It's tough out there for a food brand. And by "out there," we mean on social media, where the digital managers behind household names like Taco Bell and Pop Tarts must promote their brand, engage with millions of followers, and do it all in a tone that feels natural for the platform.
On Instagram, that means visually striking and aspirational; on Twitter, it's funny, often self-deprecating, and occasionally so over-the-top as to become newsworthy. Remember in May when a social media manager for Vita Coco offered to send a critic a bottle filled with her own urine? Yeah, that kind of stuff.
If you like eating, love the internet, and dream of interacting with Chrissy Teigen on Twitter, it's an ideal job. But what's it really like to personify a beloved snack, drink, or fast food joint? We talked to Sam Gach of Pop Tarts, Erika Prime of Taco Bell, and Lane Rawlings of Vita Coco (she of the aforementioned pee tweet!) to find out just that. A few quick things we learned: Lil Uzi Vert loves Pop Tarts, Taco Bell employees might be telepathic, and meme skills are serious resume fodder these days.
How did you get your job & how long have you been at your company?
"I did some networking on LinkedIn and initially got an interview for a different marketing role. Then Kellogg reached out to me when the social media job opened up. Previously I was working on social media at Disney right after college. I’ve been here for three and a half years." - Gach
"I have been at Taco Bell since May of 2014. I started as a social media intern for the Taco Bell Foundation, where I began learning the ropes and shadowed the brand team as much as I possibly could – I was SO eager to learn more! After a few months and a handful of photo shoots under my belt, I began representing the @TacoBell account fans know and love. Five years later, I now lead all of Taco Bell’s digital and social creative strategy and production!" - Prime
"I’m a recent college grad, and started at Vita Coco as an intern last September. I was hired full-time in January after charming them with my meme skills." - Rawlings
"Doing things that are unexpected – for example, calling out trolls online in Pop-Tarts’ case – when done right can really break through the clutter of the internet."
Let's cut right to the chase: How do you make your accounts so damn funny?
"Girl, I can’t spill all our Fire Sauce. But what I can tell you is that we work hard to make sure our whole team is on the same wavelength at all times, in terms of how and when we talk to fans, because consistency in brand voice is key. We like to refer to it as 'Taco Telepathy.'" - Prime
"Where do I start?! It starts by being aware of the brand as it is, how people already see it, and understanding the people we are speaking to online. Much of the fun stuff I’ve been able to do on Twitter began with people who were already talking to, or about, Pop-Tarts, and it was a matter of getting creative, taking risks, and taking advantage of the opportunities that bubbled up. Finally, brands are expected to behave a certain way, and doing things that are unexpected – for example, calling out trolls online in Pop-Tarts’ case – when done right can really break through the clutter of the internet." - Gach
Are there any specific posts you’re especially proud of?
"My first viral tweet. There was some apprehension from the team for us to say that we didn’t want people to eat their Pop-Tarts a certain way, because of course the team wants people to buy Pop-Tarts and eat them. But I knew we had to take a stand for what was right, and let people know that it was not ok to put American cheese on their Pop-Tarts. So it was a risk and it paid off, and led to countless future opportunities." - Gach
Lane, can you tell us about the recent viral tweet with the pee bottle — that was iconic! How did you come up with that idea? How did it all go down? Was there any blowback?
"Honestly, it all happened so quickly. We were launching our campaign that day, Impossible to Hate, which was promoting our Pressed Coconut flavor. We had planned to reach out to people that had said something negative or hateful about regular coconut water on Twitter, and we struck up a conversation with Tony. Our goal was to get him to try Pressed, so we could prove our claim. A friendly-ish banter ensued, and next thing you know I’m posing in a bathroom stall." - Rawlings
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you while on the job?
"Oh man. What a tough question! Crazy happens all the time… and I LOVE IT. One of my favorite crazy moments was during a 2017 VMA Pre-Party sponsored by Taco Bell. At the time, I wasn’t leading the project, but got pulled in to help host our Snapchat Story. During the story, we shared behind the scenes footage from the event and had the opportunity to interview a few artists. I was stoked when they told me I was going to be interviewing Noah Cyrus live. Like whaaaaat!?!? It was dope to feel like Carson Daly for 10 seconds." - Prime
"When Pop-Tarts first started having posts go viral and getting media articles written, it was pretty hectic. The more success, the more opportunities there were to keep doing more and more. It was super exciting but got pretty crazy with incoming comments and inquiries to a point where there was no way I could read every incoming comment and message." - Gach
Who is the biggest celebrity you’ve interacted with on social media, and what was the situation?
"It’s hard to pick just one, because there have been a lot - including Anna Kendrick, John Mayer, and multiple Kardashians. But my favorite interaction is probably with rapper Lil Uzi Vert, who first mentioned Pop-Tarts on the Grammy’s red carpet and then we got to have quite a few really fun interactions." - Gach
"Recently, Billie Eilish has really been loving Taco Bell on social and like the beginning of any relationship – We’re flirting back. We sent her a love gift just a few weeks back and she shared her unboxing on her Instagram Story. Let’s just say, you’re witnessing the beginning of a beautiful relationship." - Prime
"Most of the social media feuds I’ve been involved in are with regular people rather than brands or celebrities, which can be just as fun."
Have you gotten into any good social media feuds?
"The only real social feud was with Tony Posnanski and while it took an unexpected turn, it was light hearted and genuine. We’re not a negative or snarky brand, so social media feuds are few and far between." - Rawlings
"Most of the social media feuds I’ve been involved in are with regular people rather than brands or celebrities, which can be just as fun. I have definitely had my fun with other brands, but most of my longer interactions with brands have been highly positive and playful rather than negative." - Gach
"Our team totally has several times. One of my favorites is with the queen of Twitter, Chrissy Teigen. On Taco Bell’s birthday in 2016, Chrissy tweeted about some of her favorite things – a.k.a food (See the exchange covered here.) She listed some competing tacos, so we had to share our feelings. But don’t worry, there’s no beef between us. She’s been a Taco Bell fan since day one and she [attended] Taco Bell’s very first Friendsgiving at our headquarters and talked about her experience in her cookbook." - Prime
Have you ever done something on a work social media account that you later regretted? How did you fix it?
"I once almost posted a video of me and my dog doing yoga together on a brand account, but fortunately I caught it before it went out." - Gach
"Taking risks with content, and doing things we haven’t done before (like engaging with online haters) can definitely be nerve-wracking, but I can’t say I’ve done anything I’ve regretted. Yet." - Rawlings
"If someone is stuck in their car, surviving off of Sauce Packets, you know we’re gonna be hot on the story and ready to react."
What’s something no one knows about your job that you wish they did?
"I think the biggest thing is that while I might be the one liking your posts, it’s not just me behind this account. There’s an entire office of fun, amazing people who are so passionate about this brand and have helped to refine our voice on social media. We all help each other out, and I know I can count on them." - Rawlings
"This isn’t something that no one knows, but rather something that people often forget: there is someone on the other end of social media accounts – even the large ones. When people say negative things to a brand account, someone generally has to read those things. I try not to take negative comments personally, but it would be lovely if people would remember there is a human on the other end of online interactions." - Gach
"I wish people knew the hard work and long hours that go into each and every post. I believe there’s still a misconception that our team can just snap a photo for the website or create a quick Instagram Story, and for us – that’s not the case. We dive into product or campaign insights, work through rounds of creative concepting and storyboarding, consult with the team on set during photoshoots, and more. Also, the internet never sleeps, so our job is non-stop. If someone is stuck in their car, surviving off of Sauce Packets, you know we’re gonna be hot on the story and ready to react." - Prime
Any tips for people who want to be funnier or more popular on social media?
"Don’t try too hard, and be sure to stick to your brand tone. Being funny or relevant doesn’t mean you need to use current slang, slam other accounts or jump in on conversations that don’t relate to you. Assess the situation and if you feel it’s authentic to your brand, spin up your combo of smarts and wit, and add a side of relatable truth." - Prime