If you keep an eye on social media, you’re likely familiar with the snarky online persona of Wendy’s. The fast-food purveyor’s Twitter account achieved internet fame in late 2016 for its feisty exchange with an ornery customer over the company’s claim that its meat is never frozen.
Although Twitter users universally praised Wendy’s for putting this troll in his place—to the point where he deactivated his Twitter account—snark doesn’t always lead to glory. A few days after its sarcasm helped Wendy’s become the hero of the day, the company’s social media team made a fool of itself.
After a Twitter user asked the company whether it had any memes to share, the social media team responded with a Pepe the Frog meme—an image that has been widely accepted as an anti-Semitic symbol. The company quickly deleted that tweet and apologized for the mistake, although the damage was already done.
Wendy’s—a $2 billion company—apparently is so eager to appeal to edgy millennials that it’s willing to risk its reputation by jumping into Twitter beefs and spreading offensive memes. If retweets and controversy are the ultimate goal, Wendy’s has been successful. But at what cost?
The problem with social media snark
Wendy’s certainly isn’t the only brand working to reach a younger demographic, as many companies have made efforts to appeal to millennials and generation Z. Not long ago, that meant using the term “on fleek” and similar slang with reckless abandon. Today, it means a heaping helping of snark.
In some ways, this trend represents a logical progression. Social media—Twitter in particular—has become more negative over the past few years. Personal attacks are commonplace, and irreverence reigns.
Brands haven’t been quick to adopt Wendy’s biting approach to short-form social, but I suspect they’ll be tempted to give it a try considering the free media coverage Wendy’s has received. Companies will assume that any attention is good attention. They’re wrong.
A 2017 Sprout Social survey on brand personality shows that not all attention is equal. The survey of 1,000 participants found that most consumers prefer to buy from honest, helpful and friendly brands.
While 75 percent of respondents see the value of brands exhibiting humor on social, 88 percent of respondents reported that they are annoyed when brands mock fans. More than one-half of respondents would unfollow a brand that annoyed them on social, and 23 percent would refuse to do business with annoying brands.
It’s easy to see your “success” on social channels, but social failures are nearly impossible to detect. You might assume that everyone finds your snide comments adorable based on a few retweets and likes, but a drop-in business could tell a completely different story.
How to be social without snark
If all you do is dish out snide comments, you’re not going to help your followers, increase customer passion for your brand or attract potential employees. Instead of trying too hard to be cool, engage with customers and respond to their complaints while keeping a few tips in mind.
- Stay on brand: Generally, snark is inconsistent with a brand’s image. Wendy’s might exhibit plenty of sass on Twitter, but its commercials aren’t sarcastic, and its employees don’t act in an abrasive manner (at least not intentionally). The company’s social media tone is completely different from the rest of the customer experience. For other brands, however, biting sarcasm might work. Joe’s Crab Shack built its brand around playfully insulting customers, so a salty social media approach makes sense. Likewise, Jack in the Box and Geico could adopt a snarky social media presence that matches their irreverent marketing efforts.
- Don’t dawdle: Customers want to engage with the brands they follow and feel like they have a voice. While conducting research for my book, Hug Your Haters, I obtained plenty of data showing that consumers expect businesses to respond swiftly to their requests and complaints, particularly on social media. Whether you’re operating a multinational corporation or a small business, responding to customer complaints in a timely manner can make or break your brand.
- Keep an open mind: Engaging with customers—sans snark—can improve your brand in myriad ways. Responding to customer feedback gives you a tremendous opportunity to learn more about your business and how to improve its processes and operations. To reap this benefit, however, you must have an open mind. Instead of viewing upset customers as haters trying to drag down your brand, understand that these individuals took time out of their days to share their opinions and improve your business. If you don’t listen to customer complaints, you won’t resolve their problems or address any underlying causes. It’s a lose-lose proposition.
Some might argue that Wendy’s Twitter snark has increased customer passion for the brand, but at what cost? If the burger chain’s social media strategy involves trading barbs with customers, I question its business value—particularly because the actual success and failure of this approach is nearly impossible to gauge.
With research indicating that customers prefer a friendly, helpful persona rather than a sarcastic, humorous one, it makes perfect sense to ditch the snark. If you want your brand to benefit in the long run, master social media by listening to your customers’ social media concerns and engaging with them. They’ll appreciate you treating them like human beings rather than punching bags.
Jay Baer is a renowned business strategist, keynote speaker and The New York Times best-selling author of five books. He is the founder of Convince & Convert, a strategy consulting firm that helps prominent companies gain and keep more customers through the smart intersection of technology, social media and customer service. His latest book, Hug Your Haters, outlines how to embrace complaints, put haters to work for your company and turn bad news into good.
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