Internet Week 2011: How McDonald’s Used #Winning to Kill a Lobster Roll

It’s Internet Week once again in New York City. This year, Affect is hitting the streets and checking out the events then blogging about what we learn and see. With events happening all over the city, there’s plenty to check out. Here’s the latest update from Internet Week’s Realtime NY 2011!

Photo courtesy of inevernu

How do you manage a lobster roll? It’s not something I’ve ever thought about, but yesterday at Realtime NY 2011 we learned just how a lobster roll can be a big deal online. That’s because McDonald’s Director of Social Media Rick Wion discussed what happens when people start coming up with new tags like #McSushi and #McLobster when McDonald’s doesn’t carry such a product in the U.S.

And it’s clear from his tale at Internet Week 2011: The best strategy is a good offense.

Here’s the back-story. In March 2011, a rumor of a McDonald’s lobster roll hit the Twittersphere. This rumor hit a tipping point, and became a full-on firestorm on Twitter. But McDonald’s doesn’t have a lobster roll in the U.S., and Wion himself, still hasn’t found out how the rumor got started. And although seemingly harmless, the jokes surrounding the lobster roll quickly turned disgusting and vile. This left McDonald’s with no other option other than to fight back.

First the company tried to simply state that no such product was going to be made available in the U.S. But that didn’t stop the negative tweets. So Wion needed to think of a way to turn the corner on the conversation by changing it completely.

Lucky for him, Charlie Sheen had started his #winning campaign. Wion decided to take a risk and jump onto this conversation, putting out a tweet that said:

According to Wion, the tweet immediately ceased the McLobster mentions. Charlie Sheen retweeted the post (a good thing?) and McWinning got retweeted and retweeted. It changed the conversation and McSushi was dead. But was it worth it? After all, it could have had a completely different reaction from Twitter, considering McDonald’s is a family-centric organization while Sheen was battling a very public drug binge.

But lets face it, the tweet was perfect. It hit light-heartedly on a topic that many people on Twitter was having fun with. Would it have worked in a press release? Absolutely not, but on Twitter it was the right move.

Wion said he wouldn’t probably do it again, but he was in a situation that he needed to change the conversation immediately. So he accomplished what he needed to accomplish without seriously hurting the brand. Not ideal, but the offensive tactic won out. Who knew such an innocent looking sandwich could cause such a reaction?

Does this mean the person McDonald’s really needs to thank is Charlie Sheen? That sounds like a whole other Twitter conversation.