Running A Business

Burger King, Social Media and PR in a High Tech World

May 09, 2013 • 4 min read
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      BK WhopperYou may have heard that in February, Burger King’s twitter account got hacked. They’re not the only ones either. Jeep, Donald Trump and a score of other high profile people have had their accounts taken over. Even worse, a few weeks ago the Twitter account for the Associated Press was hacked and sent out a tweet claiming that two explosions had occurred in the White House and that President Barack Obama was injured. As a result of these recent hackings, Twitter has announced they’re looking into adding a two-step authentication process as a security measure.

      However since these kinds of attacks aren’t likely to abate anytime soon, I’d like to focus on the Burger King hack and their response to this unfortunate event.

      The hackers struck on a holiday, uploaded a picture of the McDonalds arches to the avatar and announced:

      We just got sold to McDonalds! Look for McDonalds in a hood near you.”

      For a little over the next hour, tweets of various kinds were sent which included vulgarity, drug references and derogatory statements against Burger King.

      The news of the hacked account quickly spread across Twitter, with “Burger King”, “McDonalds” and “Whopper123” all in the Top 10 trending by the time the account was shut down over an hour after the first false tweet was sent.

      To McDonald’s credit, they sent out this tweet with condolences to Burger King:

      @McDonald’s We empathize with our @BurgerKing counterparts. Rest assured, we had nothing to do with the hacking.

      The public at large responded with numerous references to Burger King’s slow response to reclaim the account, jokes about the company’s food and the hacking itself. Perhaps an unintended benefit from the hack was Burger King’s Twitter account also saw a rapid rise in followers, gaining over 30,000 new followers over the course of an hour. In contrast the company has only gained around 25,000 followers in the subsequent 3 months.

      The account was eventually removed and was missing from Twitter for the space of several hours. Once their corrected twitter account was reinstated, the first message they sent was:

      @BurgerKing Interesting day here at BURGER KING®, but we’re back! Welcome to our new followers. Hope you all stick around!

      That was the only tweet sent that day. The next day, again only one message was sent as a show of empathy to the Jeep Twitter account which had also been  hacked. It wasn’t until the third day after that hack that they finally sent out a marketing tweet showcasing a special on their coffee.

      Looking back further into their history, I would submit that they don’t have a strong presence on Twitter since they routinely average only 1-2 tweets a day. But I would propose that they missed a huge opportunity to sell their brand by the way they responded to this extraordinary event.

      Many news agencies reported the attack and thousands of consumers who aren’t even on Twitter heard about it. Burger King released the same day an official statement which read, “We apologize to our fans and followers who have been receiving erroneous tweets about other members of our industry and additional inappropriate topics.” This was certainly a wise response considering the number of fans who may have been offended by the inappropriate material being tweeted before the hack was discovered. However there was so much more that could have been done.

      In the hours following the attack, there were dozens of conversations occurring about Burger King. I would have been online monitoring all of this talk about the brand and been responding with apologies to individuals, facts about the company (given the large amount of misinformation that was circulating during the event) and even with humor.

      A tweet from man using the Twitter address @flibblesan was retweeted over 5,000 times and was shared on Facebook as well.

      “Somebody needs to tell Burgerking that ‘whopper123’ isn’t a secure password.”

      Imagine if Burger King had replied with a light-hearted tweet such as those listed below. I have no doubt it could have garnered a respectable number of retweets as well.

      1.        “Duly noted, we’ve heard the password: ‘password’ is no good either.”
      2.        “In the future, we’re also ruling out ‘TheBurgerKing’ and ‘Delicious555’”
      3.        “They may have hacked our Twitter account but at least they didn’t get our secret Whopper sauce recipe.”

      Regarding the tens of thousands of new followers Burger King gained, the last words from their first tweet back: “Hope you all stick around!” is an incredibly passive invitation. I hope to lose 5 pounds by summer but that’s not going to happen unless I work at it. The same goes for bringing in customers. Businesses need to promote their products and encourage customer response. If I was Burger King, to engage my new followers I would have issued calls to action highlighting limited time offers, descriptions of our best selling items or linking to a web page that lists our restaurant locations.

      They had hundreds of thousands of eyeballs on them over the course of a few days and as far as I can tell, aside from the apology, they quietly ignored the event, preferring to return to the dawdling marketing pace they’d been functioning at previously.

      There are lots of opportunities for companies to make a social media following for themselves in this high-tech world. True, it can be a pretty scary place since so many interactions and opinions about your business are out of your control. However, a significant amount of your success depends on your response to customers and critics alike. And when you make a mistake or get ridiculed by others, your choice of how you deal with the occurrence may largely determine your company’s future. In the example I’ve made of Burger King today, it also helps to learn from the actions of others.

      “The past can hurt. But the from way I see it, you can either run from it, or… learn from it.” – Rafiki, The Lion King



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