How real-time data helped McDonald’s, Ford respond to high-stakes situations

Data from NewsWhip helped McDonald’s decide to act and Ford to help in a time of crisis.

Newswhip's dashboard

Analytics can help us learn from the past to make better decisions about the future. But increasingly, real-time and predictive data is helping organizations determine how to act now.

“A lot of technologies will share with you about what’s happened. We’re focused on what’s happening today and what’s going to happen in the future,” said NewsWhip CEO Brett Lofgren during Ragan’s Strategic Communications Conference.

During his presentation, “Misinformation, the Capitol insurrection and a winter storm,” Lofgren shared three case studies of how this kind of data helps organizations make big decisions — sometimes life or death.

Misinformation in Sudan

Valent Projects, a research firm, was hired by the nation of Sudan to help track and defeat misinformation. They use NewsWhip to look at real-time information to predict the spread of misinformation and who’s behind it. “Pretty heavy stuff,” Lofgren pointed out, especially in a country where relations between the government and insurgent militias can be difficult.

In 2019, Valent Projects saw posts on Facebook — an all-important network in the country — indicating militias were approaching the capital and civil war was imminent.

Valent Projects was able to track the misinformation and alert the government, who issued a statement calming tensions. A potentially violent situation was avoided thanks to real-time tracking.

McDonald’s and the Capitol insurrection

In 2021, political violence did hit — in the United States. As rioters swarmed the U.S. Capitol, brands scrambled to determine if they should respond.

“A lot of brands were trying to understand, is this a political issue? Is this just a response to an election? Or is this an attack on democracy and American governance?” Lofgren said.

The issue was particularly tricky for McDonald’s — a massive, multinational corporation that serves 80% of the world’s population every year. Because of their diverse audience, they shy away from political statements of any kind. But they weren’t sure this was truly a political moment.

They felt like the action was anti-American, and McDonald’s is a quintessentially American brand. But their comms team wanted assurance from the public that they were aligned with customer sentiment.

“Looking at a lot of the top stories, McDonald’s was able to predict and understand which ones were really going to drive engagement. And the ones that were driving engagement were really about that this was an anti-American attack,” Lofgren explained.

This was enough data to inform a memo to go out internally to all shareholders, partners, franchisees, and staff condemning the actions within 48 hours of the insurrection.

“An attack on all those things that people cherish and associate with America also includes McDonald’s,” wrote CEO Chris Kempczinski.

That memo was also leaked to media, establishing McDonald’s as one of the first non-tech brands to take a stand on the political violence internally and externally.

Ford helps in the storm

Just months after the capitol insurrection, a crippling blizzard hit the state of Texas, wiping out power to 70% of the population.

Monitoring of local news and social media turned up a trend for the comms team at Ford. New F-150 trucks come equipped with a feature called PowerBoost — basically a generator in the bed of the vehicle. Texans were using the power source to help their neighbors run stoves and other essentials during the frigid storm.

Using NewsWhip, the Ford team could see that these stories were rising in trajectory and realized they had a chance to do something that went beyond stories about the grassroots effort.

They took it one step further, asking Ford dealers in the area to lend them their F-150s. Hundreds heeded the call, and the trucks were deployed to help in hard-hit communities.

Ford elevated the story from a simple media hit into a true community effort that helped people — and got a lot more press in the process.

“They were able to sell a lot of trucks,” Lofgren said.

These use cases are outliers, Lofgren admits. Not everyone will use data to stop a civil war. But it can still make a huge difference in your comms strategy.

“It’s using that data to work with your colleagues, to work with other folks on the teams to persuade stakeholders to take action.”

 

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