For this SocialMedia.org member profile, we chatted with Wendy’s VP of Digital and Social Media, Brandon Rhoten. Brandon’s been a member since April 2012 and presented a fantastic case study at our Member Meeting New York conference in 2013.
What do Steve Martin, Josh Groban, and Neil Patrick Harris have in common?
Their tweets inspire Wendy’s social media strategy according to Brandon Rhoten, Wendy’s VP of Digital and Social Media.
Comedians and celebrity personalities are some of the most interesting people to watch in social, says Brandon, because they use it mostly as a creative outlet.
“People who ooze talent are able to use social media as a platform to display it to the world. That’s kind of what I look up to and our brand looks up to. We’re trying to be your friend and someone you want to pay attention to in this very noisy space,” explains Brandon.
Some other interesting folks Wendy’s social team keeps up with on Twitter, Instagram, and Vine: Louis C.K., Chrissy Teigan, Conan O’Brien, Allstate Insurance’s Mayhem, Josh Hara, Bottlerocket, and Lowe’s Home Improvement.
It’s all a part of Wendy’s strategy to be subtle, stay interesting, and most importantly, respect the medium.
Brandon says, “Taking something built for another medium, like an ad or a TV spot, and putting it on a social network is blasphemy. It just doesn’t work. People don’t pay attention to it, and they’re not interested in it. If you turn this thing people use to entertain themselves and have conversations with their friends into a purely promotional vehicle, you’re kind of making a mockery of it.”
In fact, it’s vital to Wendy’s social strategy that they stay true to the conversations that are already happening in social media. That’s why they don’t buy banner ads or plaster your Facebook wall with sponsored posts.
“We don’t want to take over people’s lives in ways that are disruptive and completely annoying. As a brand, we understand that the post you read right before our post was probably your brother talking about his kid. So we don’t want to throw a giant picture of a cheeseburger at you and say, ‘Go buy this thing.’”
But Brandon recognizes this is a unique position for a brand as big as Wendy’s.
He admits that at other companies with as much revenue and structure as Wendy’s, it’s harder to do something new that doesn’t have a proven track record. He says at Wendy’s, the company thinks progressively about digital media. In fact, they let him take the reins when he started as the Director of Digital Marketing in 2011.
“It’s one of the main reasons I took the job — they let me own social. They basically said, ‘It’s yours. You can build a team and find your own agency partners. You’re the ultimate judge of whether this is successful, and you’re also ultimately in charge of and responsible for it,’” Brandon says.
Another reason he loves his job: “There’s nobody who’s really, really good at it yet.”
Brandon explains that lots of brands have inspiring moments, like Oreo’s famous Super Bowl tweet, Coca-Cola’s initial Facebook setup, Chipotle’s customer service on Twitter, and the funny stuff Taco Bell pulls off. But he says it’s harder to find a brand consistently knocking it out of the park.
“I love that the work that brands are doing today is setting the baseline for what good work looks like. TV has been around for decades, most advertising forms have been around for a long time, and there’s a clear baseline for what’s good. In our space, everyone is setting a new bar every year. That idea that I just saw from my agency or one of my guys could be the biggest idea that’s actually ever been done in the social space. And that’s very exciting. You’re not necessarily chasing people’s work from the past, you’re actually establishing the standard.”
One way Wendy’s is branching out is by training their franchisees — the 6,500 small business owners who run, on average, four to five Wendy’s restaurants.
Brandon says that with so many stakeholders interested in social media, it puts an interesting wrinkle in his job.
“If we were to ask every local market to develop their own social network, it would quickly become anarchy with copyright controls and legal usage. Plus, having a regular brand voice would be impossible,” Brandon explains.
Instead, they’re working with tools that allow franchisees to access their local markets with geo-targeted, branded content that keeps everything legal without creating conflicting voices. They’re also working hard to educate Wendy’s owners on the benefits of using social media in this controlled way.
“We can’t just tell a small business owner that they should not do something that would benefit their business. We have to make the case that managing social media isn’t their everyday job — they’re business owners, not marketers, PR people, or communications people necessarily,” he says.
In the meantime, Brandon emphasizes that it’s about fitting your brand into the social conversation organically.
He explains, “We’re trying to be — in our own way and in a way that fits our brand — interesting and worth paying attention to. We’re trying to understand the social space as best as we can before we open our mouths.”