Wendy’s Twitter Beef

The customer is always right. That’s one of the pillars of doing business, especially in the service industry. However, one company has flipped that maxim on its head and somehow people love them more for it. Over the past few years Wendy’s, the American fast food burger chain, has caught the attention of the internet by developing a sassy, and sometimes even rude, twitter personality which is targeted at internet trolls, competition, and even their own customers.

Wendy’s joined twitter in 2009, but their sarcastic social media personality first made its appearance in 2017. Early in January, one twitter user decided that the internet was the right place to let Wendy’s know that they didn’t believe their “fresh, never frozen” tagline. The user responded to a Wendy’s promotional tweet saying, “So you deliver [burgers] raw on a hot truck?”. The twitter manager at the time, Amy Brown, responded from her couch, almost without thinking reminding the user that refrigerators do in fact exist. Check out the exchange below:

Brown recalled that in the 24 hours after that tweet Wendy’s received more tweets “than it had in the past month”. Twitter users were incredibly responsive to this snarky attitude and the account quickly blew up and the social media managers struggled to keep up with enough witty content to satisfy the internet. Today Wendy’s twitter boasts over 3 million followers and their twitter bio is as much about their now famous personality as it is about the products they’re selling. “We like our tweets the same way we like to make hamburgers: better than anyone expects from a fast food joint”. It’s not just internet trolls that Wendy’s hits with their signature roasts now, its competition (like their famous “Twitter Beef” with McDonalds) and even their own customers. They’ve even gone as far as getting blocked by Hardee’s and calling January 4th National Roast Day and offering to roast anyone on twitter who wanted to be insulted. Their regular roasts are mixed in with traditional promotional posts for their food, which has also developed a similar sassy tone of voice. Most users follow for the entertaining content and are still exposed to the informational product postings as well.

Clearly the initial success of the account was spontaneous and happened faster than anyone on the team expected (Brown didn’t even expect any response to her first sassy tweet). But how does this team operate today? The team behind the infamous twitter roasting account sat down for a Q&A via reddit and let pretty much anyone ask them anything. Here are some highlights:

  • They have a lot of creative liberties. Most of their tweets don’t need approval – except the McDonalds ones, they say, likely for legal reasons. The last thing they need is a lawsuit from the fast food giant.
  • “Success happened before anyone had a chance to be scared”. They never had the chance to second guess and spend time debating whether a sarcastic personality would be successful on the internet. All it took was one impulsive tweet and they stumbled on twitter greatness.
  • They measure success by following impressions, engagements, brand metrics and “other marketing mumbo jumbo”.
  • The team didn’t study meme-ing, roasting, or internet burns in school, they’re just a bunch of young people with a knack for the internet and a sassy side that went unnoticed until now.
  • They are now “strictly forbidden” from giving users a certain number of likes to surpass for free chicken nuggets.

Why it Works

Simply put, it’s really funny. Fast food is a far from serious business in the eyes of consumers so the industry is kind of a perfect match for the personality they’ve developed. Further, twitter is definitely the right platform. This strategy might not work on Facebook or Instagram, which is why the team sticks to twitter for their signature roasts. Their classic humor doesn’t really match up with the image heavy format of Instagram, and the attitude that young people now know and love might not be as attractive to older demographic that’s more active on Facebook. Their consistently controversial and cheeky nature fits right in on twitter.

Twitter (and the internet in general) is the last place you’d expect a fast food company to thrive. It seems like the only people who spend their time talking about greasy fast food on twitter are people who had really bad experiences or just nothing better to do. Basically trolls. Internet trolls are the kind of people who spend their time going after fast food chains on twitter. Pre-2017, a fast food social media manager was probably the most unattractive job opportunity out there. However, Wendy’s took what seemed to be a challenge (the feeling that maybe fast food just didn’t belong on twitter – maybe they were asking for scathing public internet reviews) and turned it into their differentiating factor which majorly helped their brand recognition. Up until 2017, most fast food social media advertising focused used low prices and bright colors to attract attention. By adopting the tone of (clapping back at, if you will) the exact kinds of people who were interacting with them on the internet to begin with, Wendy’s both gained the respect of these critics and the attention of the world – because who doesn’t love a good internet roast?

Getting Risky

Despite their past success, Wendy’s walks a thin line; there are some obvious risks to this strategy. The tone could be alienating to some who don’t share the same sense of humor. And especially in today’s climate, all it takes is one bad joke to take the whole thing too far. The team admits to having been “talked to” about some tweets, but overall quickly sends out their tweets with little oversight. One lapse in judgment and their cheeky brand image could quickly turn rude, insensitive, and just plain mean. Not to mention the potential of legal battles with other large fast food chains (not sure if you can sue over a tweet, but hey, there’s a first time for everything).

So far this strategy is working well for Wendy’s. They’re enjoying internet fame and increased sales; “people say they go eat because of the tweets,” the team says, “and no one has ever lied on the internet”. In addition, many other fast food chains have had to adapt their own social strategies to respond to the sometimes aggressive Wendy’s tweets (the internet loves a good fight). Other brands can (and have) taken advantage of this kind of strategy. They must consider a few things and make adaptions to the style of humor to make sure their customer base will appreciate it. What kind of humor and tone resonates with your audience and your target customers? Find an appropriate level of sassiness so as to not alienate your audience. Find the appropriate platform. Measure engagement and interactions from your followers. Start slow and escalate from there – remember that all it takes is one joke to cross the line. While these tips can help you develop an appropriate personality to resonate with your brand’s internet audience, it’s also important to remember that a big part of Wendy’s success was how authentic and spontaneous their initial “roast” was. People don’t want a cookie cutter version of another Wendy’s twitter; they want something to surprise them and make them laugh.

Amy Brown, the woman behind the original Wendy’s roast concluded her own blog post by saying, “nobody decides to become a meme. The internet decides that for you”. So I guess that’s really the whole point of this. I (or any professor, social media manager, etc.) can offer as much advice as they want, as many tips on how to imitate success as we can think of. But at the end of the day, it’s the unexpected, never-been-seen-before ideas and personalities that take a company from a crappy fast food hamburger joint to one of the most popular internet brands and personalities of today. As much as you can take the advice of this post and of Wendy’s to perhaps increase engagement and visibility of your brand a little, what customers and users are really looking for is a personality that is unique (not a replica of another brand) to differentiate one company from another. Know the personality of your customers and develop your own strong and distinctive voice.

Works Referenced/Consulted

https://splinternews.com/that-time-i-went-viral-while-running-the-wendy-s-twitte-1819001087

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jaysondemers/2017/01/17/is-wendys-winning-or-losing-with-its-twitter-roasting-streak/#736a05081944

https://pos.toasttab.com/blog/wendys-twitter

10 comments

  1. I know about Wendy’s sassy Twitter persona because I did a project last semester on IHOP, and Wendy’s had some interesting things to say when it came to the whole IHOB fiasco. I think the account is hilarious, and definitely started a trend among other restaurant chains in creating a distinct personality. While Wendy’s dominates the Twitter game, I think that another account to watch is Sweetgreen on Instagram. I would definitely classify the vibe differently–classy, clean, and inviting, but it seems to command a similar level of following and engagement. Additionally, as I said I have experience in researching IHOP’s social media platforms, this is also one to watch, especially in terms of gaining virality.

  2. dilillomelissa · · Reply

    This is awesome! I love when a company can stumble upon a strategy that just works. Knowing what Wendy’s has been like for years and not seeing any differentiator is honestly boring. This is a very unique way to portray themselves on social media. I can see where some tweets may walk a fine line, but I like what they’re doing and think they should continue. People today are very easily offended, and honestly, you can’t please everyone. As long as what they are saying isn’t blantantly rude or offensive, I say have all the fun they want with their sarcasim and sassy remarks. Companies need to find a way to stand out or they’ll be shuffled in with the crowd. I’m not sure how I didn’t know about Wendy’s doing this on Twitter before your blog. Thanks for pointing this out!

  3. I love that you decided to specifically focus on Wendy’s twitter presence, because it is so great and unique! I would have never thought that a fast food restaurant could be so effectively sassy so I love that this brand has created its own personality. I agree that some people will definitely not get the jokes and find them insensitive, but for the most part I think we all get a kick out of the roasting. I also think Twitter is the perfect platform for this type of persona to come out and Wendy’s has nailed it. Really great insight into a fun topic!

  4. I love the Wendy’s sassy persona. I can’t say I follow them (but maybe I should), or eat there that often, but occasionally one of their tweets will pop up on my page as a retweet. I remember when they started to blow up a few years ago. I think they found so much success on twitter because they were similar to real twitter users, not other brands. They tweeted like a person. They said what we all want to say to trolls–something witty and harsh. The more a brand feels like a person, and specifically a person we like and relate to, the more that we trust it and want to invest in it. Wendy’s twitter is likable because you feel like you are reading a friends response to something, not a major corporation. Also, every tweet screams millennial angst, and what millennial doesn’t love that!

  5. I think that the reason that Wendy’s does this so well (as opposed to companies that have too much of a ‘fellow kids’ attitude) is that it’s authentic. You can tell that there weren’t layers of executives and filters to go through before something gets posted. There weren’t a thousand cooks in the kitchen, each trying to play it safe and put their fingerprint on the final product. These posts seem genuine because they aren’t trying hard to portray a specific image, they simply act or react in a way that any one of us might. I love this strategy from Wendy’s. Yes, I know that it’s still a huge company, but it’s really refreshing to see a company that doesn’t take itself so seriously!

  6. In this day in age of sensitivity and the PC police, it is a breath of fresh air to see Wendy’s do this and be successful at it! The fact that the company does it consistently shows folks they are not necessarily targeted, as some companies that chirp at the occasional user can be deemed as mean or cruel. The Wendy’s users that have no barriers/rules opens the field to be genuine. Plenty of users will tweet at Wendy’s just hoping for a reaction and the number of followers they have is impressive! Great focus on Wendy’s interactions with customers and competitors; they know how to mess with competitors and have their own customers chime in.

  7. Really amusing and well-written post! I have always enjoyed Wendy’s’ Twitter savagery and have actually employed some of their tactics on my own. In high school I was in student government and I was tasked with operating all of the social media accounts. I essentially turned the student council twitter into a page where I made fun of the school. I remember one specific instance where a page that students had to use to register for a particular event. My school had notoriously bad IT problems, and stuff like this happened all the time. I capitalized on the outage and tweeted, “Welp, looks like the registration page is down. Gotta love [my school]’s technology, amirite?” The tweet became really popular among students at my school, and I was subsequently contacted by my school’s webmaster and asked to remove that and all similar tweets. Had I tweeted that from my personal Twitter, I doubt it would have gotten the same recognition. I think it works much the same way with the Wendy’s Twitter, as people seem to love seeing an “official” social media page tweet so informally, which I think is the primary reason it has enjoyed such popularity.

  8. Viral marketing is a great (and almost free) way to increase WOM. KFC used a similar tactic last year with their twitter account. A user noticed that the only people KFC followed on Twitter were the five spice girls and seven guys named Herb (aka 12 herbs and spices in their secret recipe chicken). KFC rewarded the user with a custom painting of him and Colonel Sanders sent to his home. In the weeks following this interaction, KFC’s social media following spiked significantly. In a world consumed by social media, brands have no choice but to engage with consumers this way if they want to stay relevant.

  9. Nice post! Ive followed Wendy’s for a while on Twitter, as they’ve long had a good strategy. It can be very tough to pull off successfully and hard to outsource. Although my personal favorite is @nihilist_arbys

  10. I had no idea the Wendy’s Twitter persona was so active and people followed it for humor, but now I am intrigued! I like how you highlighted the quote “success happened before anyone had a chance to be scared.” I’m sure there are a lot of companies who need to be careful about what they put out on social media and I would guess a lot of thought goes into the language used. It’s impressive that Wendy’s team is able to produce entertaining content that clearly get people to engage in their brand.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: