I was reading the paper this bank holiday Sunday when I saw an interesting piece about how McDonalds is approaching blogger outreach. After a couple of disastrous forays into using social media it is now trying to build an army of friendly bloggers to drown out noise about pink slime, McDstories and recruitment. McDonalds are trying to recruit 1m bloggers which sounds like the social media version of Dr Evil!!
The Family Arches (as the group are being called) was vetted by McDonalds who looked for bloggers with influence who also liked McDonalds. Sounds like a sensible approach until I later read the comments of one of their spokespeople: “We looked at their social profiles and found out who they were. Now we’re giving them information so that they can advocate for us. And if they start doing stuff we don’t like, we are going to take action.” It is that last bit I don’t like.
The problem I have is about transparency. If McDonalds speak to a journalist you can generally be confident that the journalist will have done their research and what they are reporting is factually correct and looking out for the best interest of their readers. Can the same be said of the bloggers McDonalds have recruited?
I think the Family Arches should publish a badge or make it clear that McDonalds is incentivising the publisher to write the content they are posting. Without this there is the chance that a mummy blogger interested in having the chance to win a trip to New York will post a piece about the nutritional value of McDonalds to children without properly researching it. If that blogger has a big following, McDonalds will have got what it wanted but will the blogger lose credibility with their readers?
This approach feels a bit like the PR equivalent of advertorials. The only difference is that in publications will make it clear it is a sponsored piece, which I am afraid that bloggers won’t. I hope this isn’t the start of large corporates bribing their way to good coverage because there is every chance that if a blogger falls for this without the appropriate level of transparency they could lose their credibility and years’ worth of hard work to build influence could be flushed down the toilet.