We hear all this discussion about corporations being more “human”. Social media users are urging companies of all sizes to create a relatable voice for themselves. But what happens when the relatable voice doesn’t match the company culture?

The recent example of the McDonalds campaign gone bad is…well, its just “Ouch.” A hashtag (#McDStories)  is highjacked and the result is a spiraling PR nightmare. I would argue that this isn’t a “truly” social campaign since the impetus was actual paid tweets with a designated hashtag, but we’ll leave that for another discussion. I’d also like to think that someone, somewhere at McDonalds could have seen this happening (check the official response), but let’s pretend for a moment that person who expressed concern was overridden by the developers of this particular campaign. Lots going on here and its impossible to know how this actually happened.

But what’s the real lesson here?

The real lesson is (drum roll please) transparency.

If you’re going to put it out there, you gotta back it up. Gone are the days of manufacturing stories that can’t be supported by the product or the company’s actual culture.

This McDonalds campaign was created because McDonalds KNOWS what people think of their processed food. They wanted to focus on the warm and fuzzy stories of McDonalds…and also their farmers (you may have seen those commercials). But the problem with McDonalds isn’t the farmers, its what happens to the food once it leaves the farm. And in fact, the idea that our best moments happen at McDonalds is even further fetched. Let’s face it. You don’t eat at McDonalds to create a memory, you eat at McDonalds because its there. Instead of owning the reality of why McDonalds is embraced by people, the people at McDonalds either A) told themselves that McDonalds is a major part of most people’s lives because they have such an affinity to McDonalds or B) tried to change the conversation in such a drastic way without considering the reality of how they actually do business.

I’d argue that McDonalds would have been better off embracing the reality of why people eat there. They know what to expect. Its fast. Its there. The kids can and will eat it in the car. That’s the kind of reality that McDonalds can back up. That’s the story that’s consistent with the McDonalds brand.

Be honest with yourself. What’s the REAL story of your customers? If you don’t know it, then spend some time with a listening campaign. Find out what people are really saying about you, your competitors, your product. You’ll gain real and valuable insight. Who knows, it might even change the way you do business.

Because ultimately, the social media sphere will only listen to YOUR company stories, if you’re already listening to theirs. Before you take to the social networks with your company stories, be sure your company can back up the story. You can’t say your #1 in customer service when the average hold time at your company is 15 minutes.

But, and this is really important, this is why its important to do a deep dive about your company culture and LISTEN in social media before you dive head first into social media. If the conversation about your company isn’t where you want it to be, then you can join the conversation and participate in the conversation, strategically. But be wary of just jamming messaging down the throats of social media users. If people are saying negative things about your company, you might consider how you’ll internalize that feedback, because once you put yourself out there, that feedback will come flooding in even stronger.  No matter what size company you are – there is a story behind your brand, your company. The better you know and understand that story, the better your social media experience will be.

That’s not to say that companies can’t use social media to set or start a conversation. But it is to say that if there is a conversation already happening, you’ll have a hard time if you try to bull doze your way through it by constantly trying to change the conversation. You might consider JOINING the conversation first, creating some relationships, then moving the conversation in the direction you’d like. This is why the middle of a crisis isn’t the time to start a social media campaign.

It all goes back to “Everything I learned in social media I learned in Kindergarten

Do a gut check:  If you can’t look your customers in the eye when you’re saying something, should you really be saying it? Just say’n.

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Creative Commons Yum9Me