their “brand,” but wouldn’t work for a conservative brand like Kraft.

The lesson learned here?

Despite everything we say in the conference room, we can’t “own” the conversation.  We can put it out there, but consumers decide which direction it takes.  If a brand wants to open up, which it should, then a brand needs to be prepared for what comes back.  And continue to dialogue in their own brand spirit.

No brand is squeaky clean when it comes to business.  Every brand is a work in progress … so be prepared for all the skeletons to be pointed out.  Which is ok, if the brand owns up to it and discusses it openly as well.  Transparency and honesty is key in social media.

If you’re not ready to really and truly dialogue with your consumers, like Nickelback, then wait until you are ready.

What’s your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
President of Lippe Taylor
Author of The Experience Effect
Professor at NYU