#McFail: Why McDonald's Should Have Followed the ABC’s of Responding to Negative Feedback on Social Media

Jay Osterholm
Jay Osterholm Founder and CEO , The ODM Group

Posted on January 28th 2012

#McFail: Why McDonald's Should Have Followed the ABC’s of Responding to Negative Feedback on Social Media

This has been quite the week for social media blunders, particularly on Twitter. McDonald’s most recent PR stunt is more-commonly being referred to as “#McFail.”

The campaign was intended to shift consumer opinions using the hashtag #McDStories, by tweeting facts about their organic potato farmers in an effort to more closely associate themselves with the positive attributes of organic food. But the current consumer mindset association between ‘organic’ and fast food could not be at further polar opposites.

This tweeting strategy quickly backfired as the campaign became a lightning rod for a backlog of negative public brand sentiment. Consumers began using the hashtag as a vehicle to advocate against McDonald’s by highlighting accusations ranging from drug use to food poisoning.

With this campaign, McDonald’s opened up a free-flowing communications channel with consumers. Social media sites such as Twitter are great tools for marketing and PR campaigns, as they are two-way communication channels which foster engagement between companies and their customers.

However, they also present an unpredictable path for brand-reputation management. In the case of McDonald’s, just a small transition from the predicted course of action led to a diminished brand reputation and an onslaught of negative press.

In order to effectively handle customer feedback, marketers must devise plans which clearly outline a response plan that will demonstrate professionalism, address customer concerns, and most importantly, remain authentic to the brand reputation.

To avoid having your own #McFail, be sure to follow the ABC’s of Responding to Negative Feedback on Social Media.

ABC’s of Responding to Negative Feedback on Social Media

Acknowledge the situation.
Be true to your brand.
Confirm with the customer their exact problem or complaint.
Do not delete any negative feedback.
Engage in dialogue.
Follow your crisis plan.
Go! Responses need to be sent as quickly as possible!
Honesty is key.
Information is important to solving any customer complaint.
Join the conversation.
Keep monitoring even after you resolve a customer complaint.
Listen to the customer.
Monitor 24/7 for any potential situations.
Never attack the customer or accuse them of lying.
On point messaging, always! Never stray from key messages outline in your crisis plan.
Plan, plan and plan.
Quit panicking – you have a plan in place to follow.
Respond quickly.
Say you are sorry.
The truth will prevail – so be honest.
Understand what the customer is saying.
Verbalize your company’s position on the issue.
Work hard to regain your customers trust.
Xerox copy/pasting responses never works. Respond to customers personally.
You can’t afford to ignore negative sentiment.
Zero-in on the brand’s challenges, and then offer a solution.



Jay Osterholm

Jay Osterholm

Founder and CEO , The ODM Group

Founder & CEO of The ODM Group. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to my articles.

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Posted on January 30th 2012 at 11:59AM

Love the A-Z - did you write this yourself or is it from somewhere else?

Jay Osterholm
Posted on January 30th 2012 at 2:59PM

Hi Amy,

Thanks for reading and for the feedback! Yes, I wrote the A-Z myself. 

Kind Regards,


Liga G
Posted on January 30th 2012 at 11:35PM

Cool stuff on the ABC of Social Media - what else would you suggest to enahnce company profile and image on Social Media mediums

Josh Camire
Posted on February 2nd 2012 at 7:42PM


Thanks for your post. I think there is some valuable insight in your ABC’s.

I have one bit of feedback, which focuses on the self-regulating community nature of social media and especially about best practice when it comes to addressing more incendiary comments.

As a rule, any well-reasoned argument or specific questions that can be responded to with a fact, figure or company policy will get a response. That said, if someone is specifically "flaming" with what seems to be angry or irrational comments I generally take the position that the community will self-regulate. While that may not work for certain organizations---largely dependent on their business practices and track record---it seems to work for many others. Negative and incendiary comments are usually short-lived and receive little to no attention or viral promotion (likes/shares). 

My feeling is that it is a best-practice (as a person and a media professional) to address valid concerns, questions or frustrations with clear, honest and “B”eing true to your brand, but that giving fuel to irrational, disgruntled and mean-spirited comments only serves to get me and my organization "muddy" as well.