Think like a human
In fact, hard-selling Twitter feeds and staged Instagram grids were the historic strategy of most quick-serve brands. But as average engagement rates with food and beverage brands hover around 1.7 percent for Instagram and a paltry 0.06 percent for Twitter—according to a 2019 report by social analytics firm Rival IQ—it’s not enough to look pretty and sell to people. It’s about embracing social for what it is: our messy, ever-evolving, real-time zeitgeist populated (mostly) by actual human beings.
“Think like a human; it’s really simple,” says Tressie Lieberman, vice president of digital marketing at Chipotle, on how the brand approaches social. “Who are you? What do you stand for? What are your values? Occasionally as a brand that might mean you have to shake things up, too, because as humans we evolve.”
Chipotle underwent a marked shift in strategy last year, turning away from being “Instagram-perfect” and instead cultivating a more multidimensional presence. Lieberman characterizes Chipotle as an optimistic and honest brand that believes in cultivating a better world, based on its foundation of transparency and using real ingredients. But it doesn’t take itself too seriously—aiming for a fun, clever, and conversational voice.
That might take the form of a tweet calling out people who fill their water cups with lemon slices (almost 94,000 favorites, 17,000 retweets), or wishing good morning to everyone “except people who take our Tabasco bottles” (109,000 favorites, over 25,000 retweets). It might be a post of customer Monique Wood’s yearbook photo on Instagram, in which she recites her regular Chipotle order (63,000 likes). Sometimes it means addressing the trolls on Twitter who “call Chipotle trash,” with a link to an article about how Chipotle is tackling food waste through using compostable bowls and recycling some 81 tons of waste.
“Let’s call it out so people pay attention, and now that we have it they can see how trash is something we’re passionate about,” Lieberman says, adding that it’s still a fine line. “There are certain people you’re not going to engage in conversation with. It’s about knowing when to turn the other cheek and go back to human values.”
One of the internet’s most famous friendly-ish trolls might be burger chain Wendy’s, which has gained a reputation for roasting everyone from actor Devon Sawa to Planters Peanuts and even its competitors on Twitter. In 2017, the brand famously called out McDonald’s for using frozen beef following the burger giant’s announcement that it would start cooking most of its Quarter Pounders with fresh beef.
“.@McDonalds So you’ll still use frozen beef in MOST of your burgers in ALL of your restaurants? Asking for a friend,” stated the tweet, which received over 172,300 favorites and 68,000 retweets.
The key, says James Bennett, Wendy’s senior director of media, social, and partnerships, is that the brand roasts from a place of love rather than hate—valuing its community “like you would a friend,” and holding itself to the same standards one would for friends. In the interest of being present, engaging, real, and having fun, two-way conversations can take precedence over promotional-type messaging, particularly on fast-paced channels like Twitter.
“We do consistently call out competitors when they aren’t living up to the product expectations we think consumers should expect—which happens a lot,” Bennett says. (The brand’s ribbing of McDonald’s continues occasionally.) “We’ll always look to have consumers’ backs, and that’s led to some fun interactions. When someone asks us our opinion, regardless of the topic, we’ll share what we think and always in our unique voice.”