Just after IHOP said it was rebranding itself as IHOb to push its new burgers, Wendy's Twitter handle lit up with a flip response.

"Not really afraid of the burgers at a place that decided pancakes were too hard," the @Wendys tweet intoned. More than 305,000 people responded by liking the comment. Chalk up another sizzling platter of free promotion for the burger chain.

Active engagement with customers through Twitter is nothing new for Wendy's, which dishes out sassy replies and sarcastic digs at other chains as if it's slathering on the condiments. The account's large fan base has led other companies to attempt to emulate its interactions with consumers on the website, said Ken Wisnefski, CEO of digital marketing agency WebiMax in Camden, N.J.

"Social media for some of these brands is really about having a voice," he said. "Wendy's has really taken it to a new level" by using a witty persona.

The account emphasizes "talking to people like normal people talk," said James Bennett, senior director of media, social, partnerships for Wendy's in Columbus, Ohio.

He said the tweets are assembled by a handful of folks in their mid 20s to late 30s, who are steeped in pop music and other cultural references. The company would not make them available for interviews.

"We've gotten ridiculously positive responses to both our voice and the enjoyment we're bringing to the platform," he said.

Jeff Cronin, senior public relations account manager at Philadelphia marketing agency DDCworks, said this is because Wendy's has an "identifiable and consistent" voice on Twitter and keeps "the 'social' in 'social media.' "

"Click on any tweet from Wendy's and you see a ton of back and forth between them and their followers," he emailed. "It's gotten to a point now where other brands will initiate contact in an effort to earn interaction with a dominant player on the platform, which means they're being seen by a whole new audience too."

This leads chains to engage in "Twitter wars" with one another, as the jabs at the IHOb announcement from other burger companies show. Burger King briefly changed its Twitter name and logo to "Pancake King" while Whataburger, which has over 800 stores from Florida to Texas, tweeted that it would "never change [its] name to Whatapancake."

While engaging with customers in a snarky way has helped Wendy's so far, companies take care not to take things too far in the quest for social-media fame.  Outdoing the last tweet could cheapen the brand.

Wendy's may already be overstepping on Twitter, said Alicia LaPann, creative director at experiential and digital marketing agency Mole Street in Philadelphia.

"We're stepping into territory where Wendy's is really pushing that edge and pushing the limit on what they can say, and I think the next thing we're going to witness is an apology statement because they've gone too far," she said.

Wisnefski said the accounts also have certain rules to follow to prevent turning people against the brand, such as avoiding anything political or sarcasm that could be problematic.

The Wendy’s Twitter account has gathered more followers than most of its competitors, with fast-food leader McDonald’s topping it.
Courtney Becker
The Wendy’s Twitter account has gathered more followers than most of its competitors, with fast-food leader McDonald’s topping it.

For now, though, he said the trend will likely continue growing, with Wendy's remaining the star of social media, using it to remain at the forefront of consumers' minds.

"Monetization for these things really comes from the fact of dollars saved" in advertising, he said.

The chain's account has 2.7 million followers, compared to Taco Bell's 1.92 million, Burger King's 1.66 million, Pizza Hut's 1.62 million, and KFC's 1.3 million. McDonald's, which has about 18 times the sales of Wendy's, has slightly more followers with 3.6 million.

Wendy's shares have been meandering upward since 2000 but have yet to hit highs reached in 1998 and 1993.

Last year, the account's viral nature reached new heights when the chain enlisted other Twitter users to spread the word about its food. In April 2017, Twitter user Carter Wilkerson of Reno, Nev., accepted its challenge: If he could get 18 million retweets of a Wendy's message, he would receive a year of free chicken nuggets.

Wilkerson's tweet broke the record for most retweets, passing 3.43 million retweets on May 9, 2017, just over a month after he posted it.

Wendy's decided that was enough to award him the year of free chicken nuggets and give a $100,000 donation in his name to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, an organization started by Wendy's founder Dave Thomas in 1992.