Should brands get snarky with competitors and customers?

Well, it depends...

Danica Kombol (Left) and Jon Alhart (Right)
Danica Kombol (Left) and Jon Alhart (Right)

Jon Alhart
VP, content marketing and social media, Dixon Schwabl
Leads Dixon Schwabl's content marketing and social media department 

A 2017 Sprout Social survey on brand personality reports 88% of respondents are annoyed when brands mock fans, while 75% see the value of brands exhibiting humor on social. So, should your brand get snarky with customers on social media? And are your customers ok if you get snarky with your competitors as well? There’s a fine line. 

Everything you do on your social media channels has to align with your brand. So, if your brand is snarky in general, then get snarky on social media – when appropriate. If your brand isn’t snarky, then stay away from it. 

Wendy’s is known for its ability to be clever with customers and competitors. When McDonald’s announced it would begin using fresh instead of frozen beef in its Quarter Pounders, Wendy’s responded with - "So you’ll still use frozen beef in MOST of your burgers in ALL of your restaurants? Asking for a friend." Wendy’s gets after Burger King as well. After Burger King tweeted about a five-for-$4 deal, a woman asked Wendy’s what it was firing back. "Edible food," Wendy’s answered. This approach has worked for Wendy’s as it’s on brand and generated national public relations hits as well (who doesn’t want a Wall Street Journal hit.) 

Other brands that do a good job of snark on social media in their communication with customers in content shared, include Charmin, Taco Bell, and Old Spice. 

In these cases you’re talking about a fast food chain, a sports team, a toilet paper company, and men’s deodorant. Brands where you can have a little more fun. If you’re a financial institution or a healthcare organization, I wouldn’t recommend snark on social. 

Sometimes snark on social can show up at your front door in real life. For a golf tournament for which we managed the social media, a fan tweeted that if he received 10,000 re-tweets he would run across the 18th fairway during the final round. He got those 10,000 re-tweets, and he didn’t get a response from the tournament on social media. Instead? He received a visit from the cops at his front door. Needless to say, he didn’t make it to the tournament that year. 

In this era of chatbots and generic responses to customers on social media that don’t really help them but instead help that brand’s "response rate" on social, I welcome a little snark. Among competitors as well. It’s human. It’s refreshing. It’s fun – social media can still be fun, right? Heck, even I deserve it from time to time.

Danica Kombol
CEO Everywhere Agency
Leader of the social media and influencer relations agency 

Everybody loves a great social media brouhaha. It’s human nature to take sides. But as the Mean Girls quote goes, "Calling somebody else fat won't make you any skinnier." So, yes, we can all agree that Wendy’s won their digital feud with McDonald’s (only to perhaps be outdone by Burger King), but be wary of the temptation to try to recreate this. Lightening doesn’t strike twice and attempting to recreate this kind of social media magic can often feel disingenuous or like you’re trying too hard. Look how many non-profits tried to do a repeat version of the Ice Bucket Challenge and failed. 

It’s not just that you might be seen as unoriginal by mirroring someone else’s voice on social media, but you could actually alienate fans of your brand and galvanize your competitors’ supporters. A little name-calling can do a whole lot of damage to your brand’s reputation. 

Truth? There’s a fine line between being snarky and looking like a bully.  When I’m advising brands, I recommend Michelle Obama’s advice, "When they go low, we go high." And I get it, social media today is all about transparency and authenticity and telling it like it really is without the polish of a PR-approved statement, but since when is authenticity synonymous with being a jerk? Don’t believe me? Check out brands that sound human without degrading their competitors like Arby’s, Moe’s Southwest Grill, and GE. If your product and content are good enough, you shouldn’t have to stoop to potshots. 

Today’s consumer wants to get to know the brands they patronize through their social media channels. As in real life, most of us like nice people, and we like nice brands. This doesn’t mean you can’t be clever or that you shouldn’t engage with other brands. The difference between tongue-in-cheek humor and just being a jerk is sometimes hard to spot, but you can usually ask yourself, if I said this to the human behind the computer would they laugh or would they throw a punch? Stick to laughter – it causes fewer bruises. 

PRWeek’s View: Snark away, but don’t go too crazy. Not every brand’s audience is made up of sarcastic millennials who would approve. 

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