Do you know your audience?

by: Spencer Jones

Businesses either “get” social media or they don’t.  Every small, local business and international corporation faces this dilemma and some may not even realize it.  Remember this?

(Photo from Wendy’s, 2015)

That originated from a 2015 Wendy’s commercial promoting their Jalepeño Fresco Spicy Chicken Sandwich.  Initial reactions were… mixed.  Incorporating elements of online media used in this commercial felt tacky upon release.  Although there’s an argument to be made that it did catch people’s eyes a bit.  If you saw this back when and your friend showed you the frame, how can you not crack a smile?  At the time however, thematic elements from online humor on television mixed like oil and water in this instance.  

Let’s fast forward a couple years.  The fast food giant would soon pick up steam online at the beginning of 2017 stemming from a hilarious brand-user discussion on Twitter:

@Wendys: Our beef is way too cool to ever be frozen.

@NHride: Your beef is frozen and we all know it. Y’all know we laugh at your slogan “fresh, never frozen” right? Like you’re really a joke.

@Wendys: Sorry to hear you think that! But you’re wrong, we’ve only ever used fresh beef since we were founded in 1969.

@NHride: So you deliver it raw on a hot truck?

@Wendys: Where do you store cold things that aren’t frozen?

Oh, boy.

@NHride: Y’all should give up. @McDonalds got you guys beat with the dope ass breakfast.


(Wendys, 2016).

This discussion would shortly thereafter be featured on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.  The following positive brand feedback by users blossomed into an intriguing shift in their tone of messaging.  A series of caustic rebuttals and witty banter with both followers and corporate competitors shot their total online follower count up 13% in just 6 months (Thorne, 2020).  I wouldn’t blame you if you think it’s unprofessional or distasteful.  Keep in mind, we’re talking about Wendy’s.  This is an international corporation; a lot of people are familiar with them.  The reach of your business and expectations of a target audience should correlate to what values are upheld in messaging practices.  Building a strong tone for brand messaging consists of surveying the land, aligning with values, and being active.

Surveying the land

Research is the predecessor to any informed decision.  That starts with understanding our target audience.  What has worked in the past?  How do they communicate?  What types of content or genres are of  interest to them?  What’s the most important element of what we have to say?  Anticipating how the target audience will react determines what topics or actions to steer away from.  Try to humanize your tone when responding to complaints and compliments alike.  Developing personal, casual tones to messages separates the idea of talking to a brick wall (Jeong & Kim, 2022).  

Aligning with values

Each business has messaging values that apply for each active channel. Look for key words or expressions to keep in mind.  Establishing a consistent structure of messaging has to happen before users can express their own positive sentiment towards you.  Aligning values helps to clarify an outline of a business’s social presence to users.  That way, users grow a stronger bond to the business through similar values.

Being active

Appropriate usage of humor in social media marketing tells users that a business is not only competent, but confident.  Humor relies on context (Bitterly et al., 2017).  Every business may not intend to be humorous, but should be looking to engage with their audience.  That means speaking in an active voice, being resourceful, rewarding feedback, etc.  The little details that feel authentic and human (emojis, phrases, etc.) strengthen a brand’s social relatability and presence online, widening the path for users to construct a positive view of the brand (Hayes et al., 2019).


I like to imagine a business is a living, breathing entity. In order for an audience to have an emotional reaction, there needs to be emotion conveyed through messaging. In order for consumers to engage, there should be engagement going their way. Consistency and confidence creates authenticity. Lean into that. Keep in mind employers (especially local) see Gen-Z interns or staff members with the assumption that they “get” the nuances of a brand’s identity. Some of us assume that we get it, too. Going off assumptions or skipping steps is where businesses and professionals alike fail to maximize their reach.


Bitterly, T. B., A.W. Brooks, and M. E. Schweitzer. (2017). Risky Business: When Humor Increases and Decreases Status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 112, no. 3 (March 2017): 431–455.

Hayes, J. L., Britt, B. C., Applequist, J., Ramirez, A., & Hill, J. (2019). Leveraging textual paralanguage and consumer–brand relationships for more relatable online brand communication: A social presence approach. Journal of Interactive Advertising, 20(1), 17–30. 

Jeong, H. J., Chung, D. S., & Kim, J. (2022). Brands Are Human on Social Media: The Effectiveness of Human Tone-of-Voice on Consumer Engagement and Purchase Intentions Through Social Presence. International journal of communication [Online], 16, 4231+.

Thorne, J. (2020). How Wendy’s revolutionized corporate social media accounts. Medium. Retrieved March 22, 2023, from 

Wendy’s. [@Wendys]. (2016, December 30). Our beef is way too cool to ever be frozen. [Photo attached] . Twitter.