Experts: McDonald’s Needs Better Grip on Millennials Before Moving Social Strategy Forward

Social feedback shows marketing disconnect

When it comes to brands charged with spearheading a social media strategy, McDonald’s brand managers have it rough. The burger slinger routinely gets beat up on social media with negative comments and mentions, some of which it tries to deal with on Twitter.

Nonetheless, McDonald’s continues to pour hefty amounts of money into social advertising. The brand is one of a small handful of names running paid promos within the Instagram app with a campaign that erupted into a slew of backlash the past few weeks. Mickey D’s has also had a few well-publicized blunders on Twitter, most recently with a Promoted Tweet that went awry quickly, per an article from Digiday.

That’s not to say that McDonald’s isn’t trying with social. After all, it was one of the first brands to test out Snapchat (which now Wendy’s and Burger King have both latched onto), and ran an interesting rich media campaign on Facebook and Twitter last year to promote a new chicken wing product.

The Oak Brook, IL.-based company has more than 269,000 Instagram followers, 31 million Facebook "likes" and 2.49 million Twitter followers.

So, with all of the adverse feedback, will McDonald’s be shaking up its social media strategy soon? The brand declined to comment on its digital plans, but Valeria Maltoni, vp of digital strategy at PM Digital, pointed out that the fire hose of recent bad press shouldn’t stop McDonald’s from trying new social efforts.

"Rather than shunning new social strategies, McDonald’s should use consumer opinions to help develop new content and platform-specific ideas to ensure their content resonates with its intended audiences. McDonald’s is exploring some early forms of paid social media to create engagement opportunities for the brand in the social space and, as with most advertising and media campaigns, these strategies may require tweaking going forward," Maltoni said.

Both the Instagram ad and recent Promoted Tweets push a new burger from McDonald’s called the Bacon Clubhouse that is meant to appeal to millennials. Millennial-minded marketers are quick to single out platforms like Snapchat to target youngsters. But some argue that the social-mobile app may not be such a good idea for McDonald’s in general.

"McDonald’s can recapture its mojo by carefully targeting a campaign [around] the where and the what," noted Seth Traum, partner at Vivaldi Partners Group. "For the where, I’d avoid the millennial-focused platforms like Instagram, as reaction tends to be swift and sarcastic. And for the what, I would focus on including some form of value in the ad." For example, Traum recommended that McDonald’s could have attached a coupon to its Instagram ad to link the promo to a sale.

But Travis Freeman, vp of social media strategy at Dentsu Aegis argued that McDonald’s can make Instagram work as long as the company uses the right content.

Competitor Taco Bell was also one of the first marketers to employ Instagram ads to launch a new product and didn’t get nearly as much backlash. Unlike the McDonald’s effort, Taco Bell’s campaign did not focus on products, which led to a 29 percent increase in ad recall. Millennials are a notoriously hard group for marketers to win over, and it’s fair to assume that at least some of the messages that McDonald’s keeps pushing out through social media feel more like ads than pieces of content to the group.

"Product is inevitably in the shot, but only after discovering it through the consumer-centric experience that Taco Bell was targeting," Freeman explained. "Content is the glue that ties any of this together."

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