Hashtag-o-Nomics: How Wendy’s Learned to Dominate Twitter

Published: May 12, 2019  by 
screenshot of wendy's twitter account profile page

Wendy’s social media team has become the stuff of legend. In just a few short years they have won praise and awards, but most importantly transformed the social media landscape for the Fast Food sector. Not only that, they did it four years ago on the most unlikely network: Twitter. What they did was mind-blowing and it wasn’t part of a defined strategy, at first. It was authentic, grown slowly over time, proven with metrics, and then leveraged brilliantly as a permanent strategy.

Amy Brown, former social media manager for Wendy’s, invented the current Wendy’s brand voice on social many have grown to love, some loathe, and others fear. She dropped a singular tweet on January 4, 2017, and it was a revelation. The sassy, snarky tone was a smash, the right amount of personality and even trolling, but done in such a smart way that most everyone took it in jest. With everyone laughing together at the sick burns the @Wendys account dropped on rivals like McDonald’s, Burger King, Chic-Fil-a, IHOP/IHOB, as well as haters and fans, the account became known for “roasting” its audience. Better still, these tweets had tremendous engagement and shareability and somehow were still on message for the brand. They almost invented a new brand persona by accident that wasn’t linked to selling food as much as it was pushing the “us versus them” attitude Wendy’s needed to cut through the pack to their fans.  

They discovered something organically that just clicked with the masses and it worked for them like ketchup on fries. So naturally being a savvy and fluid team of social media managers, they capitalized on the wave of popularity and folded it into their existing messaging. One of the cooler revelations about this strategy is the trust the brand has in its team, as they need to secure no senior manager approvals to message to fans. Yes, that is a level of trust some brands may not have at the marketing team level.

There are some reasons the brand became a gradual pop culture phenomenon. It should have fizzled out by now. Realistically, it totally could have backfired, but that isn’t what happened. Without ever losing their essence, they went hard on everybody in their tweets, to the point where people started begging them to troll them 24/7. Fans went nuts trying to impress the account, gaining all kinds of retweets, likes and followers, such as Carter Wilkerson and his quest to get free Wendy’s chicken nuggets for life, and other fan-led activities. This lasted all of 2017, 2018, and up to the present day. They carried this over to their other social channels like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, and the number’s don’t lie. They have amassed a huge following and are growing all channels all the time. Wendy’s has become one of the “it” brands to follow and look up to. Here is a link to some of their best tweets of 2018.

This groundswell culminated in #NationalRoastDay. However, this day was not like the others, for this was the day that Wendy’s accounts capitalized on two years of brand building and audience grooming to set the Twitterverse and the entire internet on fire. Not only did they playfully roast all of their competition, but unrelated brands, celebs, and even everyday fans from far and wide were begging Wendy’s to roast them! This actually lasted several days and was a trending topic for weeks after. They not only took over the Twittersphere, but they also continued to get that legendary level of engagement and follower growth other brands dream of. As of today, they have grown over 1 million Twitter followers in the last year.

At the end of the day, Wendy’s didn’t set out to become a social media powerhouse with a sassy account manager leaning on some trolling and comedic wit. They sell hamburgers to families who like inexpensive fast-food with slogans like “Fresh, Never Frozen,” “Best at Bacon,” and “Quality is Our Recipe.” They compete in an overcrowded field with hundreds of millions of paid and organic social media impressions served daily. But by keeping it real, growing organically, and finding their unique brand voice, they developed a true personality in social. It may not happen for your company the way it did for Wendy’s and its team, but the moral of this story is to always be authentic on social media. Don’t try to be the next Wendy’s – be the first you.

Looking for more blog posts to brush up on your social media skills? Check out “Your Guide to Instagram’s IGTV” and “3 Steps to Smart Ad Spends with the Facebook Pixel.”