The Twittersphere loves following someone whose feed is filled with scorching hot takes—not you, Donald!
More times than not, that doesn’t include brands—whose lukewarm tone from corporate bots shilling products and services tend to turn users away with a one-way ticket straight toward the unfollow button.
But not Wendy’s, who’ve been bringing the beef through a menu of fearless manners—namely through a fresh and tasty persona on Twitter that borders between cheekily entertaining and trolling.
James Bennett, senior director of media and social for Wendy’s, told AListDaily that its celebrated online brand image was born a few years ago when its leadership team and agency partners decided that it was time to not to take themselves too seriously anymore. So, they realigned the quick service restaurant’s tone and voice into something more sharp and playful.
what'd they win? A participation trophy?
— Wendy's (@Wendys) January 4, 2017
— Wendy's (@Wendys) January 3, 2017
“Wendy’s was founded on a commitment to serve fresh, quality food, but that’s not to say that Wendy’s doesn’t like to share its personality,” Bennett said. “Wendy’s definitely has a witty sense of humor, but we try and keep our interactions lighthearted. If something feels like it’s veering too far away from that, we step back and reevaluate the communications.”
Bennett says the brand has put plenty of work into its flame-throwing voice, identifying what and how it should grill—er—communicate with fans.
“When it comes to our products, we banter in the spirit of food quality and try to keep our focus around that,” he says. “Social media is a learning ground for our team and we’re always challenging ourselves to be true to the Wendy’s voice. We try and inspire two things on social media—awareness on what Wendy’s was founded on, and genuine relationships and interactions with fans.”
Having a relevant voice on social media is just a fraction of the work quick service restaurants are putting into reinventing their images for younger consumers who have deviated away from the drive-thru for more healthier, hip and more Instagrammable options.
Earlier this spring, when 16-year-old Carter Wilkerson asked the restaurant how many retweets it would take to earn him a year’s supply of free chicken nuggets, Wendy’s gave him a seemingly impossible number: 18 million. In short order, #NuggsForCarter was born, and the saucy story went viral.
“No one could have predicted the phenomenon that was #NuggsForCarter,” Bennett says. “But we feel part of the secret to why it got so big was that we let go of the reigns and let Carter do his thing without us getting in the way or commercializing it. He’s a great kid, and we’ve enjoyed getting to know his entire family. We enjoy seeing our customers’ passion for the brand and that’s just not something we can put a dollar value behind.”
Analysts calculated that the #NuggsForCarter Twitterstorm meant over $7 million in earned media value for Wendy’s.
Of course, not all back-and-forth banter with Wendy’s, named after the daughter of chain founder David Thomas, ends with a sweet story. Quick service brethren have felt the fiery wrath and the no-punches-pulled burns that Red has brutally brought.
.@McDonalds So you’ll still use frozen beef in MOST of your burgers in ALL of your restaurants? Asking for a friend.
— Wendy's (@Wendys) March 30, 2017
“With the infinite number of conversations taking place on social, there’s some risk determining which space to play in,” Bennett says. “There’s definitely a line of what is right for Wendy’s brand and voice. Our job is to ensure we’re going after the right subject matter, and that our tone and words contribute to a unified voice.”
With all of the highs, there are lows as well—the brand has fumbled interactions from time-to-time with its salty zingers. In response to a customer earlier this year, the company posted a meme of Pepe the Frog, a reaction meme that was adopted as a white nationalist symbol and was deemed a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League.
Bennett says the brand’s foremost lesson since evolving with its overall voice and direction—which is, as the cool kids say, “savage AF”—is learning that they’re comfortable in their own skin as being purpose-driven and confident with their social interactions.
“It’s important to our team that Wendy’s interjects when appropriate and contributes to conversations that we can authentically be a part of,” Bennett says. “There are a variety of cultural interests and passions on the team that allow us to be relevant on lots of topics. But what it really comes down to is that we trust each other and have fun together—that’s what makes our campaigns successful.”
if you're having a bad day today, just remember that you didn't get dragged by a fast food company on twitter pic.twitter.com/gUSuHwZLQR
— ΓRΛX (@Fraxtil) January 2, 2017
Marketers are increasingly using feedback from their communities to influence their products, and Wendy’s says that’s definitely true for the restaurant chain, as it frequently take cues from the over two million fans they engage with on Twitter.
“It’s one of the reasons we’re so concerned with how we approach our fans,” Bennett says. “We’ve found success by engaging with our customers in a very human way—finding out their likes, dislikes and genuine interests. This means we listen to fans to foster an interactive connection.”
In the past, Wendy’s has even created spots based off of fan engagement from tweets by tapping the likes of Nick Lachey to croon, “Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger Love Songs.”
“We’ve had to find the right balance of talking about our brand while respecting customers’ space and engaging them in conversations they actually want to have with us,” Bennett says. “Our team tries to keep the momentum building from within. With so much content out there, of course there’s inspiration everywhere, but it’s Wendy’s hint of sass that we compete against. It’s like we’re constantly trying to one-up our last witty remark.”