The price of 'free' exposure for restaurants

Taking charge of the online conversation

In this two-part series, learn about some recent restaurant stories that went viral. Part one talks about a (gross) video of one Londoner going too far with his McDonalds's cravings. The second half of the series explains the pros and cons of viral online stories and why restaurants need to get on top of the conversation when they're the focal point.

Part 1: Man eats at 46 McDonald's in a single day and survives. McGross!
Part 2: The price of 'free' exposure for restaurants

James Ware's "McMarathon" video has already garnered more than 155,000 views in under a week and is getting talked about on consumer-level food blogs and social media. It harps back to Beyonce's "Formation" music video in which she name dropped Red Lobster. The seafood chain saw a sweet 33% jump in business after the song debuted thanks to the free publicity.

While Red Lobster did well thanks to Queen B's "endorsement", they dropped the ball when it came to capitalizing on the viral, social media aspect of things. Now, Red Lobster is being boycotted by folks who find the song to be "anti-America" and the restaurant's social media streams are being flooded by irate Internet commenters.

With the good comes the bad. Same can be said with the "McMarathon" video. We're sure McDonald's is happy that Ware made a video of him visiting their establishments and having a good time, but 46 restaurants in one day? That's an unreal number of calories.

Fortunately, Ware only suffered "shaking hands" and a "flushed face" for his efforts, but can you imagine the headlines if he had to be raced to the hospital? What if some other kid with too much spending cash decides to do the same or beat Ware's 46 in a day? The current Twitter comments are fairly tame, but if something bad happened it could have been a nightmare scenario for McDonald's.

Take charge of the conversation

If you find people are talking about your restaurant (aka your brand) online, it's important to get on top of the conversation. Be active. Be a participant. Every scenario is going to call for a different response, but if you remain a spectator you have no control over the outcome.

For Red Lobster, they've been responding to the angry calls of boycott with fairly vanilla replies, but they're still doing a good job at being active in the conversation. They're reaching out to angry patrons, asking them to talk to their Guest Relations while still defending Beyonce's right to free speech and artistic expression. Red Lobster might be safe and boring, but they're not letting themselves be passengers in their own story.

Red Lobster Beyonce Boycott message

For McDonald's, they'd be wise to curb the conversation in their favor. Something along the lines of "We support how much you love McDonald's and want you to enjoy us, but we support the X meals a day plan." Or perhaps create a fun team event and create a city-wide relay race from one franchise to the next. Since Ware needed to use the McDonald's app, McD's could create an internal app-game in the form of a scavenger hunt that requires participants to go to several locations in their area.

It's all about getting on top of the conversation, angling it as positively as you can, and riding the wave as long as you can. So enjoy the fun, free (and positive) publicity, but always be prepared for damage control, too.

Have thoughts? Ideas? Leave it in the comment section below.

McDonald's photo by Mike Mozart.
Red Lobster photo by me and the sysop.