Companies in a controversial line of business have a special reason to take social media seriously. None more so than McDonald’s, which as the leading fast food operator is attracting a lot of the blame for the world-wide obesity epidemic. So the brand has an important job to do in combating negative perceptions.
It has to be said, its initial efforts in this area were typically ham fisted. A few years ago it was criticised for ‘flogging’ – promoting itself in what appeared to be independent blogs but were actually just an advertising wheeze.
But it seems to have got the hang of things now. The company runs a corporate social responsibility blog called Values in Practice, which does a good job of projecting its caring side. All the necessary buzzwords are there: ‘empowerment’, ‘values’, ‘responsibilities, ‘trust’ – a recent post blows its horn about the attention it pays to agricultural sustainability. It also runs regular podcasts on green and sustainability issues. The writers manage to avoid being pompous, and wryly let us know they’re aware of how McDonalds is perceived – a recent podcast on employment opportunities asks, ‘Ever wondered what it’s like to have a McJob?’
Another blog called Mom’s Quality Correspondents has a more folksy down-home feel, talking about health, nutrition, and also the company’s charity work. That actually did rather more to soften my own negative perceptions. Who knew that it provides hostels called Ronald McDonald Houses in many US cities and around the world, located near children’s hospitals, where families with sick children can stay for a small donation, or even for free?
On the other side of the fence, McDonald’s is learning how to deal with problems that come to light through social media. It was at the sharp end over a recent incident at a Philadelphia outlet, when students of nearby Penn University got into an argument with staff. The students gave a blow by blow account of the fracas on Facebook, describing the staff members as having been abusive and unreasonable – and the profile quickly attracted a lot of interest from other students. Spotting the danger, a local manager called to apologise and explain he had been on holiday at the time. He confirmed the students’ story, and the guilty staff members were immediately sacked.
None of this mere window dressing. Without an active and imaginative social media policy McDonald’s is the kind of company that could quickly find itself in trouble. As it is, it’s making the most of the opportunities to cultivate friends and pacify enemies.