In 2017, Steak-umm, the food brand, had about 1,000 followers on its Twitter account. Then he hired Allebach Communications to kickstart growth. Nathan Allebach, the company’s creative director, got to work.
He told me, “I started experimenting and eventually gained momentum about six months with some great viral moments. It quickly became the flagship platform the Steak-umm team wanted to use.
One of those moments was picking a tweet fight with Neil deGrasse Tyson, the scientist. It created a firestorm – and grew followers, which now number over 200,000.
I recently spoke with Allebach about his Steak-umm work, social branding strategies, and more. The full audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Give our listeners a brief overview of who you are and what you’ve done.
Nathan Allebach: I’m the creative director of Allebach Communications, my family’s advertising agency in Pennsylvania. I’m best known for managing the Twitter account for Steak-umm, the frozen food brand, for over four years, ending in December 2021.
I do social media writing and freelance writing about internet culture and brand personification.
I’m an internet-literate, social media guy.
Bandholz: I noticed your Steak-umm work when you called Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Allebach: We had a beef, no pun intended. He posts a lot of weird science facts and stuff. He tweeted in early to mid-2021 that “the good thing about science is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.” People were wary of scientific institutions with the Covid. It was a pretentious tweet.
So I quoted a tweet via the Steak-umm account and said, “Sign out bro,” and followed up with sarcastic comments about why it wasn’t helpful. It sparked a whole viral discourse.
Bandholz: Most people wouldn’t tweet this from a business account.
Allebach: It was a big risk. Here is the context. I started managing the Steak-umm account through our agency in mid-2017. It had about 1,000 inactive subscribers. I started experimenting and eventually gained momentum about six months with some great viral moments. It quickly became the flagship platform the Steak-umm team wanted to use.
It took some testing – figuring out the railings – but eventually we came to a mutual trust. Fortunately, the account continued to have viral moments from 2017 to 2021, where we had cultural commentary threads talking about the issues from Steak-umm’s perspective in a weird way that juxtaposed semi-serious comments with the fact that it was a frozen meat product.
The voice was mostly thoughtful commentary leading up to Neil’s interaction. So while it was risky, it turned out to be almost exclusively positive coverage.
Bandholz: Is this the best e-commerce strategy on Twitter, to divide?
Allebach: It’s a tricky question. Many e-commerce businesses focus on targeting, targeting specific demographics on Facebook, Google Ads, or blogs. Twitter and TikTok, similarly, are much more organic and have a more global reach. So, as merchants rely on these platforms, it is not easy to quantify where the user base is and the downstream effect on sales. It’s a bigger sandbox in many ways. With Instagram, for example, you can build a much more specific audience by using targeted ads and hashtags and personalizing content.
Whereas on Twitter, you tweet in a vacuum. You might have up to 10,000 followers, and maybe 7,000 don’t care about your brand – they love the content. There is a lot more variability.
So, yes, controversy can attract an audience. We see that with RadioShack right now. Staff posted derogatory content there for the outrage factor, to create engagement. Twitter as a platform rewards divisive content. These days, taking a polarizing stance on the issues is the norm. It’s common to see brands talking about everything from weed to racial justice to specific news events.
On social platforms, many brands have realized that polarizing content can reach loyal followers. So brands are content with that and hope to build from there. Over time, more people will naturally flock to her.
It’s okay to gimmick once in a while, but I think there’s something to be said for good, consistent brand building over time. If supporting a political movement is important to revenue, it should be part of the brand identity.
Bandholz: How do companies find the right freelancer or agency?
Allebach: It’s hard because, given the explosion of social media marketing over the past five years, there are plenty of charlatans in hiding. We all know the get-rich-quick ads on YouTube and TikTok. This stuff is everywhere. Boutique agency startups sometimes promise big numbers, which you can’t verify.
Go for credible agencies with a good reputation and a long lifespan – more than five years. Determine your goals as a brand. Are you looking to build a cult following by organically following on Twitter or TikTok? Then start looking for agencies that have done this for other brands.
Bandholz: What is the cost ?
Allebach: The lowest agency rate is around $115 per hour. The average might be $130 to $140, maybe $150 at the high end. Agencies group assignments differently than project-based work. You’re looking at a minimum of $4,000 to $6,000 per month to have a great social strategy for retention and growth, and over $10,000+ for aggressive raises.
Bandholz: Where can people follow you?
Allebach: The agency’s website is Allebach.com. I’m on it TwitterLinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook.