The Wendy’s Phenomenon: Brands Being “Cool” on Social Media

Standing out on social media is hard. To grab a share of those precious views, clicks, retweets, and likes, brands often try to ride the wave of the newest internet trend, sometimes to mixed success. Look at Denny’s “zoom in on the syrup” post on Twitter (173k likes, 123k retweets):

That post led people on a mini-scavenger hunt around a seemingly benign image, only to end in a punchline that took advantage of the existential nihilism popular with Denny’s younger audience. The trend originally came from Twitter user @SNCKPCK, who made several of these wholesome little scavenger hunts.

Then, of course, there’s Wendy’s sassy Twitter as well. The account often gives snarky replies to people trying to start a fight on the platform. These sort of “clapback” interactions with customers and other brands can make a brand seem down-to-earth and relatable, which is necessary to stand out in a crowded market like fast food.

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However, brands should be cautious about which trends they onboard onto their social media strategy. One wrong move on social media can quickly become a public relations snafu, risking the brand image and making it seem insensitive or out-of-touch. Brands should always pay attention to the timing and context of a trend — or they risk being caught out in a tricky political situation, as happened with Epicurious, when they used the tragedy of the Boston Bombing as an avenue to promote themselves.

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A post that hasn’t been well-crafted or thought-out can fall flat and lead to a brand being the butt of a joke, rather than part of one. Remember when “bae” was new? Brands jumped on the phrase, using the lingo in hilarious and embarrassing ways, leading to one of our favorite twitter accounts. We here at Metter Media even wrote a blog post about it.

The modern consumer wants to get up close and personal to the brands they use. A branding mishap can therefore make loyal customers feel betrayed, like their friend wasn’t who they thought they were. Remember a few months ago when Shea Moisture released an ad featuring mostly White women — when their main consumer base was Black women? Although the ad had a positive message, the sudden change in message sparked backlash (although they mostly recovered quickly with an on-brand and authentic apology).

The most important thing to keep in mind is that brands need to stay true to their voice. A great deal of strategy and effort should go into that voice, and it’s not worth risking it for a fleeting trend. Remember: what works for fast food won’t work for an insurance brand. A trend that looks like it may be fun to engage with may simply not be appropriate for your brand.

Think about how Yelp can make or break restaurants, or how the United fiasco has led to a spike in news related to air travel. An easy way to prevent sticky situations is to have a social media expert on board and to have a solid strategy in place. Social media can be fickle, and managing it takes more time and effort than most brands are willing to give. While it’s true the internet provides for fast turnover, it’s also true that anything online never truly goes away, either. What seems like a simple misstep can spiral out of control and create a much more lasting negative impression.

The best social media branding creates a personality that is authentic. Consumers these days are internet-savvy, and can easily see through a transparent attempt to latch onto every hashtag trending on Twitter. The best advice, then, is to be choosy with the trends you incorporate into your brand. The last thing you want is to end up as Wendy’s next target.

Metter Media LLC is a Boston-based social media management company that implements community-based, localized social engagement strategies small businesses and corporations alike. Need help with your social media? Email Lauren today.

Metter Media Social Report, February 24, 2017

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