The McRib of Social Media Movements

Why the Hornets-Bobcats name debate is a debate between social media reality and actual reality.
Calgary Reviews via Flickr
There has to be some rib in there, right?

Ah, the McRib. It is the unicorn of fast food sandwiches, fleeting and magical.

But McDonald's is crafty. You can't have a McRib on your own terms. You can only have a McRib if they say you can.

But let's say you're really passionate about this, and determined to make McDonald's see the error of their ways. You grew up with the McRib. You have strong memories of the McRib. It means something to you. So, you start a blog. You create a Facebook page. A Twitter account. You tweet incessantly about it. When other people talk about McRib, you respond to them immediately. You write incessantly. Join our cause. Recapture the magic. You get a couple dozen people to gather at McDonald's to show their support (You call it Ribbed for McPleasure, and it's combined with a beer special at Applebee's). You constantly post pictures of people eating McRibs, smiling, with bits of bun on their faces. You follow all of the relevant people on Twitter, namely reporters. You tweet at them whenever they mention McDonald's. They follow you back. One day, when a manager at McDonald's says he'd be open to bringing the McRib back for good, those reporters come and contact you, and you respond immediately. You do an interview wearing a self-made McRib t-shirt, complete with a secret sauce stain. Newspaper columnists start debating the lore and nostalgia surrounding the McRib.

The mayor of your town sends out a tweet: Definitely McRib. But people start taking the other side of the argument, and they make good points. Some make the case that if the rest of the food at McDonald's tasted better, you'd forget all about the McRib. Others say that bringing back a single sandwich won't make a trip to McDonald's any healthier. And still others argue that if the McRib were to return permanently, then it would cease being mythical and end up being akin to the Filet-o-Fish.

But by then, all of it has started feeding upon itself: the pictures, tweets, Facebook comments, blogs, interviews, the #ReviveTheMcRib hashtag, the whole thing. When McDonald's finally announces that it's thinking of bringing the McRib back, you celebrate and write in all caps and everybody looks at you as the grassroots organizer of a now-powerful movement. You are the ACORN of marginally healthy drive-thru cuisine. WE ARE SO CLOSE TO VICTORY THAT IT HAS TO HAPPEN.

But wait. How many people actually have your back? You have no doubt that if the McRib came back, you would eat as many McRibs as humanly possible. You would visit McDonald's at every available opportunity. But your legions of Twitter followers and Facebook fans and blog readers, would they do so too? Would they go get a McRib the same day it came back? Would they keep going back? McRibs are fun to talk about, but they cost money. How many of them would actually act on their promise to eat a McRib at every meal?

McDonald's says it's going to be slow and methodical about this, to see exactly how many McRibs they would realistically sell. That's infuriating to you. You know that McRibs make you feel something you haven't felt for a long time. They satisfy some sort of hunger for you. They revive a warm memory of fast food trips past. Maybe the McRib doesn't taste the way it used to. Maybe the McRib won't live up the expectations you have placed on it. 

We're not really talking about the McRib. I don't even like the McRib (I'm not sure what's in it. A little bit of rib, I'm guessing). Replace McRib with Hornets and McDonald's with Bobcats. Now go back and re-read the top of this blog.

For some reason, Bring Back The Buzz, I can't quit you, and until now, I haven't been able to figure out why. I've written way too much about this. I did a feature story last year in the magazine, and wrote an update a few months ago on this blog. My opinion: I am a realist. No, it won't make the team any better. But yes, names and symbols matter. And a change might prove that a franchise that's been historically tone-deaf toward this community is listening. If nothing else, the fact that we're talking at all about the Bobcats, who haven't won a game at home since November, is a good thing. This town needs a little pro basketball navel-gazing. So great. Do it.

Yesterday, I realized why I'm so obsessed with this. This whole debate is really a debate about social media reality versus actual reality.

I'm on Twitter, and I tweet a lot. I used to tweet more. It used to be a more personal extension of me. I've met wonderful people on Twitter that I wouldn't have met otherwise. Inadvertently, it led me to my wife, because somebody I knew on Twitter wanted to get together to play a board game, and she brought Kelsey along.

But I'm starting to be a realist about Twitter too. Yes, it has the potential to help organize revolutions, but sometimes tweeting is like talking to an empty room. Ever been to a Bobcats game where the announced attendance is 12,000, but only about 5,000 people are actually there? Twitter is like that sometimes. Many times it feels like I'm taking it too seriously. For a time I got worried about when I would post, what I would say, how often I would say it, the ratio of professional to personal, how often I should re-tweet people, who I should reply to, and so on, and for what? Do I have a personal brand? Is this an echo chamber? Is this helping people see my work, or is it just getting passed around among my buddies? Is a retweet a personal connection? Are my Twitter followers my friends? It's all very blurry online. Most of the world is not on Twitter, but when you're on there, and your friends and celebrities and companies and spambots are there too, it's hard not to feel that the whole world is one tweet away from you. Most of the time, it's not.

So I'm wary now. If you want me to support your cause on Twitter or like your page on Facebook, I'm hesitant. Sometimes saying no online is hard, because it's so easy to say yes.

And because it's easy to say yes to the Hornets, Bring Back the Buzz has created a grassroots PR campaign that might be better than most public relations firms could mount. If you follow them, they constantly shove pro-Hornets propaganda in your face. If you agree or post a picture, they amplify you. Twitter has become a listening post for the media, so they're hard for the media to ignore. It's a fun story. There is emotion. Nostalgia. The little guys standing up to the big guys. The guys doing this know exactly what they're doing (One of the three guys involved is a marketing major, the other two, including We Beelieve's John Morgan, are teachers).

They are loud. But you don't need a lot of people to be loud. You might be really good a throwing your voice. You might have a bullhorn. Or you might have Twitter. Or Facebook. The Bobcats are already aware of the volume. They're now in the midst of trying to measure the size of this movement with surveys and studies, all of which say: okay Beelievers, let's see if you've got two pair or a full house. And what happens if they don't change the name? Does Bring Back The Buzz go away? Will Facebook explode? And so what if it does? Will that dissipate if and when this team starts winning?  We're now out of the realm of the hypothetical. This is either going to happen, or it won't. The unicorn is real. Either it's going in the zoo, or it's going to be set free. Time to get a Filet-o-Fish, sit back, and see what happens next.

Categories: Blog Links > Week in Inanity, The Buzz, Way Out