The McDonald’s “Our Food. Your Questions.” campaign engaged with customers on social media and the web about their questions. As manager of brand reputation and public relations for McDonald’s USA and leader of the campaign’s digital engagement team, Lainey Garcia helped guide the company through a process that she terms “culture shock.”

“Is your meat 100% beef?” “Are your eggs real?” “Does your meat include pink slime?” Those are some of the questions people have had about the food at McDonald’s.

In the fall of 2014, the McDonald’s USA launched a concerted effort in the United States to answer those questions and more.

With ads on television, YouTube videos, FAQs at its website, and engagement on Twitter and Facebook, it kicked off a campaign called “Our Food. Your Questions.” The campaign answered the questions McDonald’s knew people were interested in, and tracked down answers for many unexpected questions people posed on social media.

The campaign has been high profile, with videos such as “What are McDonald's Chicken McNuggets made of?” and “What are McDonald’s USA fries made of?” garnering millions of views (over 8 million and 6 million respectively). During the fall campaign as well, Twitter users posted questions and comments with the hashtag #ourfoodyourquestions.

A year later, one of the big payoffs has been a more educated consumer base. “We’re seeing a much more informed consumer base that’s willing to rally for us,” says Lainey Garcia, manager of brand reputation and public relations for McDonald’s USA.

Garcia, who tweets as “McDonald’s PR Girl” at @Lainey_McD, was at the center of the effort to pull the digital campaign together. She says it was a big cultural change for the organization. People within the company “had to step outside of their day-to-day activities to assess new questions that popped up and answer them very thoughtfully,” she says. It was hard for many managers to understand that the campaign would invariably invite tough questions and “that our consumers expected to get an answer to right away.”

In a conversation with Gerald C. (Jerry) Kane, an associate professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and guest editor for MIT Sloan Management Review’s Digital Leadership Initiative, Garcia explains how the campaign was developed (in under three months) and what the payoff has been.

Let’s talk about how the McDonald’s “Our Food. Your Questions.” campaign came together and how the company engaged with customers using social platforms during it.

There was a lot of data to suggest that customers were perhaps not visiting us because of food quality misperceptions. What we did was audit the conversations that were happening from a social perspective. We looked at conversations that were happening on Twitter, Facebook, and we really scrubbed the data to find out when consumers have questions about our brand. What are those questions?

That data really brought to light some key questions that consumers have, including things like, “Is your meat 100% beef?” “Does your meat include pink slime?” “Are your eggs real?” The goal with “Our Food. Your Questions.” was to shift misperceptions about our brand to drive sales and guest counts.

Those narratives informed a series of videos that we used. They informed the responses that we prepared to answer any questions. We also put this on a variety of media, so we recorded ads that ran on TV, very explicitly stating those questions. The call-of-action was, “Ask us your questions,” and our icon and social media channels popped up.

So the campaign was not answering the biggest questions you already knew people had, but being prepared to answer a whole variety of questions?

That’s right. We assembled a team that we call rapid responders who are very much in tune with the language and we created a robust inventory of responses.

We had to align those responses across a variety of functions — whether it be legal, supply chain, communications — and really prepare for what we knew consumers were going to ask. We had to set up an infrastructure that was, quite frankly, basic community management, to prepare ourselves for both the volume of questions and for questions that were outside of the ones we discovered in the audit.

What were the challenges in setting this up?

Just setting up a infrastructure in which all these different functions were fully involved. They really had to step outside of their day-to-day activities to assess new questions that popped up and answer them very thoughtfully.

That was new for many members of our organization, to really understand the nature of social media and that there’d be tough questions that arise in the social ecosystem that our consumers expected to get an answer to right away. Because if we don’t have an answer to a question, we had to search an answer out, align it, and get it into the system so that we could respond. Getting alignment on that just fundamental principle of how the process would work was almost like a culture shock. I hate to use that word, but that really was what it was for us.

We changed as a result of this, the way and the frequency and the tonality in which we respond to customers. It was a fundamental shift for us, but really, I think it is reflective of the times, right? This is just the way that consumers expect to communicate. They expect that candid transparency from brands, and this project really got us to a place that we set up an infrastructure where we can do that. But it was definitely a culture shock.

Did you set this up on your own?

This was powered by the digital enterprise solution called Sprinklr. In advance of this, we used a variety of other platforms, but we migrated to Sprinklr for “Our Food. Your Questions.”

Today, we still have rapid responders. They essentially monitor all the queues that are set up within Sprinklr and use it for engagement.

We have a brand newsroom to identify questions or opportunities that may be happening in real-time in social media. So, let’s say that Taylor Swift tweets about McDonald’s. We would be able to identify this opportunistic moment for engagement to insert McDonald’s relevantly in that conversation.

How long did it take you to put this together? You’re talking about getting legal involved. You’re talking about training up brand responders.

So, we knew that when we took it on that “Our Food. Your Questions.” it would be a massive undertaking. In the end, we were really under a deadline. Quite frankly, I think that most organizations would have allocated much more time to this, but we were under a quick deadline to set up an infrastructure fast.

We conducted our RFP and the entire search for a new digital enterprise solution platform within a matter of months. I would say it was less than three months.

The campaign launched last fall. What impact have you seen on brand, on engagement? Has it been successful?

It’s been very successful for us. In terms of some of our KPIs, we saw incredible traffic to our website. The viewership on our videos, the increase in followers across a number of platforms, the sentiment shift.

For the first time, we’ve seen customers really responding in the sense that they’re defending us. I was involved in much of our day-to-day engagement prior to “Our Food. Your Questions.” and rarely would we see customers respond in the vein of, “They just answered that. They just explained. There’s no pink slime in their chicken.” We’re seeing that now.

Have you done a follow-up to see if customers’ questions have changed as a result of your initiative?

We absolutely have. Golin is our PR agency of record and was one of our main partners in “Our Food. Your Questions.” initiative. We asked them to do an audit on the top questions that consumers now have to see if they’ve changed or if they’re different, and to understand what some of our new opportunities are.

We saw things like our consumers really want us to have breakfast all day. Some of those responses are now being taken to leadership and looked at as potential opportunities for future business decisions.

What are the next steps? It sounds like you’ve had some pretty good success with this initiative.

I definitely think that it inherently changed the way that we conduct community management across a number of platforms. I think it really spearheaded a system that is more actively engaged in consumer feedback online.

I think that we’re all more aware of the power of social data and how it really helps inform a lot of areas of our system beyond just new menu items — operationally, feedback related to our sustainability efforts, things of that nature. It promoted more active listening, and I think that’ll really shape some of our decision making.

I want to add that having solid partners is incredibly important. We’ve had many, many social vendors in the past, and in my experience, none have risen to the occasion like Sprinklr. In order for us to be successful, we had to have everybody on their game, and one of the most critical components was how this would be powered. Sprinklr just continuously demonstrated how advanced their capabilities are and how willing they are to partner with us to be successful. I can’t underscore enough how integral the partnership with Sprinklr, Golin, and our other agency partners was to the success of this campaign.