#McHating It

26 01 2012

The grapevine has always been the perfect metaphor of informal human communications. It grew quickly and could cover an entire trellis in no time. In the old days, people had to gather at the fence or watercooler to share their gossip.

That all changed in the 80s when online BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems) came along, thereby allowing pioneer home computing enthusiasts to meet at the electronic watercooler. Listservs quickly followed, and then over a decade later, social media sites.

Which is another way of saying that all bets are off when it comes to squelching a bad rumor or any other potentially damaging information. Literal grapevines never grew so fast.

The latest victim of this sobering reality is McDonald’s, who naively invited people to rock the #McDStories hashtag on Twitter. McDonald’s may as well have let people air their dirty McLaundry on live television.

Note to anyone involved in corporate communications: this is how crises happen. And a good case in point: Lowe’s and their December debacle in which they pulled advertising from TLC’s All-American Muslim. The Twitterverse and Facebook were abuzz with thousands (think close to 30,000) biting comments from people either against or in support of Lowe’s (you can take our survey on this here).

Lowe’s eventually removed their statement from its Facebook page long after it had already spun out of control. But while a company has the power to do that on FB, it is entirely powerless on Twitter because users can create hashtags that no one owns.

Basically, on Twitter the barn door is always open, and the horses run freely. For McDonald’s to be so daft as to create its own hashtag and then encourage participation is just ludicrous. It betrays their utter and complete misunderstanding of social media. To no surprise of anyone who gets social media, people are ripping McDonald’s a new one.

Gone forever are the days of communications being a one-way street (and owned by the corporation). Citizen journalists and critics have microphones and amps as loud as or louder than anything a company owns. And once a hashtag runs off the road, it is nearly impossible to regain control.

The Hamburglar is at large, and Ronald needs to figure out how to manage the situation.

Dr “#unhappymeal” Gerlich


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