In the late 1990’s one of the fast foods restaurant chains in England-McDonalds; spent over a year combating a false rumor that its hamburgers had worms. These rumours were re-ignition of a fire that had first erupted in 1978 and the Corporate reputation of McDonalds was once again placed on the firing line. This was before the advent of social media. And the effects of false or harmful rumors have worsened more than tenfold since social media came into picture. “Fake news” or hoax news, refers to false information or propaganda published under the guise of being authentic news. Fake news websites and channels push their fake news content in an attempt to mislead consumers of the content and spread misinformation via social networks otherwise referred to as Social media and word-of-mouth. Taking note of the strenuous efforts; time and work invested in building reputable organisation’s , it is very sad and regrettable that a simple negative comment or post that goes viral and transforms into fake news can massively destroy all this effort and subsequently the reputation of the organisation. Let us take a step by step approach and delve into the McDonalds Worm hamburger false rumor.
Brief “Myths” contained in the “Worm Hamburger” rumour
- McDonald’s used worm meat fillers but legally called it beef.
- McDonald’s used unethical or unusual substances to decrease their costs
- By using Worm fillers McDonald’s was producing Higher profit margins
- Employees were forced to sign a confidentiality waiver to never discuss the ingredients with anyone
- Macdonald’s used mutant laboratory meat and pig fat in their milk shake and ice-cream
The effects of the rumours when they first broke out in 1978 were catastrophic as one of McDonalds franchise sales plummeted by 30%.But apart from that there would be other serious repercussions such as
- Loss of Trust with its customers
- Soiled reputation
- Massive erosion of goodwill
- Loss of customers
- Questionable ethical business practices
- Retrenchments and loss of jobs
Developing Effective Social Media PR using the McDonald’s “Worm Hamburger” Rumour
Whilst Social media has infiltrated nearly every industry, the continued economic shrink being experienced by our beloved motherland of Zimbabwe means a shift to the New Media. Public relations practitioners now have to tweak and change their strategies in order to make sure they engage their audiences in the best way possible and social media presents just that opportunity. Developing an effective Social Media PR for businesses is a step by step process and in the case of the Macdonald’s Worm hamburger Myth. Some of these strategies could be
- Prior publicizing of a company’s ethical standards either via social media platforms-a video/story depicting how a company upholds ethical standards and its values
- For a fastfood chain to respond and counter these false rumours of the “worm hamburger” by getting the aid in scripting a promotional video for the burger showing its full ingredients as it is being prepared and publicise these on social media platforms
- Show proof of certification and licensing in line with that industry for instance in Zimbabwe the Standard Association of Zimbabwe(SAZ) is one of the bodies responsible for testing products if they are deemed appropriate and not detrimental to the health of consumers
- A Write-up or blog from the company’s website or LinkedIn Profile on the ingredients of the burger or issuing essential hygiene tips to be observed during preparation of a burger.
As Warren Buffet correctly noted-“it takes 20 years to build a reputation and just 5 minutes to ruin it. If you think about it you will do things differently”. As such fake news and the role of social media in eroding corporate reputation should never be under-estimated.