McDonald's faced an onslaught of criticism in social media as a video went viral showing the beating of a transgender woman in one of its Baltimore area restaurants. McDonald's tried to answer its critics -- although it's hard to see that its response did much good.
Chrissy Lee Polis, a transgender woman born male, was beaten in the middle of a Rosedale, Md., McDonald's April 18, after attempting to use the ladies room. An employee recorded the whole incident on a smartphone camera and could be heard laughing, while other employees stood idly by. The video was posted to YouTube.
The two girls who committed the assault were later arrested, and the local franchisee fired the employee who operated the camera.
Even after the video was deleted for violating YouTube's terms of service, copies of the video surfaced elsewhere and word of it spread rapidly.
TV news reports followed. In a Baltimore Sun video, Polis gave her account of the attack.
Bloggers and members of social media sites began posting links to the video and commentary on the ugly behavior of the assailants and the bystanders, and on what many deemed McDonald's inadequate response.
Online, McDonald's response began with a Twitter post from @McDonaldsCorp: "We are shocked by the video from a Baltimore restaurant showing an assault. This incident is unacceptable, disturbing and troubling."
Then the company responded to one of its critics: "@Echostar_7 We r shocked by this video. It's unacceptable, disturbing & troubling. We r working w/ franchisee & police 2 investigate"
McDonalds followed up in 140-character increments, repeating the same or similar messages, including: "There's no room for violence under the Golden Arches & our thoughts are with the victim. Action has been taken: http://mcd.to/fMcjCr" -- this last including a link to an official press statement of four short paragraphs.
McDonald's Twitter messages show it made the effort to reach out to some of those posting comments and make sure they had up-to-date information on the action that it had taken.
However, critics weren't appeased, and many re-tweeted the corporate posts with their own sarcastic comments.
"I guess they were trying to be responsive but it was a non-answer," Jessica Gottlieb, a Los Angeles-based mom who blogs on family issues, wrote in an email about her Twitter conversation with the company. "I guess by replying McDonalds gives the illusion that they're participating in a conversation."
On its Facebook page, the comments on a post ostensibly about the fast food chain's hiring were taken over with complaints about the response in the beating case. A typical comment: "Fire everone at the MD store!!!! Think you need to hire all new workers for the store that watched the beating..I for one will not eat at any Mcd's until somethinge is done!"
A profile of social media activity compiled by NetBase, a social media analytics company, shows that similar reaction echoed all around the Web, including this discussion comment: "I blame McDonalds for being more interested in sound bites than making sure their employees understand that the way this situation was handled is not in the best interest of the McDonalds brand."
McDonald's Brand Sentiment in April
The green shaded area is positive sentiment about McDonald's on social media, the bigger the better. The pink area is negative sentiment, the smaller the better. The blue line is the overall sentiment. Source: NetBase.
Occasionally, someone would speak up to say that McDonald's could not be held responsible for the action of every employee, or make a distinction between the role of the corporation or the franchisee, or to make some allowance for due process in judging the actions of the employees. But that wasn't the roar of the crowd.
"The NetBase data shows that the social media voice is expressing both frustration and disappointment at the way in which McDonald’s has missed the opportunity to demonstrate that they are implementing change, rather than just talking about it," said Lisa Joy Rosner, chief marketing officer for NetBase.
It seems to me, however, that the complaint was less about the medium in which the message was conveyed than the content of the message. McDonald's was responding legalistically, with comments probably vetted by lawyers and human resources experts. It may well have been the only thing they really could say, but it wasn't what people wanted to hear.
The company did not respond to a request from The CMO Site for comment.
— David Carr is a writer, editor, and Web consultant based in South Florida.
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