McDonald's Social Media Chief: "How Do We React To Our Critics?"
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McDonald's Social Media Chief: "How Do We React To Our Critics?"

McDonald's director of social media Rick Wion (@rdublife) tells the Holmes Report why PR people must focus on transparency and trust if they are to lead social media, particularly if they are to respond effectively to online criticism.

Paul Holmes

By Arun Sudhaman

Rick Wion (@rdublife) became McDonald’s first director of social media when he departed GolinHarris earlier this year. He tells the Holmes Report why PR people must focus on transparency and trust if they are to lead social media, particularly if they are to respond effectively to online criticism.


Client-side social media roles remain relatively rare. What persuaded you to take this one?

While it is true that few companies have fully dedicated social media roles at the leadership level, positions like this are becoming more common. As emerging media becomes a more accepted practice, forward-looking companies will increasingly seek out those individuals who can not only build a Facebook or Twitter page, but can explain the practical business application of these new forms of engagement and demonstrate their value in measurable terms against a company's overall goals and strategies.

McDonald's has always been a strong, smart and innovative marketer…and to be a part of the crew taking an iconic brand into new territories like this is a tremendously exciting opportunity. Plus, I love the fries.

How will you define success?

Success will be defined at many levels for McDonald's USA because there are many different levels of marketing that will be affected by social media. A few key areas that I'll be working on include:

Increasing the positive sentiment around our menu choices, commitment to families and CSR efforts with key audiences, such as moms.
Enhancing customer service through social media--which we are already doing through our Twitter page.
Developing a system to manage issues that appear or are amplified by social media.
Being recognised as a brand that "gets it" in terms of listening to and engaging with customers

A methodical, yet flexible, approach to measurement is the real key to defining success, and I am also working on ways to demonstrate the return on investment or the return on effort for social media engagement.

Who do you think is better placed to lead social media – PR or marketing?

Because transparency is key to building trust in social media, I must disclose that I am biased towards PR from having worked at GolinHarris for years. Personal feelings aside, social media leadership must be a collaborative effort that involves both PR and marketing. PR's leadership in social media should be focused on building trust. Marketing brings a different type of creativity and typically has larger budgets to help take solid social concepts and get them in front of larger audiences.

At McDonald's USA, we developed a digital task force two years ago that is co-led with equal input from marketing and PR with agency support at both the strategic and tactical level from our PR, digital and media buying agencies.

What’s the biggest social media challenge facing McDonald’s?

First, how do we continue to engage the scores of fans that continually profess a love for our food and our brand? Then, how do we react to our critics? We know that we need a very thoughtful approach in both areas. Fortunately, we have lots of very good stories to share in terms of nutrition, sustainability, and charitable work through Ronald McDonald House Charities, and we are continually improving our skills at digital storytelling which will help improve our efforts in both areas.

What is your favourite new social media innovation?

There are so many new and cool innovations out there that it is difficult to point to a single one as a "favourite." I'm very impressed and excited about Facebook's open graph and the evolution of their "Like" button. Mobile and video storytelling also hold great promise.

What was your last retweet?

Not really sure. Probably something about hockey or some sort of Star Wars joke. (@rdublife In less than ten hours we have the opening match for the World Cup and the Stanley Cup parade in Chicago. #damnujobbyjob)
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