The Harsh Realities of Public Opinion

16 06 2011

Ever heard a story that you knew for all practical purposes is wasn’t true, but people embraced it anyway? Recently McDonalds experienced just that. http://yhoo.it/mcd_hoax

McDonalds was subject to an attack that made them popular on Twitter for several days. Last week a picture popped up on Twitter showing what appeared to be a note at a McDonalds cash register claiming that due to a recent string of robberies, customers from certain ethnic groups would receive a $1.50 surcharge on the transaction. While many may think that it’s absurd that anyone would do this, it still generated plenty of excitement making the phrase “Seriously McDonalds” a popular tweet.

To be clear this was a hoax. The 800 number listed on the letterhead was, in fact, for KFC. Yet why do so many people believe a story like this? And if they don’t believe it, why does it go viral at its mention?

McDonalds suffers from a stigma it has been trying to shed for years. To be honest, it is a good company with good people that fills a need for customers all over the world. Whether or not you like their food, they have done a lot to employ millions over the years. For some, it is a temporary career move. Often it is the opportunity you have in high school or college where flexible schedules, and limited hours of availability are the norm for most students. Some take it as a career path. Others see a business opportunity. The truth is McDonalds changed the way we eat and provided a livelihood for many along the way.

And sometimes when you are the big kid on the block, people want to see you fall. For some reason, humans seem to revel in the demise of another. We watch television and read articles about the bad behavior of celebrities and politicians. Maybe their mistakes make them more human. Maybe we feel it knocks them down to our level. Part of it is our unhealthy craving for negative information. That is why a story so unbelievable with little fact checking spreads like wildfire while other positive contributions barely create a whisper.

So how do you avoid this type of negative publicity? For most of us, it is easier to do. We aren’t owners of multi-billion dollar companies or in the public spotlight. However, depending on how we define the size of our world, negative information can impact us.

For a company like McDonalds, it takes time and a conscious effort to change their message at a cultural level. They have the resources to flood the ad market, but that won’t change peoples perceptions. They also have to address the growing population that has been lead to believe McDonalds is out to poison us with fatty, unhealthy food. This is a difficult challenge since our culture is focused on placing the blame on others for our behavior. Most of us have an easier task.

First, your business is part of you. It should reflect your values and beliefs. Your people should clearly understand what you are all about and deliver on your promise. When there are discrepancies, they should be corrected quickly. When there is public doubt, it should be addressed as transparently as possible. It all starts with a Vision. Your ability to bring that Vision to life is the difference maker. That is what separates you from your competition. It is also what will help protect you from negative campaigns, false information, and negative publicity.

To McDonalds, I wish them the best. For the rest of us, how do we change our behavior to focus on positive outcomes and avoid negativity?


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