Steak-umm, the brand best known as the base of a homemade, hot-dog-bun cheesesteak, has taken the phrase "Twitter beef" to a new level.
The frozen sandwich beef brand, owned by Reading-based Quaker Maid Meats, has launched an all-out campaign to get Twitter "verification," a badge of legitimacy that the social media company grants to company brands, journalists and famous people in the form of a blue check mark on their profile.
With the help of a petition and thousands of supporters, the beef company recently launched #VerifySteakUmm, a stunt those running the Twitter account say goes along with its freewheeling tone. The account, @steak_umm, often aims to come across as wholesome and inspirational, but it also trolls other brands and shames Twitter, which was criticized over the last several months for granting verified status to prominent white supremacists.
"It's easy to get behind this," said Nathan Allebach, the personality at the controls of the @steak_umm Twitter account. "Everybody is like, 'verify Steak-umm, not Nazis.' Seems pretty obvious."
Allebach, 26, is the social-media coordinator for Allebach Communications, a food marketing and advertising agency based in Souderton, Montgomery County. For the last two years, Quaker Maid Meats has worked with the advertising firm with the hope of attracting a younger clientele, and Allebach said he began "messing with" the @steak_umm Twitter account in August.
Since then, @steak_umm has amassed a cultlike following through round-the-clock, one-on-one interactions with consumers. By Nov. 1, the brand reached 2,000 followers. Today, it has nearly 7,000.
Jesse Bender, an account executive with Allebach Communications, described the account as "off-the-wall" and "weird." That's perhaps an understatement, considering the account frequently personifies beef.
Most of the tweets come across as stream of conscious, and Allebach says they often reflect his mood. Sometimes the language or the meme attached is introspective or inspirational.
Occasionally the account trolls other brands.
And sometimes they're just pestering Twitter, begging for that elusive verified status.
Representatives from Allebach Communications requested Twitter verification for @steak_umm on several occasions, most recently in October. The denials confound — typically Twitter verifies users "of public interest," which @steak_umm seems to be. Now, no one can request the coveted status, as Twitter suspended its verification program in November pending a review.
In addition to the #VerifySteakUmm movement, the team also has found ways to keep followers coming back. The company frequently tweets about "Steve the Intern," facetiously blaming dust-ups on "him" in the same way other brands have publicly blamed interns for social media gaffes.
Asked if "Steve the Intern" is real, Allebach replied, "How dare you ask."
In addition, many of the tweets — particularly those in reply to users, both fans and haters — end with the phrase "steak umm bless," a sign-off of sorts that's been used for two months and has already been made into an ugly Christmas sweater. Allebach said "steak umm bless" means "go now and be blessed" and, though it can come across as sarcastic, is meant to be positive.
"I'm not sitting at the keyboard filled with vitriol for some troll," Allebach said. "I'm hoping they're going to go out and have a better day than they are right now, trolling a brand on Twitter. It's our way of saying 'we love you, have a great day, be blessed.'"
All this can be a little nerve wracking for the people behind the brand, particularly Joey Piazza, Quaker Maid Meats' director of marketing. He conceded that the social media experiment could go off the rails "very easily," saying that "when the Internet turns against you, it really turns against you." For him, it comes down to trust in the agency — and in the 26-year-old sending tweets about whatever pops into his head.
"It fits us really well because we are a smaller company," Piazza said. "We are kind of a fighter brand."
Before #VerifySteakUmm began in earnest in October after multiple failed attempts asking Twitter for that blue check mark, the account gained popularity when it waded into already-existing Twitter communities, including "weird Twitter," which is exactly what it sounds like. While Allebach personally followed some of weird Twitter's popular accounts — like @dril and @nihilist_arbys — he was always personally "kind of on the sidelines."
Now, he's been able to attract a dedicated audience of followers through an almost painfully authentic tone.
"If I didn't have that genuine relationship with these people," he said, "they would see right through it."
Some already have. Plenty of Twitter users have called the #VerifySteakUmm campaign a marketing scheme, though Bender, the account executive, said the company truly wants to become verified but has been continually denied by Twitter. (Twitter didn't respond to a request for comment.)
Bender said if and when @steak_umm gets verified, there will be continued engagement — that is to say, they have plans for what's next. Allebach said #VerifySteakUmm is "a launch pad."
"We keep getting people saying like 'no one's going to care about you when you're verified,'" Allebach said. "But this is the floor, not the ceiling."