OAK BROOK: McDonald's, the restaurant chain, is tracking as many as 3m social media conversations every month to find real-time marketing opportunities.

Rick Wion, McDonald's director of social media, told eMarketer that the sheer volume of information tracked sometimes made it tough for the company "to see a little bubble before it turns into a major trend".

In particular, "it's difficult to understand the difference between 100 people who said something because they had the same experience at 100 different restaurants across the country vs. the first 100 people that are commenting on a trend," Wion said.

Wion also outlined how the company has turned to social media management tools, such as Radian6 and Sprout Social, to help it better identify emerging issues.

Social data is then fed into insight systems, with trends lines observed at a macro level. "But then we make a point of diving into the micro, reading as much of the stream as we can," added Wion.

The social media team has worked closely with the legal team to understand what they can react to quickly.

As an example of this, Wion cited the guidelines that have been developed for interacting with celebrities.

"When a celebrity tweets, we can retweet their original tweet. We don't add to it. We don't dress it up because we don't want to take their statement and try to make it into an endorsement,"he said.

More generally, McDonald's is always in "test and learn mode" as regards social media, putting out dozens of different messages and evaluating the reaction to them.

"Sometimes we'll even do A/B testing, where we're saying essentially the same thing but phrased two different ways," said Wion.

An example of this process in action came with the launch of the Cheddar Bacon Onion burger.

"We saw that when we talked about everything on the sandwich, it was good, but when we emphasized the bacon, that seemed to drive more engagement," Wion explained.

Data sourced from eMarketer; additional content by Warc staff