McDonald’s Dips Toe In Blogging Waters

While the McDonald’s Corporation has not jumped headfirst into blogging, it certainly is further along the path of acceptance than many companies of its size.

Last week, the company began an internal program that introduced corporate blogs, available only on the corporate intranet, behind the firewall. While this is seen as a small first step, it’s an important one in a company the size of McDonald’s, said Steve Wilson, senior director of global Web communications for McDonalds. Wilson spoke to a crowd of bloggers and curious marketing folk at Monday’s BlogOn social media summit in New York.

“If your task is to move the culture of a company, you’re not going to move it by the flip of a switch,” Wilson said. “You have to show that an open dialogue can occur, and create an ongoing dialogue to move from point A to point B.”

Using a publishing platform from iUpload, McDonald’s has initiated a program for several departments and executives to begin blogging. It kicked off the program last week with a live blogging session by McDonald’s President and COO Michael Roberts. Senior executives gathered around to watch as employees were given the chance to ask Roberts questions during the two-hour session.

“We got questions that ranged from why people weren’t getting a certain size bonus to why we were making the menu more complex,” Wilson said. “If you looked at those executives around the table, you could see the fear of what would happen if a tough question was asked. When one was asked, we got through it with a matter-of-fact response, and you could see the relief.”

To reduce the anticipated push-back and put minds at ease within the organization, the program was positioned as a pilot program. “It gives people the feeling that it could end if things went horribly wrong,” Wilson said.

McDonald’s entry into the space began as the germ of an idea a year ago, when some blogging technology companies came to Wilson’s attention at the company’s annual management conference. It progressed more rapidly beginning in the spring when executives began seeing more blogging coverage in the mainstream media, Wilson said.

When Wilson first sat down with McDonald’s senior executives to talk about the need for a blogging strategy, the first step was to explain to those executives just what a blog was and why they should care. After that, he showed them that even if they chose to ignore blogs, they wouldn’t be going away.

“We showed them that there were already members of our crews blogging, operators blogging, and customers blogging,” Wilson said. He then showed the executives results of a blog search that found 675,000 entries by McDonald’s employees, franchisees, or customers talking about McDonald’s in one 90-day period. “That got their attention very quickly,” he added.

Wilson started with a plan to put in place a corporate blogging policy to address the blogging that was already being done. He based the policy on those that had already been developed by companies like IBM and Microsoft. Wilson’s team created three blogging policies — one policy for blogging that was done internally, behind the corporate firewall; a second for blogging that was done externally when the blogger identified himself as a McDonald’s employee, and a third to cover future plans of company-sanctioned blogging.

Wilson shared a tip for any corporation planning a course down the same road: “Engage the legal department — early and often.”

McDonald’s legal counsel was, of course, uncomfortable with the idea, given the number of customer interactions the company has every day and the public scrutiny that ensues, he said. “We serve 50 million customers a day. When somebody says something happens one in a million times — that’s happened 50 times for us today.”

The company does not have a set plan, or any kind of timeline for rolling out external blogs. The internal pilot program aims to make everyone more comfortable with the idea of blogging, and lay the groundwork for any future plans, Wilson said.

“We’ve got to walk before we run,” he said.

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