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“How Wendy’s Squashes Beef in Social” – AAF-KC Recap

Even if you aren’t on social media or don’t use it very often, you’ve probably heard about the unique brand voice of Wendy’s. The brand has been getting a lot of media attention over the past year for their marketing campaigns and digital presence, particularly their Twitter account.

Wendy's Tweet

Recently I attended a presentation from the two people responsible for that unique voice and attention-grabbing social presence: VML social strategist, Christina Miller and VML community manager, Matt Keck. They shared their approach to social engagement at a professional development breakfast hosted by the Kansas City chapter of the American Advertising Federation. Miller and Keck discussed the strategy behind the viral sensations surrounding Wendy’s marketing campaigns, while also providing high-level ideas and tips that other marketers could take back to their organizations.

When Wendy’s became a VML client, the team noticed that the company already had a dedicated following of brand advocates who grew up with Wendy’s, loved the restaurant and regularly showed that love on social media. Miller and Keck talked about how the team started with a campaign built around the love their customers had for a new menu item, the pretzel bacon cheeseburger. This led to a TV commercial campaign about Pretzel Love Songs that used real customer tweets as lyrics to love songs about the new item. Pretzel Love Songs

Now the VML team is amplifying the conversation. They’re taking the content from Wendy’s fans and engaging without quite as big of a production as the TV ad campaign. The team’s social motto is “make friends and invite them to lunch.” It’s an appropriate metaphor for a restaurant. But the idea can be applied to any brand’s social strategy. Companies can interact with their customers on social and then use the connection they build with the customer base to learn more about how the company can improve by directly interacting with the customers. Or they can use their tweets in an ad campaign!

Miller and Keck shared several tips for what makes their social community management so successful and explained that it can be applied to any brand. They recommended starting with a consistent brand voice. However, they clarified that this is not just a social voice. A company must first establish a brand voice and then apply that voice to their social channels. Additionally, that voice must be applied to both content and community management. While it’s important to put out quality content to start the conversation, the community management piece keeps the conversation going. The content is the gateway to the two-way conversation. And both have to sound the same and sound authentic.

Where's the Beef adMiller and Keck acknowledged that not every brand can have a sassy voice. Not even every brand like theirs can automatically have the same kind of humorous and playful sarcasm that they use. Wendy’s has a foundation for that type of humor dating back several decades with their successful “Where’s the beef?” campaign. The company was directly calling out their competitors and doing it in a humorous way. The VML Wendy’s team simply carried over that humor and fun into the digital era of social media.



Another important part of being authentic is to understand the language of the internet, but to use it appropriately. Your audience will know if you’re being fake. Since you’re on social media, you want the tone of your content to be a little more conversational. But again, know what your brand voice is and just how conversational you can be without sounding like you’re trying to be something you’re not.

Other suggestions included:

  • Creating proactive versus reactive campaigns and communication plans
    • VML created a campaign for the Wendy’s Bleu Cheese Burger that assumed everyone loves bleu cheese, because they knew that some people strongly dislike it.
  • Responding continuously and consistently
    • It can be helpful to have a list of responses on hand until you get used to the voice and can start to respond off the cuff more. Having a list also helps you from using the same responses over and over so you sound real and not robotic.
  • Moving forward when mistakes happen because they will not matter how well you plan
    • You might inadvertently post something that offends one of your customers. You might not be able to fix a problem they have with your brand. Do your best to address and attempt to correct the situation, But you will have to be able to move on and not dwell on it.
  • Evaluating your conversations with customers regularly to learn what’s working and what’s not
    • Know what your limits are for your brand voice on social. Since the community management is often happening in real-time, you need to know what you can and can’t say. This can be from a humorous perspective or even something as serious as from a regulatory perspective.

Not everybody gets to be Wendy’s on social media but it’s not impossible to take these ideas and apply them to a professional social media strategy. When you start with strong foundation of a brand voice and a clear plan to post quality content and engage in regular social community management, you will be able to develop a successful social media presence for your brand.

Why do I work at AWG? “I like working for a company that supports local, often times family-owned, businesses in everything they do in order to help them succeed and stay competitive. It’s great to interact with the stores on a daily basis and learn about their story and the communities they serve.” -Melanie