Rick Wion, Director of Social Media at McDonald’s, joins the Social Pros Podcast this week to talk to us about McDonald’s social media monitoring strategy, how his team handles millions of social mentions per day, what they’ve done create so many positive brand advocates, and, of course, whether the McRib will make an appearance again this year.
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Social Pros Highlights For Your Reading Enjoyment, Thanks to Speechpad for the Transcription
Success Beyond the “McJob”
Jay: I am psyched about today’s guest, a super, super smart man, and a very nice guy as well, Rick Wion, who is the Director of the Social Media for McDonald’s USA. I wish that I was eating some McDonald’s right now, but it would interfere with the terrific audio here on Social Pros.
Fun fact for all the Social Pros listeners, fun fact. My very first job was at McDonald’s. Tender age of 15 years old, I put on the red polyester and it changed my life, and I actually say that with all sincerity, which is unusual for me. I really enjoyed my time there. I was there for more than two years, and it taught me an awful lot about work and responsibility and lessons that I lean on to this day.
So I actually encourage my kids, who are almost that age to get a job at McDonald’s. I think it’s an unbelievable company, and I’m excited to have Rick with us.
Rick: Well, Jay, that’s wonderful to hear that. In fact, that’s one of the very common things I hear is a surprising amount of people had one of their first jobs at McDonald’s. Across the board, people have wonderful things to say about it. It’s interesting, because one of the roles in my job that we’ve been looking at is, the term “McJob” is looked at with some amount of derision in a lot of circles.
But really, a McJob doesn’t represent that at all. It represents a good start. It’s a great opportunity. It’s a platform for many people in terms of different careers. So that’s in my job description. Other times when I’m not focused on the core menu and some of our other brand reputation pieces, getting after the McJob and trying to turn that into a positive is something that’s very near and dear to my heart.
Eric: Do you guys track an alumni database of employees, like someone like Jay who was a fry cook at 15 and now is a world-wide celebrity as the host of Social Pros? I mean, I would imagine that there are some people that are fairly successful that got their start flipping burgers and doing some of the grunt work behind the counter at McDonald’s.
Rick: Yeah, we do. In fact, there is a book that was released early this year called “Golden Opportunity” and it is a look at – it basically profiles about 30 very successful people who got their start at McDonald’s.
Jay: Fantastic. Maybe I can make version two of that book, of the paperback rewrite.
Well, as they told me at McDonald’s, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” I use that on my kids all the time. They hate it. It’s totally fantastic.
Rick: That’s true.
Taking Social Media Monitoring to the Max
Jay: So, Rick, the scope and scale of what you and your team handle in social is truly mind-boggling, and we talked about this briefly at the Food Service Social Media Conference in Chicago not too long ago. For all of our loyal Social Pros listeners out there, can you dimensionalize that?
I mean, people are like, “Oh, wow. I’ve got so many social mentions to track.” I mean, they’ve got no idea the kind of conversation volume and potential social touch points that you’re dealing with. Can you put some math around that for folks?
Rick: Yeah. McDonald’s is one of the most talked about brands in the world. I don’t say that lightly, and with all due respect and appreciation for the folks that talk about us all day long. A recent study put McDonald’s as the most talked about non-technology brand in the U.S., right behind Google and Apple, Facebook, and Twitter.
Through our current monitoring systems and tools, we’re seeing in the range of 2.5 million or so, a little more or less, mentions of McDonald’s through social media each month. This covers obviously Twitter and blogs and comments on YouTube and things. Obviously we can’t see Facebook data in that, so that number is actually even higher.
Jay: I’m sure you answer all those within 30 minutes, right? You get back to all those?
Rick: Well, it’s interesting because it does force us to make a lot of choices because there are a ton of questions and opportunities that are out there, and we have to determine which ones we respond to and which ones we don’t respond to. Because, number one, our team isn’t large enough and I don’t think there’s a team out there that would be large enough to respond to that amount of conversation. But then, also, even if we did, we would just be flooding these social places with even more noise.
I don’t think anyone wants to look at a Twitter stream that is posting 200 times a day with, “Oh, thanks,” and, “Oh, sorry about that. Here, can we talk about it over here to help you out with that situation?”
Jay: So how do you triage that? Do you say, “Look. If it’s a question or a fairly serious complaint then we jump in. If it’s just more a statement of support or a relatively benign statement of complaint we ignore it”? Do you look at things like social graph and social connectivity? Do you look at region? What are some of the filters that you use to identify, “Yeah, we should probably get back to that guy”?
Rick: Yeah. We definitely have a triage system, and we’ve got this system in place but it’s really a framework. What I try to work with on our teams that are engaged in these spaces is that, “Here are the guidelines for using it.” But for the folks who are on Twitter hours and hours a day, they’re going to know the ecosystem and the conversation better than any sort of numerical filter or things that I can put on there.
So, we have a triage system, and that is run on a day-to-day basis by our response team that covers Facebook and Twitter. This team is comprised of folks within the communications function at McDonald’s, but then also folks from our customer service area. We actually set that up from day one.
We wanted a blend of both folks because we know that for just brand questions and conversation, our communications team would handle that. But when we get into the issues of someone, their order got messed up through the drive-thru for instance.
I wanted some folks who had came from a call center background who are used to dealing with customers who might be less than happy, and have an ability to quickly diffuse situations and turn them into happy customers again.
Jay: That’s a really good point about the drive-thru, because McDonald’s is similar to many franchise organizations and widely distributed businesses where all disappointment is local. People don’t have a problem with McDonald’s as a brand, necessarily. There are some issues around the food and all that.
But most of the issues are just like you said, right? “I didn’t get my fries at the McDonald’s in Tuscaloosa.” So, what do you do about that? You’re not Tuscaloosa. You’re not going to call the Tuscaloosa store and say, “Hey, give these guys fries.” What is the process?
Rick: Well, that’s where bringing in call center folks to the Twitter team was important because not only do we bring their expertise, we brought some of their process along with them. So depending upon the situation, a call to the restaurant in a local area may be warranted.
A lot of times, though, it’s just discussing the situation. We may send a coupon for a free meal for the next time around if warranted. But a surprising number of people, they just want to be heard.
In fact, I didn’t want to quote stats because I know that they’ve been shifting lately. But more than you would expect of folks that we reach out to, they either don’t respond or they respond saying, “No. I was just venting. I’m over it now.”
I’ve always thought that’s really interesting because, if you’ve got a situation and you complain about it, you complain because you want a resolution generally. But then, again, there are some folks who, just having their voice heard and having the acknowledgment from the brand, it seems to be enough for them.
Eric: Do you guys have a local strategy for social at McDonald’s? I mean, there’s a McDonald’s 50 yards from Argyle Headquarters in Downtown Durham. Do the folks there, does the manager there have some sort of social framework or strategy that you sort of pushed down from corporate? Or is that nonexistent?
Rick: What we’ve done is, again, we’ve put together frameworks and guidelines for local usage of social media, and that’s something that has been very important to us. Again, that’s where we’re looking at the way that our system has been set up historically, and taking the best of that and applying that to social strategies.
Rick: So what I mean by that is, as a marketing company – we do national marketing, obviously, but there’s a lot of local marketing that’s involved as well. So, franchisees around the country are organizing the co-ops for local marketing efforts. So, when we started getting into social media and we saw opportunity in the local areas, we followed that model.
Now, co-ops can create a Twitter page for their local area or a Facebook page. In fact, I think in your area, @McD_Triad is the local Twitter handle. Because, at a local level, the franchisees might be testing a new item for the menu. They may be doing a different type of special or a sale that they’re not doing in other places.
By keeping it at the co-op level, it’s something that applies regionally, but then that everyone still has a part of. Because, creating a Twitter page or a Facebook page for one restaurant isn’t necessarily going to make much of a difference. And this is something that we’re advocating for a lot is that having the presence in social media is one point, but another point and even more critical point is creating the experience that people walk away from happy. One thing, in fact, that I like to tell our franchisees is the number one thing that they can do to have a positive impact in social media is to run a great restaurant.
Because if the orders are accurate, people get in and out fast like they’re expecting, if the food is hot and fresh every single time and everyone behind the counter is smiling when they take their order, people are going to leave happy.
They’ll tweet about it and then they’ll post it on Facebook, as opposed to taking pictures of a sandwich that’s falling apart or tweeting because they’ve been in the drive-thru for five minutes when they were trying to get in and out fast.
Quick Engagement Equals Big Opportunity
Jay: One of the things I noticed, Rick, is that you have a number of kind of short form, quick hit Twitter contests and promotions that you do, “Fill in the blank, and the first ten people to do so will receive something,” sort of contests within a single tweet. Has that been an effective program for you and, sort of, what is the upside of that type of engagement?
Rick: Sure. Programs like that have been successful. We actually rolled that out pretty much when we started our Twitter handle a little over three years ago. It serves two purposes for us. Without prompting, one of the number one requests we get from people are, “Hey, can I get a coupon? I followed you, now can I get a Big Mac?” type of thing.
While we don’t have the budget to give every follower something for free, we do have contests so that people have a reason to want to come and check out our Twitter page and stay engaged with the brand. One thing that we do, too, is that we try to have our contests mirror what is going on within our national window.
Right now, we’ve actually just introduced a new sandwich called the CBO. It’s cheddar, bacon, and onion, and you can get it on a burger or on chicken. So we’re going to be doing this Twitter contest, and then we’re going to be giving coupons for this particular sandwich so that people can go try it.
If they like it, then hopefully they’ll tweet about it, and then more people will see that, “Oh, this is a great sandwich. I’ve got to go buy it for myself.”
Social Advertising FTW
Eric: I’m curious to get your thoughts on how effective Facebook advertising has been for you.
Rick: Yeah. We’ve been doing all different types of Facebook advertising for a while, and we’re not in a position to really share stats on performance there, but it’s something that continues to be successful for us. So we’ll definitely continue to do that.
Eric: What approaches have been successful?
Rick: We’re trying a myriad of things. Social ads in general are good performers for us. We’re also trying different things with regional targeting, because what we’ve found as well is that, going back to the co-op model, different regions are doing different things. If we can support them through Facebook advertising, since Facebook is able to target regionally, then it makes the overall ad spend there much more effective.
Eric: Does the ad strategy come out of social? Or does that come out of your ad agency or some other organization that’s managing, maybe other ad channels?
Rick: Well the way that we are structured as a strategic system internally at McDonald’s is that we have a social media steering committee that includes myself, our head of media buying, our head of PR, and then also some lead folks from our customer experience side of things, as well.
The reason that we set it up this way is that we’re bringing advertising and communications and social media all to the table to bring the best drinks around, and then everyone goes and executes in their particular areas.
Jay: That’s interesting. I got in a conversation about that onstage at a conference for ExactTarget last week, their Connections conference, and it was a panel about Facebook and email and the similarities. I said that I really feel like the people who are doing social shouldn’t be doing social advertising because the disciplines are different.
But then we started thinking about, okay, now with promoted posts, where that becomes sort of the coin of the realm, that whoever sort of presses that button that says – for me, it’s $40 to promote a post. Rick, for you it’s probably like $18,000 to promote a post or something, “Put it on my credit card.”
That maybe the people who are sort of hands-on keyword and social should be the ones to make that call. Or maybe you guys just promote every post as a matter of course.
Rick: Well, I’ll share an event with how we manage our promoted trends on Twitter. Our media buying agency, who has the deep expertise buying media for McDonald’s, but also other brands, they are the ones in charge of executing and negotiating the terms of the buy.
Our communications team, who are some of the folks in the trenches in conversation with folks on Twitter every single day, they’re the ones who help determine what’s the strategy for what is inside that buy. What are the hashtags and keywords we’re going to use? Are there any target considerations that we want to give to the media buying team?
Then, what are the actual tweets and then any pictures or video that we want to put into that promotion as well.
Encouraging Brand Advocacy
Jay: Interesting. I heard you say, Rick, at one point that ideally you don’t really want McDonald’s to be the messenger. You want your customers and third parties to be the messenger. That you want other people to sort of carry the advocacy for the brand. Can you elaborate on that a little bit and talk about how that works in practice?
Rick: Sure. I can actually point to our strategy and then some examples on how we work with bloggers and have for several years now. So I’ve been involved in social media for McDonald’s going back to 2006, when we actually executed one of our first programs, advertising and doing an editorial partnership with a mom blogs network.
Coming back out of that, when we looked at how we can engage with bloggers, we very quickly came to the realization that there were a lot of bloggers – and this goes back to 2007, so at the time maybe 1,800 million bloggers. I don’t even know how many it is now, but I know it’s grown immensely since then.
But we realized that there were a lot of people talking a lot about McDonald’s, and a lot of corporations at the time were starting corporate blogs because it was a very important thing to do, and also kind of a trendy thing to do at the time. So, we looked at it and thought about it, and came to the conclusion that for us to start a corporate blog, there’s a very significant amount of time and effort and manpower that goes into not only launching it, but sustaining it overtime.
Once we did that, our corporate blog would be just another corporate blog talking about how great we are. So we did a little bit different strategy and instead of creating a corporate blog, we looked to bloggers who were talking about McDonald’s. We took a very “media relations” type of approach, saying bloggers are influencers. They are publishers. They are media outlets unto themselves.
So why don’t we take what we’ve learned from media relations over the past several years, and apply that to bloggers? Let’s get to know them. Let’s build relationships. Let’s invite them to our press events. Let’s send them coupons. Let’s ask them if they would do reviews, just doing a lot of block and tackle over the years.
Jay: You mean you’re not just sending them press releases blindly? Because those are all the ones I get.
Rick: I hear that they love big, fat PDFs. You know, the five megabytes or bigger attachment, I’ve heard.
No, we don’t and that’s something that’s been very, very close to my heart, as well, is knowing how many brands are just spraying bloggers with all kinds of irrelevant data, irrelevant pitches. I don’t want to be that brand. I don’t want to be that guy.
I don’t want McDonald’s to be that brand. So, we’ve spent a lot of time building relationships. Moms have been a key audience for us, ever since my mom was taking me to McDonald’s when I was a little kid. With the influence of mom bloggers, they became a very important group for us as well. We did things like sponsoring conferences. We’re talking to moms.
We’re building these relationships offline so that way, when there is a question, the bloggers will call us before they go off and go on a tirade on their blog about something that might’ve happened to them at McDonald’s. Or in a positive way, when the fans of McDonald’s might hear another mom being like, “Oh, you take your kids to McDonald’s?” They can speak from an informed voice saying, “Yeah, I take my kids to McDonald’s and here’s why.”
Jay: Yeah. Before you did this, you were on the agency side, and before that you were actually a journalist. You were a working member of the press. Do you feel that your background in media and in the agency world has been an asset to your role at McDonald’s? If so, in what ways?
Rick: I think it definitely has because I can understand different challenges that folks that are either working on the McDonald’s account or folks that are writing about McDonald’s as a brand can face. McDonald’s as a leader in our industry, we get a lot of attention, no matter what we do.
Sometimes that attention isn’t always positive, and so my ability to understand and empathize from a reporter’s perspective has helped me build a relationship with certain reporters, which that’s very much a media relations thing. But knowing that, an increased number of reporters are – they’re writing blogs either on their own or for the newspaper or whatever publication they work for. They’re using Twitter for research.
They’re using Twitter to make connections. I’m able to meet them in those different areas, and then say, “Hey, I know what you’re going through because I know how a newsroom works. I understand the pressures that you’re under.
So, here’s how I can help you,” and then use that as an opportunity to develop a relationship so that, again, if they see something and they’ve got a question about it, they’ll call us before they go off in a direction that may not necessarily be the best for us.
Jay: Fantastic. The kind of things that you’re involved in everyday, it’s just really fascinating and sort of the new transparency in the company overall between the Canadian Your Questions Program, which you and I have talked about and I’ll be writing about soon. Now, even all the calories on the menus and the things that you’re doing proactively.
I think it creates a lot of social activation opportunities, and obviously a lot of conversations as well.
Social Media Stat of the Week: One Out of Five New Facebook Fans Come From a Mobile Device
Eric: The stat of the week comes from our good friend Jeff Widman at PageLever. PageLever develops a Facebook analytics platform, and they do a ton of research around Facebook data and Facebook marketing. They released a report of a survey of several hundred Facebook fan pages with over 100,000 fans, and a surface that one out of five new Facebook fans today come from a mobile device, which is a massive increase from earlier this year.
So, restated, in May, earlier this year, one out of 100 new fans, five were coming from mobile. When they pulled this data at the end of August, out of 100 new fans, 19 were coming from mobile. So that poses some interesting challenges for Facebook marketers.
It’ll be interesting to get Rick’s thoughts on this, but also answers a pretty big question about Facebook the company and Facebook the stock that everybody has been banging on for the past several months. Facebook has this massive mobile opportunity and it looks like they might be getting some traction there.
Jay: Yeah. I wonder, though, are people looking at the Facebook app, or Facebook via a mobile browser and then seeing behavior from their friends in the news feed, and then clicking through and Liking the page? Or are people going to corporate websites via mobile and clicking a Like button on those sites?
Eric: Based on nothing more than a hunch, it has got to be using the Facebook mobile experience.
Jay: Yeah. I think so, because if it came through the corporate site it would still track it on Facebook as a site referral, not a mobile referral.
Eric: Very few corporate sites are mobile optimized, and I would imagine that they’re not putting “Like us on Facebook” as a primary call to action on the mobile site.
Jay: Yeah. We’ve all seen the stats around usage of Facebook on mobile devices. We maybe even talked about it on the show in the past. I mean, it’s extraordinary. It’s absolutely extraordinary. It kind of boggles my mind, because the Facebook experience on a mobile device is universally crap.
Jay: But yet, it is absolutely used. I think because people tend to use phones and mobile devices for snapshots in time, and nothing is more snapshot in time than Facebook. Rick, is that changing the way you think about Facebook, the rise of mobile and usage of Facebook on phones and such?
Rick: It is. The Facebook experience overall is something that we’re looking at all the time. That’s one of the kind of blessings and the curses that we have. We’ve got 23 million plus fans on Facebook, which we’re honored to have that many. It’s a great thing. But it also means that we need to think about our experience in so many different ways. Because of those 23 million, they’re spread across the country.
There are heavy, daily, ten times a day users and folks that are coming on once a week, and then we’ve got the mobile experience as well. Then the rise of photo sharing on Facebook and across Instagram, we’ve seen huge numbers of that related to McDonald’s in the past couple of months as well.
So there’s just so much going on, it’s such a wonderfully complex and exciting platform itself that it’s going to take some time to figure it all out, for us and I think for most brands as well.
Social Pros Shoutout
Jay: All right, Rick, it’s time for you to be on the spot. Do you have for us some Social Pros shout outs, people or things out there in the world of social media who inspire you, who do not get the attention they so richly deserve?
Rick: Sure. I’ve got a couple of folks that immediately come to mind with that. Actually, the first I think, if you’ll indulge me, is actually not one person but a power couple. These two, it’s Len Kendall and Katie Holland. I worked with Len at Golin Harris, but he recently left to go found his own start-up company called CentUp.
Then, Katie is the rockstar on my Twitter team at McDonald’s, and they got engaged last year. In fact, they got engaged via BuzzFeed, which was a very interesting experience. If anyone wants to go Google that, it’s a really cute story. I’ve known them forever and just think the world of them.
Jay: Does BuzzFeed get commission on that kind of program? How does that work exactly?
Rick: You know what? It was fairly early in their hockey stick growth. So, I think that Len knew how to sweet talk them pretty well, and it worked.
Rick: Yeah, and she said yes, so…
Jay: That always helps.
Rick: I’d also love to give a shout out to my old boss, Jeff Beringer, who is at Golin Harris, leading that firm in all kinds of wonderful directions as well.
Outside of Golin, there are two folks that come to mind, Adam Kmiec, who I got to know at Walgreens and is now at Campbell’s Soup. He is one of the smartest guys I know and someone I highly respect.
Jay: Is that the second show in a row we’ve had a shout out for him, Eric? Didn’t we have a shout out for Adam last week?
Eric: What was the last name?
Jay: Adam Kmiec from Campbell’s. I think we did. I think he was on Social Pros shout out last week or the week before. So he is mm, mm good. We’re going to have to have him on the show for sure.
Rick: Yeah. I expect a limited edition Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup can.
Then my last shout out would go to another one of the smartest people that I know and have had the pleasure to work with before, and that’s Abby Klanecky at the Dow Chemical Company, which might sound sort of odd because you wouldn’t think chemical company and social media.
But I’ve seen her speak and I’ve talked to her several times. The way that she is empowering their scientists to beacon social media and really smartly using social media in a B2B company is just quite impressive.
Jay: Sounds like that would be a heck of an episode.
Rick: I think it would be.
Jay: I will be shouting at you for an introduction. Rick, thank you very much. You were fantastic as expected. Love the work that you are doing.
All right, Eric. That will do it for this week in Social Pros. Who do we have coming up on the show next week?
Eric: Before that, I do have one more question for Rick. When am I going to see the McRib again, and can we please get Tony Joe White back as the voice of the McRib commercial?
Rick: I can’t speak to Tony Joe White, but the McRib will be back this year again. I can’t give you exact dates, but it’s coming.
Eric: Oh, wow. There’s not much of this year left so that’s pretty exciting. And Tony Joe White is still alive. I Googled it. So that’s just a suggestion.
Jay: Is that one of those single purpose URLs? IsTonyJoeWhiteAlive.com, and it just says yes or no?
Eric: I had to dig into Wikipedia. But, hey, man, I remember that commercial when I was a kid, and I like McRib, so good.
Up Next Week: Shannon Paul
Jay: Yeah, she’s aces. That’s going to be a good one for sure. Thank you Mr. Boggs. Thank you to Rick. Thanks to all of our loyal Social Pros listeners. We appreciate your feedback. We see it out there on the Twitters and on the blog posts. Thanks for listening and keep in touch, and we’ll talk to you next week. Cheers.