Denny’s Scores With Taylor Swift-Kimye Tweet; How Timely Is YOUR Social Engagement?

Posted: 07/19/2016

As pop culture fans pledged their allegiances to Team Taylor or Team Kimye, customer management professionals were saluting the Denny’s restaurant chain.

Denny’s received raves – and upwards of 10,000 re-Tweets – for a pitch-perfect parody of the latest chapter in the Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West saga.  The glowing response vividly demonstrates the value of timely, culturally cognizant social media conversation.

It should also drive all marketing and customer experience leaders to evaluate their own social media initiatives.  Is your social media strategy tailored to the “now”?

Character Assassination

Sunday’s “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” focused on the latest chapter in the Taylor Swift vs. Kanye West saga.  Specifically, it addressed the question of whether Swift had prior knowledge of the controversial lyrics that appeared in West’s single “Famous” (“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous”).

The West camp’s stance has always been that Swift had approved the name drop, while a representative for Swift vehemently denied the claim, noting that the interaction with West was about promoting the song on her Twitter rather than securing content approval.   The statement added that Taylor had never actually heard the song, had specifically  never approved the “bitch” line, and had cautioned West about releasing a track with a “strong misogynistic message.”

The “KUWTK” episode referenced (but did not show) video footage of a conversation between West and Swift.  The conversation, which supposedly occurred while West was developing the song (thus prior to the release), apparently substantiated his side of the story.

In conjunction with the broadcast, West’s wife Kim Kardashian made numerous clips from the video available on her Snapchat.

The clips quickly circulated the web and indeed revealed a pre-release conversation between West and Swift.  The footage did not debunk Swift’s denial point-by-point – it does not appear that she ever listens to the song itself, and she is not shown specifically discussing the “bitch” line – but it definitely challenges the spirit of her team’s statement.

Noting that her feelings were a top concern, he indeed seemed to be seeking her opinion and approval of the content.  Securing a promotional Tweet does not appear to be his primary objective.

The clips also seem to undermine the idea that Swift cautioned West about the misogyny of the lyrics. There was no indication that Swift was offended by the lyrical content; Swift, in fact, acknowledged the lyrics’ tongue-in-cheek nature and said the “might still have sex” line was “like a compliment.”  Rather than warning West about releasing the song, Swift agreed to publicly confirm that she was in on the joke – and that there was no serious feud between the two artists.

Swift quickly shared a response to the video footage (captioned “That moment when Kanye West secretly records your phone call, then Kim posts it on the Internet”), which she claims was filmed without her knowledge.  The statement, posted as a screenshot from the Notes app on her phone, stressed that she never consented to the “bitch” line and never heard the actual song, despite West’s assurances that he would play it for her.  She wanted to be supportive and cordial on the call, but since she never heard the song, she could not possibly have approved it.  “Being falsely painted as a liar when I was never given the full story or played any part of the song is character assassination.”

Swift’s statement did not directly reconcile the claims arguably most affected by the footage: that the conversation was about promoting the song on Twitter or that she cautioned West about the “misogynistic message.”

While Swift received support from thousands upon thousands of supporters, many others seemed to align with the Kim Kardashian/Kanye West (“Kimye”) camp.  And regardless of allegiances, two things seemed to stand out about Swift’s statement:  the use of a bold term in “character assassination” and the fact that her Notes screenshot included a return-to-search link at the top (thus suggesting the note had been written previously).

Brand Escalation

Taylor vs. Kimye took center stage Monday morning, and Denny’s wanted in on the action.  The chain Tweeted a farcical statement – also a screenshot from the Notes app – with the caption “That moment when a new meme appears on the Internet.”  Featuring some of the same phrasing as Swift’s statement, including the infamous “character assassination” phrase, the statement mockingly complains about being “falsely painted” as a restaurant that does not serve breakfast 24 hours a day.

The superb parody even included the contentious return-to-search link found in Swift’s original statement.

Particularly brilliant about Denny’s Tweet is the fact that it humorously weaves a marketing message – Denny’s 24/7 menu – into an organic, timely pop culture conversation.

Even if it had not been so savvy, Denny’s Tweet would still be refreshing in today’s corporate social media climate.  Thought leaders constantly stress the importance of humanizing digital engagement, but so few brands actually operate like real people.  They operate like robots, Tweeting the same generic, tone-deaf plugs and informational messages with no cognizance for what is trending or of immediate importance to social media users.

Tweets like Denny’s’ response to the Taylor Swift-Kimye drama, Oreo’s response to the Super Bowl blackout or Arby’s’ response to Pharrell’s notorious hat went viral – and earned subsequent media raves – because they are far too uncommon.

Particularly notable about these examples is that the brands are being timely without being controversial or political.  While brands, in the name of being human, should have offered some sort of response to the recent string of domestic and international tragedies, there is always the risk of being accused of exploiting a tragedy for personal gain.  While the US presidential election is a constant source of news and chatter, aligning with a particular candidate or cause risks alienating many potential customers.

Talking about lighthearted – yet all-consuming pop culture stories – is about as low-risk, high-reward as social marketing gets.

Be Clear On Your Objective

In response to raves over the Denny’s Tweet, skeptics likely have two arguments:

1)      Denny’s can do it because it’s a casual restaurant chain.  Not all brands could get away with – or should get away with – Tweets about Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.

2)      The Tweet went viral because it was funny and clever, but it will not necessarily make a tangible impact on sales.  People were endorsing the joke, not professing their loyalty to Denny’s.

At face, neither point is objectively wrong.  Denny’s does have leniency that would not be afforded to a funeral home, pharmaceutical company or law firm.  And even though Denny’s did technically sell a product, there is little to no assurance of revenue impact.  The conversion rate for Tweets without marketing messages, like Arby’s’ riff on Pharrell, is likely even lower.

Both points, however, are predicated on the wrong questions.

While it is true that some brands can be sillier than others, all can be human and timely.  All, after all, are engaging in social media for the purpose of connecting with customers rather than broadcasting to them.  To forge those connections, brands must demonstrate an awareness of and an appreciation for the topics of immediate import to customers.

Remember, a social media channel is not a company website.  You’re not asking customers to read information; you’re asking them to publicly profess their support for your brand (via a like, re-Tweet, follow, etc) and/or actively interact with your brand.  To do that, your organization must present itself as a human that actually wants to engage.

The same objective – creating human, meaningful engagements with customers – explains away the second argument.  Of course social strategy must generate a return on investment, but the optimal ROI will not come from a Tweet-by-Tweet or Picture-By-Picture approach.  Those who place each individual piece of social content under the commercial, promotional microscope will produce the kind of noise that gets ignored by customers.  They will not generate a stellar conversion rate.

The correct approach is a holistic one; ensuring the totality of the social messaging builds relationships with customers.  Customers who subscribe to your feed or share your messages are the ones who generate meaningful revenue.  Customers do that when they like your brand and its identity rather than your product alone.

Denny’s may not have sold a single Grand Slam by Tweeting about Taylor vs. Kimye, but it presented itself as “cooler” to the kinds of customers it wants to court.  It earned their attention and respect, and is thus in better position to develop the relationships that do manifest in purchases.

When evaluating your social strategy, think like a customer.  Would you think this brand is “cool?”  Would you follow this brand’s updates?  Would you admit to being a supporter?

Those able to answer in the affirmative likely represent brands that Tweet like humans rather than machines.  They represent brands that indulge in the discussions customers want rather than force customers to listen to plugs and sales pitches. 

Photo Attribution: by Denny´s - Denny´s, Public Domain,

Posted: 07/19/2016

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