How to handle a tweet that starts a crisis | Media First

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How to handle a tweet that starts a crisis

Nothing is likely to see social media teams scramble quite as quickly as a post which triggers a crisis.

When the post in question is a tweet which attacks the head of your government, that crisis media management situation becomes particularly sensitive and potentially damaging.

This was the position McDonald’s found itself in last week when its @McDonaldsCorp corporate Twitter account caused a storm by blasting President Donald Trump and calling for the return of Barack Obama.

The post, which was pinned to the top of its page, said: “@realDonaldTrump You are actually a disgusting excuse of a President and we would love to have @BarackObama back, also you have tiny hands.”

The tweet was up for around 20 minutes before it was taken down, but in that time it was liked more than 1,700 times and retweeted more than 1,600 times.

And inevitably in that time many users took screen grabs ensuring the tweet lived on long after it was deleted.

About an hour after the post was deleted, McDonald’s announced its account had been ‘compromised’ and the incident was being investigated.



A brief statement on the ‘newsroom’ section of its website later added the account had been ‘hacked by an external source’ and said ‘we apologise this tweet was sent through our corporate McDonald’s account’.

Reaction to the post was mixed with humorous responses matched by demands from some Trump supporters for a boycott of the fast food chain – and their very angry posts are continuing today.


So what can we learn from this incident?


Taking offensive material down

The offending tweet was live for around 20 minutes which may not seem like a particularly long period of time, but it was enough for Twitter to become flooded with screenshots and to generate widespread media coverage. It is a reminder, if one was needed, of the incredible speed of social media and it is imperative that any post which triggers a crisis is taken down as soon as possible.


Holding tweets

McDonald’s may have taken what it describes as ‘swift’ action in taking the offending tweet down, but it took around an hour for it to say anything or offer any explanation for the post. That is far too long in the fast paced social media world and customers expect brands to acknowledge something has happened as soon as possible.

The key with any crisis media management situation is to get messages out quickly because if a company stays quiet other people will fill the void.

'If a company stays quiet during a crisis other people will fill the void' via @mediafirstltd

Although you can’t prepare for every scenario, there are holding statements which can be used to show you are taking the situation seriously and buy you some time.

And the same is true with social media posts. A holding tweet along the lines of ‘This post does not reflect our views and we are investigating what has happened’ would have helped fill the gap before McDonald’s had more to say.



On our social media and crisis communication courses we talk about the importance of apologising during a social media crisis and ensuring saying ‘sorry’ sounds genuine.

In this particular case the apology has been buried. It is not on Twitter where the attack was made and it is only on the second line of a bland statement on the corporate website.

McDonald's apology.JPG

In most situations, the apology would need to be much more visible and human than this.

Perhaps, McDonald’s felt in this particular situation, apologising directly would see a backlash from those opposed to President Trump.

'Apologies during a crisis need to be visible and sound genuine' via @mediafirstltd


Avoiding the noise

As we’ve already said, the McDonald’s tweet divided social media, but while the humorous responses have largely stopped now, the ones from the angry Trump supporters continue.

The key in this type of situation is to avoid getting involved in any online arguments with people.

McDonalds’s would have had plenty of opportunity to respond to some pretty vociferous criticism but sensibly chose not to engage.



The investigation into the McDonald’s tweet continues, but our money is on Hamburglar being the culprit.



Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our journalist led crisis communication and social media training courses.


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