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When Twitter Hashtags Attack: #McDStories
By: Christine Turnier
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Social media can be a cruel mistress. Sure, it allows brands to speak directly with customers about their experiences. True, it also allows brands to create and distribute marketing messages to billions of eyeballs. The trouble is, sometimes those customers talk back, and they aren’t always “on brand.”
Last week, McDonald’s launched what I’m sure they believed to be a brilliant social media campaign. Using their Twitter account, @McDonalds began sharing stories about their brand using the #McDStories hashtag on Wednesday.
@McDonalds : Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day #McDStories mcd.to/zEckNn
I’m sure the megabrand with over 270,000 followers hoped this would inspire fans to share their own heart-warming stories. How about memories of that first Happy Meal or moments shared over the perfect parfait? Not quite. Instead, #McDStories has been used to share some less-than-savory comments. For example:
@vegan: My memories of walking into a McDonald's: the sensory experience of inhaling deeply from a freshly-opened can of dog food. #McDStories
@SkipSullivan: One time I walked into McDonalds and I could smell Type 2 diabetes floating in the air and I threw up. #McDStories
Needless to say, this probably isn’t what they had in mind when they hit the “tweet” button last week. In the wake of the hashtag hijacking, McDonald’s seems to have shifted gears. A review of their Twitter feed from January 18 through today shows that @mcdonalds only mentions the #McDStories tag once, presumably so that they can be seen as the originator and provide context. Instead, the brand appears to be using #MeetTheFarmers. This hashtag is much more innocuous because it doesn’t refer to the brand name itself. In a rather strange turn, @mcdonalds hasn’t responded to any of the #McDStories tweets, but is publicly fighting with @peta about allegations over the meat in McNuggets.
@McDonalds@peta That posting is absolutely FALSE McNuggets are NOT made from mechanically separated chicken. Only USDA inspected white meat
In an environment where anyone can create marketing messages, smart brands need to be prepared for and react to anything. McDonald’s complete lack of response seems a little off to me. At the very least, they could admit that this unearthed some negative experiences with the brand, followed by a statement that McDonald’s always aims to deliver the highest quality food and service. But ignoring the comments only to bicker with PETA is a surprisingly unsophisticated move from such a marketing powerhouse.
Regardless, this hashtag has resulted in more impressions than most brands could hope for. In the world of social media, is it enough that people are engaging with your brand or is it essential that these interactions are positive? How do you think McDonald’s handled this communication crisis?

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About the Author
Christine Turnier is not a ninja or a guru. She is a marketing and social media strategist. Find out more at bril-yunt.com or @cmturnier.
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