by Carol Tice, via Forbes |
Back in April, McDonald’s made an announcement: Their newly made-over mascot, Ronald McDonald, was going to start tweeting, under the hashtag #RonaldMcDonald.
At first blush, that sounded like an idea with some fun potential. But it didn’t work out that way.
What happened instead spotlights how difficult it is for big brands to pull off successful social-media campaigns.
The big problem: Not everyone likes Ronald McDonald, or the company he represents. Starting a hashtag about him gives an open door to Twitter’s notorious haters to jump in with negative comments.
Scanning the thread, you can find the occasional happy or positive tweet like this one:
But for every one like that, you can find several slamming the cheerful clown.
Who hates a clown? Reasons include the company’s use of Ronald to sell fast food to children, its inclusion of animal products on its menu, or its low wages:
How can this sort of debacle be prevented? A few takeaways for brands trying social media:
1. Have a Twitter handle, not just a hashtag
I thought it was a bit odd to see that Ronald would just have a Twitter hashtag, rather than a handle with a full bio and links to McDonald’s sites…until I looked around and found out why.
The handle @RonaldMcDonald is already taken — by someone named Heather Oldani. She’s been on since 2009, but has no bio, and uses the default “egg” graphic for her picture. My bet: She’s hoping McDonald’s will make her an offer and she can cash in.
That still shouldn’t have stopped McDonald’s from getting Ronald a handle, though it might have taken a little thinking to come up with a good one. Because @RealRonaldMcD is also taken, by another squatter, along with @_RonaldMcDonald, @RonaldMcdonaldM, and many similar variations.
Brands should look to lock down a good handle early for mascots that plan to use Twitter.
2. Avoid confusion
Ronald McDonald isn’t just a mascot. He also has a charity named after him — Ronald McDonald House Charities. This nonprofit offers housing near hospitals to families whose children are undergoing cancer treatment.
It’s an uplifting story, but a problem on Twitter. Many of the individual Ronald McDonald House locations are on Twitter, too, such as @RonaldHouseChicago. The charities’ posts results in most of the feel-good posts with the #RonaldMcDonald hashtag, as Ronald makes a lot of personal appearances at their events.
The Ronald-House posts create a thicket of confusion on Twitter, should the mascot try to post something as himself. Which doesn’t seem to have happened much, anyway — I scanned all the way back to April to check.
Possibly, McDonald’s could get the charity branches to all tweet under the global @RMHC handle? That might help simplify the Ronald-related chatter and create room on Twitter for some real Ronald tweets.
As much as it might feel like robbery, it might be worth buying up one of those squatter handles, too, to nail down a good, verified Twitter account Ronald could use.
3. Don’t have an agenda
Social media is a tough place to be overtly promoting yourself or doing anything controversial, and Twitter has the audience with the most sensitive B.S. meter of any popular platform. Try to plug something on Twitter, and you’re waving a red flag at the haters.
or instance, each shot posted of Ronald visiting schoolchildren kicked off a round of flaming posts about how McDonald’s shouldn’t use him as a shill to get kids to eat junk food.
Contrast that with the silly stuff Wendy’s does in social media, such as creating videos where people sing tweets that have been posted about their food. Another brand that’s taken the safe-and-silly route is A&W Restaurants. The most recent tweet from its mascot, Rooty Root Bear, was a faux chat between him and plush bear Snuggle, the Snuggle laundry detergent mascot who tweets at @Snuggle_Bear.
4. Incorporate your mascot into your corporate handle
McDonald’s could also learn from A&W’s approach when it comes to Twitter handles — A&W simply added tweets from Rooty to their corporate handle, @AWRestaurants. “Tweets from spokesbear Rooty signed -RB,” notes the corporate Twitter bio.
McDonald’s does have its @McDonalds handle locked down — so that could be a free solution to the Twitter handle problem.
5. Choose the right medium
Every social-media platform isn’t right for every brand. Rooty posts funny videos on YouTube, for instance.
Having endured six months of hostility on Twitter, this month McDonald’s finally got wise: Now, Ronald McDonald is on Instagram, as you can see in that top video.
Good move — the crowd there is more upbeat and less prone to flaming. Ronald also seems to have learned to keep it innocuous and fun — all the photos he’s put up so far range from simple head shots to funny shots, such as one with his clown smile on a pumpkin for Halloween.