isolated image of Steak-umm packaging
PHOTO: Keith Homan | Shutterstock

Steak doesn’t usually come with a side of social commentary. For most people, dinner is a time to take a break from the issues of the day.

The lighthearted persona Steak-umm has built online shows it knows that. The frozen meat brand’s Twitter is normally peppered with jokes, wordplay and jabs at Wendy’s. But these aren’t normal times, and the frozen meat brand’s recent tweets shows it knows that, too.

In April, Steak-umm stunned the internet with a series of tweets. In an uncharacteristically serious style, it cautioned readers to avoid misinformation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. One particularly self-aware tweet could’ve been a disaster: “We’re a frozen meat brand posting ads inevitably made to misdirect people and generate sales, so this is peak irony,” it acknowledged.

Why would Steak-umm take such a risk, and why did its gamble pay off? In a word, authenticity.

Show Authenticity With Alignment

Ask any social media marketer worth her salt: Authenticity is the table stakes of success online. But authenticity isn’t just about striking a casual tone and throwing barbs at other brands.

What authentic brands do is align their tone with their ideas. An unfiltered voice is part of that picture, but authenticity also means speaking to the issues on readers’ minds. Had Steak-umm tried to use its typical, happy-go-lucky tone to address a topic like the coronavirus, it would have been rightfully roasted online.

Understandably, the crisis has scared people. Steak-umm saw that, and it knew its content had to fit the bill. “The company’s coronavirus posts have an authentic, empathetic and educational feel,” said Kent Huffman, founder and fractional CMO at DigiMark Partners, “that’s hopefully helping to fight the spread of misinformation, bring people together, and enable Steak-umm’s followers to better deal with the challenges the pandemic poses.”

Huffman made one more point that indicates Steak-umm thought through its tweets: The frozen meat brand is raising money for Feeding America during the crisis, which shows genuine concern for its audience’s well-being. To date, it’s raised at least $40,000 for the food bank.

Steak-umm’s messaging, tone and actions align: That’s what consumers mean when they talk about authenticity.

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Get Upset Without Upsetting Others

Simmering beneath the surface of Steak-umm’s tweets is frustration: at conspiracy theorists, at media sources that fail to fact-check, and even at consumers who take what they see online at face value. It’s the way Steak-umm communicates that frustration that makes all the difference.

 

 

“There’s a very fine line between being helpful and flogging stuff on the back of a crisis,” says Ian Henderson, CEO of AML Group, a finance-focused ad agency. “It’s a bit like walking down the street at the moment. People are being courteous and walking around each other and giving each other space and not making other people anxious.”

Steak-umm’s tweets fall clearly on the “helpful” side of that line: They suggest ways consumers can stay safe and link to the Feeding America campaign, all while maintaining a “we’re all in this together” tone.

Consider what the reaction to Steak-umm’s tweets would have been had the brand lashed out. If it had outright insulted media groups or attacked Americans of certain political leanings, readers would have reacted in kind. At the very least, an “us vs. them” approach wouldn’t have earned it a No. 6 spot on Twitter’s “trending” list.

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Don’t Stray Too Far

Beneath Steak-umm’s tweets, a number of comments question whether the frozen beef brand will go back to its “old” style of tweeting. But as bold as its comments may seem, Steak-umm hasn’t gone completely off-brand.

Does Steak-umm’s Twitter account typically go for sarcastic, silly content? Definitely. But the account has been known to take a stand on social issues before. In 2018, it tweeted about the challenges of millennials, who it said are “crushed by student loan debt, disenfranchised by past generations, and are dreading the future of our world every day.” Those comments didn’t get nearly the attention of its COVID tweets, but they did set a precedent.

Beyond that, it’s important to realize that Steak-umm hasn’t abandoned its old ways. The account is still sending out tongue-in-cheek tweets with memes and cultural references. Occasionally, it returns to pandemic-related topics it finds important. Steak-umm’s Twitter proves that, done thoughtfully, a brand can be fun and talk about social issues.

Many social media marketers see speaking to the issues as a third rail. Steak-umm’s tweets show how to do that, and it’s surprisingly simple: Be genuine, be constructive rather than divisive, and be at least in the ballpark of your brand’s norms.

Authentic brands are emotionally complex, just like each of their readers. When a topic like coronavirus has people shaken up, the least authentic thing brands can do is ignore it.

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