Being snarky on social carries more risk than reward for brands

PRWeek's Diana Bradley warns brands that they may come across as a bully.

Image source: Getty

If I was having a conversation at a fast-food restaurant and one of the employees interjected with a snide comment, I would definitely think it was unprofessional.

This is what I think any time I see a brand being snarky to people on social media. Aside from getting laughs, high fives, and coverage from a smattering of media outlets, is it really worth it for a brand to put someone in their place in the public eye?

A tweet in early October read, "PSA: Knowing how to mix Hamburger Helper doesn’t make you wife material."

The brand joined the conversation, responding with the tweet, "And this makes you husband material?"

The crowd went wild. People loved Hamburger Helper’s sass — its post got over 80,000 retweets and 280,000 likes. Not to mention, the tweet garnered coverage from Mashable, Delish, and the Daily Mail.

Wendy’s is the queen of snark on social. Earlier this year, the chain argued with a Twitter user who accused it of lying about using "fresh, never frozen" beef in its hamburgers. The user asked if the company delivered beef raw on a hot truck, adding that McDonald’s serves a better breakfast. Wendy’s responded, "You don’t have to bring them into this just because you forgot refrigerators existed for a second there."

This was another tweet that received praise from the masses, but after being badly embarrassed by Wendy’s, the tweeter deleted their account.

Are all the people who found the companies’ tweets funny going to run out and buy Hamburger Helper or Wendy’s? No. In fact, a study released by social media management company Sprout Social in May found 67% of consumers don’t want brands to be snarky on social, 88% find it irritating, and 83% prefer brands to be friendly.

A study published in the Journal of Marketing Behavior last year said consumers had a negative view of humor targeting a person or group.

In the Hamburger Helper and Wendy’s cases, those guys were jerks and needed to be told off, but not by a brand.

At the risk of sounding like I’m giving clichéd advice: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. At least when it comes to brands corresponding with customers, lest you come across as a bully. 

Diana Bradley is senior reporter at PRWeek, specializing in consumer coverage. Contact her at

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