Advice For Marketers From Twitter’s Best Brand Troll

If you’re a social media manager for a major brand, Jon Hendren, known by his Twitter handle @fart, is your worst nightmare. A comedy writer by trade, his avocation is tormenting wayward brands in social media.

@Fart, 29, is one of the better known members of a loose-knit cohort of Twitter comedians commonly referred to as Weird Twitter. (Note: Members of this unofficial group reject this moniker.) In addition to tweeting jokes, one of Weird Twitter’s staples is relentlessly trolling corporate Twitter accounts. One of Hendren’s most common targets, for example, is Domino’s. Hendren frequently searches for other lesser-known Twitter users who are complaining about their Domino’s pizzas and then retweets their messages to his following of more than 70,000 users. Sometimes he’ll make fun of them directly.

Hendren, who has also written for humor site Something Awful and Vice, spoke with Digiday about the motivation behind his trolling, the scourge of clickbait headlines and why Twitter is more of a liability than an effective marketing channel.

I’m curious as to how you would describe yourself.
Corporate people think I’m a troll. A friend that works in marketing at a pretty large corporation said he saw me listed in some sort of “best practices” PowerPoint encouraging their folks to not interact with, specifically, me and a few others. I liked that a whole lot. I suppose I’m gratified that what we do on Twitter has been described as comedy and/or art, but we’re pretty normal folk; “social media guru” types who just happen to be really, really funny.

Do you have any sympathy for the social media managers on the wrong end of your efforts?
I don’t feel a great deal of sympathy because the folks doing it seem to be proud of their work for some reason, even though the huge majority of it is garbage. Posting phoned-in “Fill in the blank: My favorite #thanksgiving food is ________” should get people fired, but there were hundreds of tweets like that last year. It’s all so mind-numbing. Nobody is impressed by a company’s water-treading, boilerplate bullshit. Do something interesting, c’mon.

Why do you think so many corporate Twitter accounts are so uninspired? What should they be doing differently?
It’s uninspired because, like anything, you need talent to make something interesting. If loading HootSuite with a dozen generic posts and making a PowerPoint slide of your results gets you your paycheck, that’s what a lot of people are going to do. Klondike Bar did a pretty interesting thing having joke contests, and obviously Old Spice’s big push a while back with so many really funny videos was outstanding. Of course not everyone has a budget like that, but if you’re already being paid a salary, the least you could do is put in the extra effort to also act like a human being.

Do you think social even makes a difference on a company’s sales?
Once your company is established and a household name, social media probably doesn’t do anything to help. In fact, last year Coca-Cola used some data to show that social media for them had been more or less useless (and then another marketing executive tried to spare feelings by saying social media is “crucial,” without using any specific data). Once you’re that far along, nobody’s going to walk through a store and say, “Oh, I’ll go for Clorox bleach because they asked whether we like to clean using sponges or paper towels.” That’s just insanity. Nobody does that, ever, at all. Social media is more of a liability at times. For example, AT&T last 9/11, and SpaghettiOs on Pearl Harbor Day. Or Qdoba any day ever.

Why do you think some people on Twitter do interact with brand accounts?
Very few folks interact with a brand just because it’s there.

You’ve also mocked egregious mainstream media clickbait. What’s your take on the current state of media?
Clickbait writing is a fad that’ll fall out of fashion, leaving a few hundred folks with portfolios that look tremendously stupid. “Here’s my finest work: 44 Happy Cats That Will Make You Forget You’ll Die Someday! It got 3 million views!” I mean, just imagine. That said, I’m hopping on the bandwagon.

When did you secure your Twitter handle? I have to assume it was early since it’s so short.
Nah, I wasn’t that early. March 2008 or so. I’m user 14 million-something. I guess there was probably another @fart who deleted their account, figuring it was the worst possible username to have.

Do you regret having @fart as your handle now that you’re trying to find full-time work?
No, I don’t really regret it. In fact, I wouldn’t want to work with anyone so joyless that they’d be offended by something so silly, so it kind of works out.

Image via Giphy

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