Q&A with McDonald’s Director of Social Media Rick Wion
Are we there yet?
After about three years, the view of social media as some sort of free, magical money making machine is dying a painfully slow death.
Platforms and systems have become far too sophisticated for the gurus and ninjas, and tracking/acting upon the resulting data has become far too important for one marketing silo. No one department owns this stuff.
But don’t take my word for it.
Meet Rick Wion, McDonald’s first director of social media. He’ll tell you the same.
Recently, we were able to connect with Wion and asked him about that very topic. Amazingly, he actually responded (below).
As director, Wion has been developing and executing McDonald’s social media programs since he began his post in March. As you can imagine, this is no small task. Prior to that, Wion consulted with Fortune 500 clients (including Mickey D’s) as Vice President of Interactive Media at GolinHarris. He is also a self-professed beer snob, to which we send an ol’ tip of the cap in his direction.
Wion answered our questions via email, and his unedited responses are included below in their entirety. If you happen to see him at your next conference, send him a Great Lakes Brewing Company Dortmunder on me (and pass along the tab).
During your presentation at Mobile Social Communications, you were quoted as saying your Foursquare Day campaign increased foot traffic 33% in one day. You later clarified in a tweet that, “the 33% increase was in the number of check-ins. We consider check-ins the same as a person entering the restaurant.” What were the actual goals for the Foursquare Day campaign, and did it have anything to do with sales?
The Foursquare campaign was a test pilot program—a one-day campaign to try out a new platform. We frequently conduct test pilots to gauge how social communities respond to our involvement while also seeking to understand how we can use these tools within our systems.
While increasing sales is always the ultimate goal, to judge a pilot program only on sales misses the point of testing out new systems. As anyone with an IT background can attest, you don’t see a return on investment for new technologies the day that they roll out.
The original pilot, given its limited nature, was a success in that we saw a 33% increase in check-ins…and that was when the user base of Foursquare was about one quarter of what it is today.
Moving on from the test pilot we are looking at several location based services as well as different engagement methods as we formulate our longer term strategy for this area.
With your own initial success with Foursquare, if you could change anything about the platform from an advertiser/partner standpoint, what would it be? How about as an individual user?
As an individual user, I enjoy using several location-based services. While I personally use Foursquare most often, I also really like Facebook Places, Gowalla and MyTown. While I am not a product designer, my general hope for all of these services is for them to develop wonderfully user-friendly apps across all platforms (iPhone, Android and Blackberry) so that they provide a rich experience to a wide variety of users.
On a day-to-day basis, you work with the McDonald’s media relations team and report to the director-external communications and public relations. What is your take on which marketing discipline “owns” social media and the eternal battle between advertising, PR and marketing departments trying to lay claim?
There is a ton of discussion about who “owns” social media. I think that the idea of ownership is an outcome of trying to apply an outdated command and control media structure to new media. At McDonald’s, we have created a very collaborative method of alignment when it comes to social media. The team that manages overall strategy is a small working group that includes the directors of social media, public relations and marketing. We work together to determine top-level strategies and then lead tactical execution of various channels such as Facebook and Twitter. We also charge our agencies to be collaborative in these spaces and look for any and all opportunities to leverage their various creative and storytelling strengths to maximize any opportunities that present themselves.
Prior to McDonald’s, you worked at GolinHarris in Chicago as VP of Social Media. How would you characterize the difference between working with clients on social media strategy vs. working in-house? Has your outlook on the medium changed in any way?
I was heavily involved in the McDonald’s business on the agency side for nearly four years before coming in-house to McDonald’s–which has been a great help in my transition. I was able to develop an understanding of the business and the relationships on both sides, which has allowed me to hit the ground running. Being on the inside, I have gained a new appreciation for the complexity of working for a large organization in an entirely new space.
It was reported by Red Cross that 74% of social media users expect cries for help to be answered within an hour. While forgetting two of my McNuggets is certainly not life or death, how does McDonald’s manage customer complaints and do you have any internal goals/metrics for the elapsed time for customer outreach on Twitter?
Our Twitter team includes four folks from our customer service team that answer hundreds of customer inquiries each month. To help manage customer expectations, we post our “hours of operation” on our Twitter page and if folks tweet to us after hours, we get back to them the next business day. We do not set goals for response time but rather measure efforts in terms of number of customer service inquiries identified and the number of resolutions. We even augment our online response by sending hand-written thank you notes to customers from time to time. It is a high touch method that really brings our dedication to customer service home.
McDonald’s is developing local Twitter handles for city-based promotional activities such as in Cincinnati. How difficult is it to scale for brand consistency, metrics and goals?
Integrated national and local marketing has long been a part of McDonald’s success. We have created a framework to replicate that in social media by developing guidelines for local markets to create geo-specific information and offers and engagement opportunities through Facebook, Twitter and blogger relations. This helps us provide information that is both consistent nationwide and also locally tuned and relevant. It requires a certain amount of work to develop this level of alignment and consistency, but it creates a better experience for customers.
In an interview earlier this year, you said you were tasked with “beef(ing) up outreach to target groups” such as mommy bloggers. What sort of outreach has been done to these target audiences, and how do you measure the success of such a moving target?
We work with influencers at all levels. Earlier this year, we had a three phase partnership with the Blogher network that included a visit to our headquarters by 12 top bloggers, a widget to drive donations for Ronald McDonald House Charities and then a fun presence at the Blogher annual conference where we had an exclusive premier of our new Oatmeal that won’t be widely available until January. For such efforts we use a combination of quantitative and qualitative metrics. Think of it as a minds and hearts approach. We of course want to reach as wide an audience as possible, but it is also extremely important that we are changing perceptions by sharing information about our menu balance such as our commitment to kids’ nutrition, our 32 menu combos that are under 600 calories, and more. As a brand, there are tons of great stories that we want to share and influencers, such as bloggers, are a great way to do that.
Another example of such efforts is a recent meetup hosted at our test kitchens with a dozen fitness bloggers, our Executive Chef Coudreaut and our staff Registered Dietician Dr. Cindy Goody. Amongst many key sharing moments, the one that stands out for me is the reaction folks have when we talk about the nutritional content of the Egg McMuffin…at less than 300 calories it is a far better choice that a bagel with low-fat cream cheese.
But such efforts are really just the tip of the iceberg. We are constantly monitoring and evaluating conversation opportunities with all types of online influencers to determine the best opportunities to engage.
Back in May, AdAge reported that McDonald’s was building a location-based application or game with Facebook to allow users to check in. In lieu of the Foursquare promotion success, was there any truth to that report or can we have an update?
McDonald’s recently participated in the Facebook Places Deals rollout as a prime sponsor. Our program donated $1 to Ronald McDonald House Charities for any check-in at a McDonald’s.
As for your social media usage it’s obvious you blend the personal and professional with your Twitter and Posterous accounts. We’re curious how much time each week do you spend using social media for personal use vs. professional use? Can such a distinction be made?
Some folks draw distinct lines between their personal and professional use of social media. I really think it should be the choice of the individual and the organization of how those lines are drawn. Amongst the Twitter team, we really encourage folks to show their own character because it helps infuse a different level of personality to our brand.
For me, I blend professional and personal on my Twitter page because that is who I am. I love my job and want to share my enthusiasm to my peeps. I also like sharing my affinity for craft beer and video games (very excited about Call of Duty Black Ops) because it is who I am, and it just so happens that many other tech pro’s are beer geeks and gamers, so it allows me to professionally connect at a different level.
You obviously work with a social media team and consultants, and meet a lot of people on the road at the multitude of social media conferences. What types of skills, qualities, attributes, etc. do you feel are necessary to be successful in the social media marketing world?
To be successful in social media, you need to be a learning shark: always swimming, always learning. Learning the new tools that are available while also learning how those tools can be applied to your organization. Not all tools are useful to all brands and developing your own good judgment for making those strategic and tactical decisions will really differentiate a true social media business professional from those that just enjoy using the tools. Networking is also very important. Unfortunately, too many focus on personal brand building and increasing their friend/follower counts and lose site of what it means to be a real professional in this space.