Updated: Jan 20, 2020
"We're featuring a crispy chicken sandwich this month. Kinda like Popeyes and Chick-fil-a except it isn't dog shit."
That's the caption on Boardwalk Billy's Facebook post from January 1.
Social media management is a game of subtleties. Consumers hate being marketed to, so you have to make your social media look as human as possible. But as brands like Wendy's get better at turning authenticity into an asset, even "edgy" accounts start to feel carefully planned and curated.
That's what makes Boardwalk Billy's, a college bar in University City, so spectacular. The content feels loose, sharp, and with the kind of human element that can't be created by a team of brand managers with Social Media Today subscriptions competing for a Webby.
From their Facebook to their Instagram, these guys are killing it.
I've known Boardwalk Billy's had the best social media account of any restaurant in Charlotte for the past few months.
The first post I noticed was one of a sad looking woman in front of a margarita with the caption "Most romantic spot to break up with your girl."
I always wondered who was behind it.
Was it some plucky marketing freelancer whose personal social media was popping off? Was it one of the excellent social media agencies in Charlotte? A local comedian who landed a sweet side gig?
It's none of the above. It's their general manager Mike Winslow. He has no personal social media (not even a LinkedIn). Before taking over Boardwalk Billy's social media two years ago, he'd had no prior experience.
"We've always delegated marketing to a member of our management team. I took it over out of necessity, really," Mike told me over email. "Once I took it over, I realized that most marketing sucks and what I was doing did too. It was only after I started to have fun with it that it started to make sense."
I was shocked to hear this. Most marketing sucks in part because uninterested general managers are being handed the job in company's where social media is seen as purely incremental.
This makes a lot of social media robotic and rote.
Restaurants get away with doing the bare minimum because they have no interest real interest in doing it. But Boardwalk Billy's social media delivers content that's not just engaging and funny, but deconstructs the idea of social media marketing itself.
"We want to thank all of our competitors for being terrible. Your garbage ass food has sent a lot of customers our way," one caption reads.
Marketing food is a game of one-upmanship in value propositions. You want customers to understand why your food is better than your competitor's food. Taglines like "Better ingredients, better pizza" and "Fresh, never frozen" are meant to imply those things.
But when Mike calls Chick-Fil-A "dogshit" or Boardwalk's competitors "garbage ass food," the account is able to break through the static in a way that is shocking without being offensive or crass. Mike tells me it takes a collaborative effort to pull it off.
"I work with a lot of funny people," he said. "Once I have something in mind I always ask 2 or 3 people what they think. If I can get a laugh, I know it's a good one."
He continued. "It's definitely tricky but my general rule is that I don't want to offend any particular person or group of people. I stay away from controversial subjects, like politics. I think making fun of ourselves or our competitors is fine but anything beyond that isn't good. I don't want to come off as mean or hateful."
Mike's approach of collaborative riffing is similar to how great jazz and most great comedy is created. I asked him if he approaches social media as more of an art or a business objective.
"There is definitely a creative process but I wouldn't say I approach it as art. I think my approach is more that I'm at a party or somewhere people hang out and I don't want to be the asshole handing out business cards, trying to sell something," he said. "I don't want to get caught marketing, even though I'm doing marketing. I'm not trying to be art or a business. I'm just trying to be a part of the group."
Boardwalk Billy's social media is phenomenal at making itself part of the group.
It doesn't speak in the carefully curated language of the modern "edgy" account. It speaks about food the same way we do. My friends and I are way more likely to call food garbage or dogshit than we are to call it Fresh, Never Frozen.
It makes for effective marketing, since it speaks to exactly what you'll experience at Boardwalk Billy's: a down to earth, youthful vibe that's focused on flavor, simplicity, and sensory overload.