Anti-Trump McDonald’s tweet a cautionary tale for social media managers

The explicitly anti-Donald Trump message tweeted by the official McDonald’s Twitter account on Thursday morning, and its viral aftermath, provides a timely reminder that business leaders need to focus on ensuring both the security and professional tone of their companies’ social media accounts, and be ready to respond when emergencies arise, experts say.

Danielle Faber, digital marketing manager at Toronto-based PR agency Eighty-Eight, who in three and a half years with the company has worked on around 30 accounts across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, says that in her opinion the fast-food giant responded appropriately, deleting the tweet and posting a notification that its account had been compromised and the incident was under investigation.

Eighty-Eight digital marketing manager Danielle Faber believes McDonald’s reacted appropriately by deleting the viral – but fake – tweet.

“No two comments or tweets are the same,” she says. “But any response should be making sure that your company’s brand, voice, and tone is always coming across in a polite manner.”

It was especially important that McDonald’s explain the situation as quickly as possible, Faber says, and demonstrate that they were taking steps to rectify the mistake.

“Obviously McDonalds didn’t purposely send a tweet that referred to Donald Trump’s tiny hands, so everyone figured it was either a hack or an employee gone rogue,” she says. “When McDonald’s let the public know that it was a hack, it came as a surprise, but… it was also par for the course.”

Viral Nation co-founder Joe Gagliese thinks it’s equally important that McDonald’s not ignore the incident.

Once those steps arrive at a conclusion, it’s equally important that McDonald’s share the results, Joe Gagliese, co-founder of Vaughan, Ontario-based social media talent agency Viral Nation Inc., says.

“They need to get in front of it and ensure the issue isn’t simply pushed under the rug,” he says. “Once they do a thorough investigation into how it happened and why they need to share their findings or else people will use their imaginations, and that’s never good.”

After all, he notes, a “hack” could still refer to a disgruntled employee.

Even if the tweet had been sent by means other than a hack, McDonald’s would hardly have been the first high-profile company to fall victim to its own employees, Eighty-Eight’s Faber says: Chrysler fired a social media firm whose (own quickly fired) employee tweeted a status incorporating the f-word on the car maker’s behalf in 2011, for example, while the staff behind the U.S. Airways account famously tweeted just about the most NSFW airplane-related photo imaginable when attempting to flag it.

Had that sort of human error been the cause, there are other steps McDonald’s could have taken beyond repercussions for the parties involved, she says, such as implementing company-wide levels of approval for any tweets written, or installing social media tools such as Hootsuite which build levels of approval into their platforms. This way a company’s social media accounts, and anything posted on them, can be shared between its community managers, copy editors, marketers, and anyone else involved to ensure nothing is published without official approval.

As for how McDonald’s should respond to users who might think more of its food because of what was erroneously published, Faber’s advice remains social media’s gold standard: Don’t feed the trolls.

“It’s a really controversial topic at the moment, and the original tweet didn’t follow McDonalds’ brand, voice, or tone,” she says. “Trolls can come from all sides.”

“McDonald’s gets thousands and thousands of comments per day that they can’t or don’t respond to because it doesn’t fit their brand message or have anything to do with their social media strategy, and I think tweets supporting the deleted message qualify,” she continues. “There’s no point in digging a deeper hole.”

That said, mistakes will happen, no matter how many checks and balances and security measures are in place, Faber acknowledges, and social media managers especially need to keep in mind that once the appropriate steps have been taken, further measures such as cybersecurity upgrades need to be trusted to other departments.

“So long as an apology was made, and they’re taking steps to ensure they don’t get hacked in the future, there’s not much else the social media team can do,” she says.

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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