For White Castle, a few hours on the front lines at its restaurants, particularly during the midnight shift on a weekend, is the best way for its marketing team to familiarize itself with the brand’s customs and customers.
The burger chain has a distinct reputation for drawing in the after-party crowd. On social, the company amplifies this persona, adopting a “little bit more of an edgy tone … just a little bit more clever, a little bit more witty,” Blashford said. “But always still respectful, always wanting to be inclusive.”
White Castle currently has about 92,700 followers.
“A lot of brands see social media as a medium that is very fast-paced and a place to take those quick zingers,” Kaminski said.
Wendy’s was one of the first fast-food brands to embrace Twitter as a platform to magnify its unique voice. Kurt Kane, the restaurant’s chief concept and marketing officer, told CNBC that Wendy’s takes its food quality very seriously, but doesn’t take itself seriously.
“We are tongue-in-cheek except when it comes to quality,” he said.
Wendy’s has more than 2.7 million followers on Twitter.
The burger chain has been at the forefront of guerrilla marketing tactics on social media, often using its competitors’ promotions or gaffes to make a statement. Wendy’s has taken a number of swipes at McDonald’s, in particular, after the Golden Arches rolled out fresh beef for its Quarter Pounder burgers. Wendy’s used this as a chance to tout that its burgers have always been fresh.
In this tweet, Wendy’s tapped into a popular meme based on a scene from “The Avengers: Infinity War.” The post was well-received by social media users, gaining more than 236,000 likes and 78,000 retweets.
Of course, McDonald’s isn’t the only chain to feel Wendy’s snarky social media wrath. Dine Brands’ IHOP bore the brunt of several tweets this week after announcing that it was temporarily swapping out the “P” in its name for a “b” to promote its new line of burgers.
White Castle also chimed in.
“Our social media voice is all about talking with our fans, not at our fans,” a member of Wendy’s social media team, who wished to remain anonymous, told CNBC. “We want to have conversations that friends would have. You want to talk about our opinion on the latest movie releases? Sure, we’ll go there. The brand voice that brings that strategy to life is simply, sassy. Sassy is our voice across all consumer touchpoints, not just social media.”
Last year, teenager Carter Wilkerson tweeted at the brand asking how many retweets he needed to get in order to receive a year of free chicken nuggets.
Wendy’s answered: 18 million.
While Wilkerson was only able to get a paltry 3.6 million retweets, breaking the record set by comedian Ellen Degeneres for her Oscar selfie, he was still rewarded with his year of free nuggets as well as a donation of $100,000 to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in his honor.
Those that run these social media accounts must skirt the fine line between being on trend with the latest memes and pop culture references and appearing inauthentic and opportunistic.
Companies like PepsiCo have learned that the hard way. The soda company was accused of co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement in an advertisement and social media campaign that featured Kendall Jenner quelling tensions between police and protesters by offering a police officer a Pepsi.
Even Wendy’s has found that you can go from top of the world to bottom of the barrel with just one tweet.
The burger chain briefly fell from grace in January 2017 after posting a Pepe the Frog meme in response to a customer. The image, which started out as a reaction meme, has been adopted as a white nationalist symbol and was deemed a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League. Wendy’s deleted the post.
“There are some topics that just aren’t fit for a cheeseburger brand to engage in and we stay far away from those,” the Wendy’s social team member told CNBC.