How Fast Food Has Evolved In The Age Of Social Media

For decades, fast food restaurants have been competing to be America's favorite maker of hamburgers, french fries, and chicken sandwiches. In recent years, social media has given them another platform in which to battle it out to win more customers and make more sales.

From McDonald's to Wendy's and Burger King to Arby's, social media, including platforms like TikTok, has been embraced by the fast food industry as a way to advertise its food, drinks, specials, and overall brand. Individuals have also embraced social media as a way to share their food experiences and for purveyors to capitalize upon that exposure. Since the beginning of the age of social media, food culture has gone mainstream, evolving from the dawn of social media when people posted poor quality cellphone photos to sharing photos altered with filters to documenting a whole weekend of food eating (via Wired).

My Food Subscriptions details how social media can have a large effect on how people shop for food and eat it. The site contends that because food appears to be beautifully and well-composed on social media (with Instagram in particular), that it impacts how people are behaving, eating, and shopping for foods based on what they are seeing online. 

Fast food companies have noted this and have made use of social media platforms to entice diners to their restaurants.

Brand identity and limited time specials

Social media has allowed fast food companies to show off their creativity as well as to build (or rebuild) its brand, as has been the case with Wendy's. We are all familiar with the red-haired, pig-tailed girl in the Wendy's logo, but under the guidance of Kristin Tormey, social media and gaming manager for Wendy's, the company began to refer to Wendy as "her" and made the image of Wendy front and center in its marketing, per QSR Magazine. Wendy's has also built its brand around showing that it's not like its competitors. Wendy's uses Twitter as a way to go head-to-head with McDonald's. In 2017, Wendy's called out McDonald's for its use of frozen hamburger patties, reports People Magazine.

While logos and spokespeople have played center roles in social media campaigns for fast food companies, it's also about limited-time specials (like breakfast deals), new items, and fun. According to XDesign, the love of new and limited-time items posted to social media has put pressure on fast food companies to create menu items that are going to get liked, shared, and retweeted. XDesign reports that fast food companies have moved away from promoting classics on social media and instead begin to focus on these new items in an attempt to encourage young people to share photos. The message is if you don't get into the restaurant and share a photo soon, it could be gone (via XDesign).