Curious customers rushing to In-N-Out Burger’s Twitter account this week to see the chain’s explanation for how one of its burgers mysteriously appeared in Queens, New York, quickly found another mystery: Why has In-N-Out not tweeted since 2011?
The @innoutburger Twitter handle, which doesn’t even have an official blue checkmark, has 51,300 followers, but it’s left them feeling empty for eight years. Why?
In-N-Out marketing coordinator Phyllis Cudworth said via email that the chain is "very low-key as a private, family-owned company and prefers to maintain a low profile to the public." She declined to comment further, explaining that it rarely participates in interviews or discusses aspects of its business externally.
In-N-Out isn’t alone. Play-Doh hasn’t tweeted since 2014. Smartfood has only posted one tweet since 2015. Wheat Thins has only hit "tweet" once since 2016. Soda brand Mello Yello hasn’t tweeted since 2016. And Super 8 posted one tweet in March, but the brand hadn’t used Twitter since last November.
That could come back to hurt a brand when an unexpected opportunity arises. For instance, if a company finds itself at the center of a viral, fun story -- as happened to In-N-Out last weekend -- but the brand stays quiet on Twitter, it could result in a missed opportunity.
In-N-Out missed the boat in terms of winning more earned media, says Kristen Ruby, CEO of Ruby Media Group.
"Why are they not retweeting all of this free earned media coverage?" she asks. "As a PR professional, I can’t understand why they wouldn’t be all over Twitter capitalizing on this and engaging in a social media dialogue."
Wade Prospere, VP of digital at Havas Formula, agrees, saying In-N-Out passed over a chance to engage a very passionate following.
"They could create their Twitter strategy based off this burger that was found in Queens, posting pictures of random burgers in obscure places knowing that [the chain is] only on the West Coast," he says, imagining how the chain could have taken advantage. "It would give them the ability to get in on the conversation and generate more awareness for the brand, especially given how much cultural capital the brand already has."
In-N-Out isn’t the only brand missing opportunities on Twitter, where a marketer can easily join the conversation and share the "brand love" to amplify a positive message.
For instance, last week, a Twitter user posted a picture of a creative and colorful cake made completely out of Play-Doh. Ruby advises that Play-Doh should have retweeted the image to show followers how to use its product in "new and adorable" ways.
There’s another problem for brands that hibernate on Twitter: customers, and even some brands, start to notice.
Why has the @PlayDoh account not tweeted since 2014— sav | 20 days until disney (@savannahjudd) May 16, 2019
That awkward moment when you realize Wheat Thins hasn't tweeted since 2016— CrackerBarrelCheese (@CBCheeses) May 17, 2019
"When your customers are asking why you aren’t active on a platform, maybe it is time to reconsider your strategy of not being active on it," says Ruby.
Twitter can also be an instrumental component for customer service. If people have problems with a product or service, one of the first places they go to complain is Twitter, where a brand can mitigate damage and calm complaints.
One customer who recently tweeted at Play-Doh to say they found mold in one of its containers was met with silence by the brand. That could have led to more negative attention, notes Ruby.
"This would be a perfect time for Play-Doh’s social media community manager to jump in and mitigate this risk before this tweet got out of control," says Ruby. "When you are active on a platform, you have a greater ability to control and redirect the conversation. When you ignore the platform completely or ghost it for years on end and only reactivate when a crisis occurs, it is very hard to regain lost social media ‘market share’ with a community you could have been building for years."
A representative from Play-Doh parent Hasbro said no one was available to speak about the brand’s social media strategy.
Ruby and Prospere agree that a dormant Twitter account is worse than no Twitter account at all. It makes a brand look lazy, as if it has given up on a platform. It also creates a frustrating experience for a customer, who is active on Twitter if they are DMing the brand or tweeting at an account handle and no one is replying.
"Consumers today are looking for an instantaneous response from brands; many do not want to pick up the phone and voice the complaint, they want to send a tweet instead," says Ruby. "If that is their go-to and you aren’t there, you run the risk of them changing brand preference to someone else who will be more responsive to their needs."
Some brands have legitimate reasons for going dark on Twitter.
PayDay, which created a Twitter handle in 2015 but hasn’t posted anything since November 2017, realized the platform wasn’t the best way to reach consumers, says Anna Lingeris, earned media and brand publicity lead for PayDay parent The Hershey Company.
"Our campaign has continued to evolve, and we have explored other ways to communicate to our PayDay fans," she explains. "For example, we have increased our overall marketing investment behind PayDay, and those efforts have been reflected in increased sales this year."
Hershey doesn’t apply this strategy to all of its brands universally. Reese’s, for instance, is chatty on Twitter.
"There is a clear difference between advertising on social channels and engaging on social channels and, at Hershey, our approach to social media is not a simple one-size-fits-all," says Lingeris. "Each of our brands use social media channels, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or Pinterest, in a way that helps to accomplish brand goals."
The parent company relies on analytics to understand how best to engage with consumers on social media.
"As we learn what the most relevant ways to stay engaged with our consumers are, we evolve our strategies and campaigns accordingly," Lingeris says. "At the end of the day, it’s all about consumers, and they drive how we connect with them."
More important than being active on Twitter is a company’s understanding of what social media network holds the most value for a brand, adds Prospere.
"Brands should focus on the platforms they have the ability to be successful on instead of trying to spread themselves too thin and do a mediocre job across five different platforms instead of focusing on two and doing a really good job there," says Prospere. "Don’t just tick the box of having a presence on Pinterest when you’re not putting a lot of effort there and showing the brand’s personality. You’re not going to generate much of a following that way."
Unique brands can use the silent approach on Twitter to their advantage. Apple’s profile says that it hasn’t posted any tweets, but it has 3 million followers on the platform.
"In essence, they are a dormant account, but they use it in a clever way to post teasers [through methods such as] changing the cover photo," says Prospere. "That works for them because all these brands are using Twitter to connect with everybody. At some point, you need to stand out, and it actually generates a lot of buzz around product launches."
Another pro: not having to dedicate resources to the platform.
"Given the nature of Twitter and how the timeline still is on a chronological basis, you have to tweet often to stay relevant or dedicate resources to have someone on the platform to interact with fans," Prospere explains.
How else can a dormant Twitter account help a brand? It never has to worry about tweets being misconstrued or taken out of context. "Harmless replies can result in a Twitter firestorm and can create a new PR disaster for the brand," says Ruby.