Last week I wrote about a case study that McDonald's presented at the Mobile Social Communications conference in New York. Rick Wion, head of social media at McDonald's, boasted that a special McDonald's ran on Foursquare Day in April increased foot traffic at McDonald's 33%.

That's no small number, and since not all 26 million McDonald's customers are on Foursquare, it was a bit unclear what, exactly, had increased 33%. 

With commenters and bloggers questioning the results, I followed up with Wion. As it turns out that McDonald's results were not measured in actual foot traffic. According to Wion:

"We measured check-ins, not foot traffic, transactions, or sales, on Foursquare Day."

That's an over 20 million customer difference. However, Wion still stands behind his results. And he's using this case study to justify more social media offers at McDonald's.

Wion used the term foot traffic because he found it easier to convey the impact of the campaign:

"This kind of program was uncharted waters for us, so we needed to develop a means of measurement that translated to other commonly understood metrics within the McDonald’s system."

To celebrate an event called Foursquare Day, Wion offered 100 gift cards to Foursquare users who checked into one of McDonald's 14,000 stores on April 16. According to Wion:

"During the pilot program we saw a 33% increase in check-ins from people visiting our restaurants. We measured this by indexing the amount of check-ins across all McDonald’s restaurants in the days leading up to the pilot and then on the pilot day itself. While a check-in isn’t the same thing as foot traffic or sales, it does show an increased level of engagement with our brand and that social media can be used to drive folks into our restaurants."

A criticism of the case study was that the program did not directly drive sales. Wion says to that:

"The event was not intended to drive sales, but rather to honor the fans of Foursquare Day and serve as a pilot for future location based programs."

The offer served as proof that Foursquare is an effective marketing vehicle for many McDonald's employees. Wion says:

"Social media is widely supported by McDonald’s. We received great feedback about the Foursquare program internally. A lot of folks within our offices have now adopted it, personally. The competition to be mayor of our HQ building and Hamburger University, our training facility, is quite heated."

And similar programs from McDonald's are likely to come soon. He says:

"In my opinion, the entire location based services area holds great promises for all businesses. I am a big proponent of conducting pilot programs and then evaluating the results to help guide the development of a more wide-reaching strategy."

Meghan Keane

Published 20 September, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (6)

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Peter Keller

This is exactly the type of behavior that gives marketing a bad name:

  • Fuzziness with the metrics
  • Failure to measure business impact- and instead chalking the effort up to some nebulous branding-type initiative- "The event was not intended to drive sales, but rather to honor the fans of Foursquare Day..."

I've nothing against running marketing tests- and even brand-building (or buttressing). Wion sounds like he knows what he is doing (read the initial post)- but this sort of casual attitude towards reporting the results harms the integrity of marketing as a serious profession.

almost 8 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

Wion simply used the wrong term, however, he should have known better. Whether it was done on purpose or not, the mistake is misleading. Especially in a nascent industry such as social media, it is important to be clear about your metrics, the difference between 'footfall' and check-ins' is vast by anyones standards - he needs to be careful not to give multi-channel a bad name...

almost 8 years ago


Joe D'Andrea

In my conference notes, I have him down as citing a 33% increase in check-ins, and an increase in foot traffic. (I typed it as I heard it.) I merely took that to mean the increased checkins implied additional foot traffic, since folks would have to check in by walking in to the McDonalds in the first place.

almost 8 years ago

Ed Stivala

Ed Stivala, Managing Director at n3w media

"The event was not intended to drive sales, but rather to honor the fans of Foursquare Day..."  My goodness they really pushed the boat out on that one in terms of hard, meaningful, business objectives. 

Perhaps I will run an email campaign with the sole intention of "doing it on a Wednesday", oh yes and "in honour of people that like to read emails". 

almost 8 years ago



@Ed - great comment! Wion's follow up replies sound like nothing more than back peddling. And this statement is hilarious: "Wion still stands behind his results" Oh, you mean offering a coupon will increase Foursquare check-ins? I'd be interested to know how McDonald's paid Wion to come to that conclusion? Guess it just goes to show, if you can't show real ROI, tell everyone the promo wasn't intended to drive sale. Here's a tip for McDonald's: If you're serious about running social campaigns and want to define and substantiate business objectives and ROI, contact Olivier Blanchard at

almost 8 years ago



I think that there's some gray areas on the metrics McDonald's gathered. Just because nth number of people checked in doesn't literally translate into sales. But hey, they're doing this for fun so I guess, we can just give them an excuse to celebrate. But then again, this type of thing can be misused like businesses can spoof it to show the rest of us how popular and in-demand their place or business is.

almost 8 years ago

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