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McDonald's Finds Quick Social Responses Require Nimble Planning



Rick Wion
Director of Social Media
McDonald's

McDonald’s sees an enormous volume of social media conversations each month. Social media director Rick Wion talked with eMarketer’s Debra Aho Williamson about how the company mines this stream of information to find real-time marketing opportunities.

eMarketer: How do you use social analytics to help with your real-time marketing goals? Do you try to change your marketing to adapt to online trends or make changes in your content strategies based on things people are saying online?

Wion: We are in a constant test-and-learn mode. As we’re putting together different marketing messages, we’re also evaluating what else we’ve said and how those things have performed.

If we’re rolling out a new product, we will have dozens and dozens of different messages and tweets that we want to put out. As we put those out, we evaluate how people react to them. Sometimes we’ll even do A/B testing, where we’re saying essentially the same thing but phrased two different ways. We will monitor if there are certain message points that resonate.

eMarketer: Can you give me an example?

“We saw that when we talked about everything on the sandwich, it was good, but when we emphasized the bacon, that seemed to drive more engagement.”

Wion: We have found that if we home in on various attributes of our products, that seems to work for us really well. So when we launched the Cheddar Bacon Onion burger last fall, we had a feeling that the bacon piece was going to be the big hit of the product. And as it turns out, that was true. We saw that when we talked about everything on the sandwich, it was good, but when we emphasized the bacon, that seemed to drive more engagement.

eMarketer: Are you happy with how social analytics can support these kinds of marketing efforts?

Wion: Radian6 and Sprout Social are the two main tools that we use, and both have helped us increase the speed and visibility of certain issues as they emerge. What we would like, however, is a better understanding of trends as they bubble up.

We see a huge volume of social conversation. We’re tracking 2.5 [million] to 3 million-plus conversations each month, and it’s sometimes difficult to see a little bubble before it turns into a major trend for us.

The challenge is that when you’ve got our volume, it’s difficult to understand the difference between 100 people who said something because they had the same experience at 100 different restaurants across the country vs. the first 100 people that are commenting on a trend.

“We’re tracking 2.5 [million] to 3 million-plus conversations each month, and it’s sometimes difficult to see a little bubble before it turns into a major trend for us.”

eMarketer: How do you manage the enormous amount of social data that you receive?

Wion: Our insights team feeds all of our social data into the various insight systems that they have. We’re watching trend lines to see what’s happening at the macro level, but then we make a point of diving into the micro, reading as much of the stream as we can.

eMarketer: How is McDonald’s organized internally so that you can take advantage of real-time marketing opportunities?

Wion: This is where our partnership with our legal team comes in handy. They help us understand what we can react to very quickly, what things are going to take a little bit more time to do, and what things we would probably avoid.

We’ve worked with our legal team on guidelines for how we interact with celebrities on Twitter. As it turns out, celebrities go to McDonald’s. When a celebrity tweets, we can retweet their original tweet. We don’t add to it. We don’t dress it up because we don’t want to take their statement and try to make it into an endorsement.

Because our legal department has said, “If you want to do that, you can. You don’t need to ask us first,” if something were to pop across my desk now, I could take a look at it and say, “OK, so a celebrity is taking a picture of themselves with McCafé coffee and the product looks good. They’re smiling and they’re happy. I can retweet that.”

A longer version of this interview is available to eMarketer corporate subscribers only. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a corporate subscriber, click here.

Check out today’s other articles, “College Students Hunt Deals on Mobile” and “In Australia, Content Marketing Takes Center Stage.”

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