What You Can Learn From Wendy's About Listening And Responding On Social Channels

A young man named Carter Wilkerson recently asked Wendy’s, “How many retweets for a year of free nuggets?”

The fast food chain’s reply? Eighteen million.

Carter took that humorous challenge seriously, and his Wendy’s tweet has surpassed Ellen DeGeneres’s 2014 Oscars selfie as the most retweeted post of all time, according to New York magazine.

This kind of authentic brand participation in social media is worth more to college students than paid ads. Wendy’s is reaping the benefits of being a brand that listens and responds to its customers online.

“As a brand, you have to be able to interact with your customers. Having the right resources and strategy allows you to capitalize when moments are presented,” says David Brickley, president and co-founder of STN Digital. “Wendy’s didn’t get lucky. They implemented a social listening strategy for months prior to the famous chicken nuggets tweet.”

Being responsive on social media is time-consuming and won’t always lead to millions of retweets. But college students have grown up giving online feedback on all their experiences and having direct access to companies and celebrities through social media. They expect brands to be accessible on social media, which means putting in the effort even if your brand isn’t guaranteed a mention on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

“With one-to-one customer replies, you may send 10,000 tweets and get no engagement at all. But, all it takes is for one of them to go viral,” Brickley says. “That being said, the goal shouldn’t be to go viral. The goal should be to acknowledge your customers when they take the time to reach out to you, whether that’s positive or negative.”

Many brands would have ignored a user asking for a freebie, or simply offered him a coupon. Wendy’s playful response stayed true to its brand voice. Although Carter fell short of the challenge by about 14 million retweets, Wendy’s gave him the free nuggets. After all, Carter’s stunt put Wendy’s front and center in dozens of TV shows, articles and social media posts. But the brand was ready for the attention. Wendy’s already had a consistent brand personalty and history of being active on Twitter.

Before Wendy’s gained Twitter fame for Carter’s nuggets, the brand already had a reputation as responsive and fun thanks to sassy Twitter wars with competing burger chains, like these tweets Huffington Post collected. The Wendy’s brand voice has the same humor and irreverence as its young target audience, while staying on-message as a corporate account promoting a chain of fast food restaurants. On social media, Wendy’s doesn’t shy away from responding to negative comments with a sly snarkiness entertaining to a young audience, but not inappropriate or unappealing.

Your brand doesn’t have to be a master of snark to talk to college students online. All you have to do is find your voice, speak it authentically and stay engaged.

“Wendy’s has a great social presence. But the funny thing is, they aren’t doing anything impossible or extraordinary. They’re simply listening to their customers, and letting them know that they’re being heard,” says Kelsey Goeres, social media manager at MyCorporation. “Any brand, no matter how small, can follow their example. Listen to your customers, don’t sweep problems under the rug, face issues head-on, and always give thanks where it’s due.”

You’re brand doesn’t have to be funny or cool to let college students know that you’re available to listen and respond equally to their complaints and their praise. Whatever tone is right for your brand, if you stick to it and treat social media like the customer service channel it has become, your brand is on track for quality customer engagement.

“There’s a big difference between trying too hard versus being authentic,” says Daniel K. Lobring, managing director of communications at rEvolution. “While Wendy’s strikes a balance between responding to customer inquiries and complaints, they also are consistent in their tone of voice and how they engage with customers. From a branding standpoint, they’ve clearly made a concerted effort to be different, and their fans have embraced them for that.”

Even if it doesn’t get you the attention Wendy’s has earned, happy customers are worth the effort whether or not your brand makes it into the Twitter hall of fame.