In 2017 Steak-umm, the food brand, had roughly 1,000 followers on its Twitter account. Then it hired Allebach Communications to jumpstart growth. Nathan Allebach, the company’s creative director, went to work.
He told me, “I started experimenting and eventually got some momentum about six months in with a couple of big viral moments. It quickly became the flagship platform that the Steak-umm team wanted to utilize.”
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 on his Steak-umm work, social branding strategies, and more. The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Give our listeners a quick rundown of who you are and what you’ve done.
Nathan Allebach: I’m the creative director at Allebach Communications, my family’s advertising firm in Pennsylvania. I’m most known for running the Twitter account for Steak-umm, the frozen food brand, for over four years, stopping in December 2021.
I do social media copywriting and freelance writing about internet culture and brand personification.
I’m an internet culture guy and specialize in social media.
Bandholz: I noticed your Steak-umm work when you called out Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Allebach: We had a beef, no pun intended. He posts a lot of factoids and bizarre science stuff. He tweeted in early or mid-2021 that “the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” People were wary of scientific institutions with Covid. It was a snooty-toned tweet.
So I quote-tweeted through the Steak-umm account and said, “Log off, bro,” and followed up with some snarky commentary about why that wasn’t helpful. It started a whole viral discourse.
Bandholz: Most people would not tweet that from a company account.
Allebach: It was a significant risk. Here’s the context. I started operating the Steak-umm account through our agency in mid-2017. It had about 1,000 inactive followers. I started experimenting and eventually got some momentum about six months in with a couple of big viral moments. It quickly became the flagship platform that the Steak-umm team wanted to utilize.
It took some testing — figuring out the guardrails — but eventually we came to mutual trust. Luckily the account continued to have viral moments from 2017 through 2021, where we would have cultural commentary threads speaking on issues from Steak-umm’s point of view in a weird way that juxtaposed semi-serious commentary with the fact that it’s a frozen meat product.
The voice was primarily thoughtful commentary leading up to the Neil interaction. So although it was risky, it ended up being almost exclusively positive coverage.
Bandholz: Is that the best ecommerce strategy on Twitter, to be divisive?
Allebach: That’s a tricky question. Many ecommerce companies focus on targeting, aiming for specific demographics across Facebook, Google Ads, or blogs. Twitter and TikTok, in a similar way, are much more organically driven and have a more global reach. So as merchants build on those platforms, it isn’t 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 instance, you can build a much more specific audience using targeted ads and hashtags and tailoring content.
Whereas on Twitter, you’re tweeting into the void. You might build up to 10,000 followers, and maybe 7,000 don’t care about your brand — they like the content. There’s a lot more variability to it.
So, yes, controversy can attract an audience. We’re seeing that with RadioShack right now. The staff there has been posting derogatory content for the outrage factor, to create engagement. Twitter as a platform rewards divisive content. Right now, taking a polarizing stand on issues is the norm. It’s common to see brands talk about anything from weed to racial justice to specific news events.
Across social platforms, many brands have realized that polarizing content can reach loyal followers. So the brands settle for that and hope they can build from there. Over time, more people will naturally flock to it.
There’s nothing wrong with doing gimmicks once in a while, but I think there’s something to be said about good, consistent brand building over time. If supporting a political movement is important for revenue, it should be part of the brand’s identity.
Bandholz: How do companies find the right freelancer or agency?
Allebach: It’s tough because, given how social media marketing has blown up in the past five years, many charlatans are lurking. We’re all familiar with the get-rich-quick ads on YouTube and TikTok. That stuff is everywhere. Boutique agency startups sometimes promise big numbers, which you can’t verify.
Go with credible agencies with a good reputation and longevity — five-plus years. Figure out your goals as a brand. Are you looking to build a cult following organically on Twitter or TikTok? Then start looking up agencies that have done that for other brands.
Bandholz: What’s the cost?
Allebach: The lowest agency rate is around $115 an hour. The average could be $130 to $140, maybe $150 on the high end. Agencies bundle differently for retainers versus project-based work. You’re looking at a minimum of $4,000 to $6,000 monthly to have an excellent social strategy for maintenance and growth, and upwards of $10,000-plus for aggressive increases.
Bandholz: Where can people follow you?