Way back in 2006, way before the existence of the iPad, Beliebers and Manchester City, I worked for McDonalds. This wasn’t unusual as a stint at McDonalds, or other low-paid big-company jobs, were a common stop-off point for students and other young people looking for a bit of extra pocket money to spend on magazines, CDs, phone credit and other wacky products from the 2003-2006 period.
I hated McDonalds with a passion, and I wasn’t alone. Eric Schlosser had written Fast Food Nation which, along with the movie Supersize Me, revealed to the world that food priced cheaply and made quickly might not be too good for you or ethical; the McLibel case had revealed that corporations obviously only interested in making money were only interested in making money; and the quality of Happy Meal toys declined sharply (serious, what is this?!).
To counteract this ill public feeling, McDonalds reinvented itself, introducing all manner of healthy options and, in what turned out to be a very shrewd move, opened the Make Up Your Own Mind website. This site served as a public relations exercise to combat all of the negativity that existed towards the company, inviting members of the public to ask questions about McDonalds food and business practices. It was essentially a business Twitter account before its time.
Crucially, however, McDonalds took the time to ensure all variety of questions were answered. So, for instance, a genuine question about what goes into a Big Mac patty would receive the same straight-faced response as questions like “is it true big max are made from childrens lol”. An example of this (or perhaps feedback on an ill-thought-out milkshake promotion attempt) can be seen below:
The Make Up Your Own Mind website became viral, and I remember spending daft amounts of time reading through all the questions at my then-new SEO job. And I wasn’t the only one. But the site wasn’t just about gaining traffic, it was about improving its public image. McDonalds had made themselves a laugh, and had proved they didn’t take themselves too seriously.
Six years on and McDonalds has built on this approach to become something of a digital marketing trailblazer among corporations. This week’s Blogworld event in New York saw Rick Wion, director of Social Media for the brand, gave a few hints as to how he believes companies should behave online. He said they should look to be funny, so long as its in context and fits the brand. They should look to steer away from standard ‘corporate messages’, and they should always be willing to evolve and try different methods of gaining success.
The Make Up Your Own Mind website has long since ceased operations, replaced instead with a simple FAQ page. Its legacy, that of being one of the first companies to truly engage with its critics via digital, can easily be seen in the corporate Twitter accounts of thousands of companies worldwide.
For more on the McDonalds digital strategy, read this Econsultancy piece.