The Social Club: Steak-Umm Social Media Manager Nathan Allebach
The Social Club is Contently’s new Q&A series with the people behind the most creative, notable, and successful social media accounts. If you missed our most recent interview with Charmin, check it out here.
It’s not every day a branded tweet goes viral. Even rarer is the viral tweet coming from a frozen meat company. Rarer still is the viral tweet blossoming into a tweet-thread of social commentary, but that’s exactly what Steak-Umm posted just a few weeks ago. So far, it seems to have worked out.
why are so many young people flocking to brands on social media for love, guidance, and attention? I'll tell you why. they're isolated from real communities, working service jobs they hate while barely making ends meat, and are living w/ unchecked personal/mental health problems
— Steak-umm (@steak_umm) September 26, 2018
If you’re not familiar with Steak-Umm or their social presence (as I admittedly wasn’t before the viral tweet), the Philadelphia-based company sells frozen beef sheets most often used for cheesesteaks. Upon first glance, Steak-Umm’s oddball tweet humor might remind you of Wendy’s or MoonPie, but a bit of scrolling proves that Steak-Umm stretches beyond humor to tweet deep, often sad, and even poetic content.
I spoke with Nathan Allebach, the brand’s social media manager, to learn more about how social media increased sales, what led to the viral Twitter thread, and why Steak-Umm the brand might have presidential aspirations.
What were you doing before Steak-Umm and what made you want to come on board?
Prior to running the Steak-Umm account, I hadn’t done any community management at that level. We had been doing social calendars for Steak-Umm and their sister companies, but last summer we ran up Steak-Umm’s ad budget in the spring and didn’t have anything going on. I pitched it to the marketing department by saying, “Hey, we’re in a little bit of a lull period, so what do you think about me just messing around on our inactive Twitter account and seeing if we can generate any kind of buzz.” So it actually started as just us messing around and experimenting, then it really took off.
Were you influenced by Wendy’s and Denny’s and brands that have made this type of irreverent humor popular on Twitter?
Prior to really getting involved on Twitter, I wasn’t all that aware of a lot of these other brands like Wendy’s. I came to have a high, high reverence for Wendy’s, MoonPie, and Denny’s once I started getting more involved, and I definitely started to take note and learn from the type of content they would put out and the voices they were developing.
But what made the account successful initially was that we were really just breaking down the fourth wall a little bit further than a lot other brands. We tried to make it as real and as close to a one-to-one human interaction as we could. I think that’s what drove the initial success. Then a lot of the strategy, if you want to call it that, came once we got footing and an understanding of how brand Twitter operates.
Do you have a mission statement for the Steak-Umm social voice?
The one word that we always come back to when we’re talking about the voice is “community.” We want to be a brand that is transparent enough to acknowledge what it is and that it’s selling a product, but at the same time, we want to be recognized as the people behind the brand. The mission is to generate community, make memes, and sell frozen beef sheets.
What sort of guidelines do you have for the account? Is there anything you’re not allowed to post or topics that you try to stay away from?
There are obvious brand guidelines, like ‘Don’t be politically polarizing’, and we’re not using any foul language or overt attacks on anyone’s character. But generally speaking, it’s probably about as free as someone could be behind a brand account.
There were definitely some growing pains in the first couple of months of figuring out the question of “Is this okay to post?” We learned along the way, but I think at this point, we’re pretty set with what we’re doing.
ATTN Steak-Umm cult followers
here are the guidelines to our new world order:
– bless everyone even our idiot college intern steve
– no hot pockets
– saying "is it steak? umm.." may land you in the dungeon
– beef memes are currency
– RT everything so I can keep my job
— Steak-umm (@steak_umm) January 18, 2018
Have you found that having a humorous and approachable Twitter presence has increased Steak-Umm sales or just increased brand awareness?
Sales have increased by double digits this past year. [We’re] able to directly attribute that to social media because we weren’t running any other ads or campaigns at the time.
It’s a unique case because Steak-Umm is a legacy brand. It was marketed to such an older generation that I think a lot of younger generations have seen it satirized to some degree. They might have an inkling of the name in their mind, but they’ve never actually seen it advertised in a modern context. So we have that innate advantage working on social, which lets us [try to be] goofy and kind of “out there” with the brand.
What is the story behind the “Steak-Umm bless” motto? What does that mean?
It started out as just a nonsensical response to trolls on Twitter. We all know that brands get a lot of heat from users on social media. But on top of that, our product is not by any stretch a premium product. We joke all the time on the account that we’re well aware that we’re not filet mignon, and we call ourselves the people’s meat.
The mission is to generate community, make memes, and sell frozen beef sheets.
So initially, we got a lot of trolls, just people making snarky comments and trying to post hit pieces on us. When you try to defend yourself, all that does is leave yourself open to more attacks. This was our way to avoid that cycle: we could respond with some sass or maybe a little bit of snark. We’re not going to play into the cycle of negativity here.
What is the strangest DM or mention you’ve ever received?
Oh, there have been so many. We actually get a lot of mental health ones. It coincides with putting out a lot of social commentary and motivational or therapeutic-style rants. We’ve gotten a lot of younger people messaging us their personal problems, and in most cases, we were pretty up-front by saying, “You need to seek help from a professional or a loved one if this is a persistent issue.” At this point, we’ve gotten at least a few hundred.
Another common one we get is kids that are transitioning from high school to college, and they don’t know what to do. They straight-up ask what Steak-Umm thinks about their college major or what kind of jobs they should be looking into.
Recently one of the tweet rants you’re talking about went viral. I’ve never seen anything like that from a branded account before. How and why did you decide to start giving these poignant, motivational speeches on Twitter?
We started to develop this whole ethos around the Steak-Umm Bless idea, once that started to flesh itself out, we realized that there was a huge space on Twitter where there’s just so much negativity and polarization. Honestly, [we see] hopelessness on so many levels.
We saw an opportunity in a weird way to insert our brand to just be an oasis away from a lot of that and add some hope and some positivity. Initially, it wasn’t a campaign or a strategic move. It was really something that I felt personally, and it just happened organically.
Do you hope to see more brands take that sort of social commentary approach, or do you like being unique in that way?
This type of strategy is indicative of what the future’s going to look like for social media marketing. On one hand, I think it’s great because people are very clearly looking for something more honest. They’re looking for brands that are more open and transparent in their messaging.
But at the same time, it comes with this whole gray area where what we’re doing works for the people who know the brand, but for people who aren’t as familiar with the brand, it can come off totally manipulative. We’re using certain language and emotionally-provoking statements to get into people’s subconscious.
[Kids] straight-up ask what Steak-Umms thinks about their college major or what kind of jobs they should be looking into.
On any given day, this whole thing could fall apart because it’s run by a person, and we’re all human. So, the more freedom you give people to do this job, the better results you get. But you also increase your chances of it completely falling apart anything can get twisted.
Was there ever a moment that you thought you might’ve done something that would ruin the social strategy? Have you ever said something that went over really badly on Twitter?
There’ve been a few minor moments just where I’d respond to somebody and then go to their profile and realize they were involved in some bad stuff, so I’d revoke the comment or delete it. There were some scary moments there where I worried about affiliations.
To be honest, the biggest one was this recent viral rant. I had no idea it was going to go viral. I had done similar rants to that in the past, and I didn’t know how much it would resonate with people.
How often does your Twitter persona seem to openly turn away customers? Is that ever something that’s been an issue for you?
If I had to give you an estimate on the number, I’d say it’s somewhere between one in 1,000 and one in 5,000 people. Honestly, because of the type of voice that we use and how transparent and odd it is, most of the critiques we get are from anarchist types who are just really anti-capitalism and anti- any kind of marketing or corporations.
You have a running joke about Steak-Umm running for president in 2020. How far do you think the people of the internet will take that, and how far are you planning on taking that?
I’m ready to take it all the way. I’ve downloaded the application to become a person running as a company. Obviously, it’s not going to get accepted, but I’m willing to take this as far as we can possibly take it because there are a lot of heated emotions right now, understandably.
From a strategic standpoint—we’ve talked about this a bunch internally—we’re not going to be pressing any polarizing buttons by any means, but I’m planning to make this as contrarian and “out there” as we can. If we can push any of the candidates in any direction, I’ll be happy. I’m not sure if we’re going to be able to at this point. We might have to step back a little bit and keep it light and funny.
But we’ll see. I’m planning to go pretty far with it.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.Image by Unsplash / James Sutt