The McDonald’s Mess: The Unintentional Political Risk of Social Media

On Thursday, McDonald’s was thrust into the political fray after their Twitter account penned a controversial tweet about President Trump—and they are not lovin’ it. The unfortunate compromise of the McDonald’s account highlights a threat that every brand faces online: being the target of politically-focused backlash.

Maintaining total control over your brand in a politically and socially volatile landscape is especially difficult when that environment is subject to large amounts of uncontrolled consumer messaging. Unable to plan for potential public relations fire drills, companies often find themselves in a defensive and reactionary position. This is especially true with politics, and brands that engage in political commentary (intentionally or unintentionally) are at a high risk for adverse reactions.

Below are three case studies exploring the impact of a politically-charged cultural atmosphere on several high-profile brands.

Starbucks: Trying to be socially conscious

Summary: After the White House announced the first Executive Order on Immigration, Starbucks pledged to hire over “10,000 refugees over the next five years.”

Fallout: While Starbuck’s message may have resonated with those against the Executive Order, consumers in favor of the Order took offense and launched a very public boycott effort against Starbucks, with many suggesting other groups are more deserving of those jobs. Eventually the “#BoycottStarbucks” hashtag was usurped by proponents of Starbucks’ actions, undermining the actual boycott effort.

Volume: High, over 700,000 posts; the biggest spike around the issue took place on January 29 (324,000 posts)

Brand Reaction: While Starbucks did not back down on their promise to hire refugees, they announced two efforts to placate protesters: an acceleration of existing efforts to hire “10,000 veterans and military spouses” and a pledge to continue hiring Vets after exceeding their expected deadline

Uber: Corporate social irresponsibility

Summary: In a sound business decision, Uber removed “surge pricing” during the NYC taxi drivers union protest against President Trump’s first executive order on immigration

Fallout: Consumers opposed to the ban felt that Uber was taking advantage of the protest and diminishing the gravity of the ban. This, combined with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s position on President Trump’s advisory council, spurred a massive effort among users to delete their Uber accounts, including the use of the hugely popular “#DeleteUber” hashtag

Volume: High, over 690,000 posts; the biggest spike around the issue took place on January 28 (392,000 posts)

Brand Reaction: After the initial wave of deletions, and the ensuing controversy over the difficulty of actually deleting an Uber account, Uber was forced to backpedal. They released statements claiming that they hadn’t intended to cross a picket line, but their primary competitor, Lyft, took the opportunity to announce their “$1 million” donation to the ACLU over the course of President Trump’s first term.

McDonald’s: Hackers’ chaos, or unpredictable employees?

Summary: McDonald’s Twitter account becomes the target of “hacking” and publishes a negative post against President Trump.

Fallout: Consumer reaction to the tweet, its deletion, and McDonald’s subsequent revelation that the account was compromised was widely varied, with users expressing passionate opinions on both sides.

Volume: High, over 700,000 posts; the biggest spike around the issue took place on March 16 (400,000 posts)

Brand Reaction: McDonald’s swiftly deleted and disavowed the post in a very public manner, which diffused and defrayed much of the negative backlash, effectively redirecting conversation toward their action rather than the tweet itself

Whether the potential risk or PR nightmare threatening your brand results from actions taken by your company or something entirely unpredictable (such as a hacker or a disgruntled employee), a real-time social media monitoring solution can help you to manage and monitor any potential threats.

ListenLogic risk sensing solutions combine streaming big data technology and expert analysts to detect emerging threats for corporate awareness and response. We protect corporate brand reputations by tracking known, emerging, and anticipated risks, detecting unforeseen threats, and investigation and mapping issues that impact an organization. You can learn more here.