To bae or not to bae: Should brands talk like millennials on Twitter?

By Will McInnes | chief marketing officer

March 17, 2015 | 9 min read

Everyone’s doing it. Millennials are doing it. Reporters are definitely doing it. Brands can’t help but be tempted to try it out.

I’m talking about 'weird Twitter' and the prolific use of modern vernacular (think 'bae' and 'fleek' and 'boo') on social media brand pages. Some folks see it as a way to connect with younger consumers, and it can be argued it’s a savvy way to stay hip and ahead of competitors. After all, social media is the first line of communication with the general public and brand evangelists, current customers, and future advocates.

But are some brands taking it too far?

That’s the juicy discussion that happened at SXSW Monday, when Chapin Clark, EVP at international ad agency R/GA, and Katie Notopolous, senior editor at Buzzfeed take the stage for their panel, 'Hamburger Helper Is My Bae: Weird Brand Twitter'.

One thing they would have been talking about is whether or not using words like 'bae' and 'fleek' in Twitter posts and replies to followers increases engagement.

In January, Brandwatch did a deep dive data analysis on the use of 'bae' and 'fleek' mentions by consumer brands for Digiday reporter Shareen Pathak. What we found was that a lot of those brands happened to be food-related. Think Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Seamless, and IHOP.

What’s most interesting to me in the use of nascent vocabulary by brands is the authenticity factor. What I mean is, does referring to your pizza as 'on fleek' (translation: on point, amazing, awesome) or lovingly calling your loyal social followers 'bae' (the new 'it' term of endearment), increase engagement for your brand on Twitter? On Facebook? Does it align with your company’s branding, and target audience?

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In some cases, the answer is yes. In other instances, it’s a real head scratcher.

I think it’s a fairly simple formula. If you’re a company like, let’s say, Cadillac, don’t use words that are unfamiliar to your audience. Read the proverbial room. Speak to the generation of consumers that will actually buy your product, and don’t search for product evangelists with a demographic that can’t even afford to purchase your goods.

If you’re a Wet Seal-esque brand, then go ahead and call your SnapChat friends 'bae.' Do you, boo. Why? Because in that particular use case you are showing your audience members that they are your peers. It levels the playing field, and makes social users feel heard and understood. It’s a comfort thing, a familiarity that brands can use to their advantage.

At Brandwatch, we’re all about data-driven insights. Here’s a look at the social data breakdown around how some brands are using millennial speak on Twitter.

Widening the scope: the most engaging baes in brand Twitter

Looking at the use of 'bae' and 'fleek' in social media activities of a larger pool of brands between December 12, 2014 and January 12, 2015, we ranked the most engaging.

In that month, we saw nearly 17,000 mentions of both brands and consumers using 'bae' or 'fleek' in posts about the brand.

The brands that received the most engagement using these terms were:

  • Pizza Hut: 4,800+ mentions
  • Taco Bell: 4,400+ mentions
  • IHOP: 2,000+ mentions
  • Walmart: 1,600+ mentions
  • AT&T: 1,500+ mentions
  • Gain: 890+ mentions
  • Mountain Dew: nearly 500 mentions
  • Burger King: 350+ mentions
  • Sonic: nearly 300 mentions
  • Chili’s: 130+ mentions
  • Staples: 120+ mentions
  • Seamless: nearly 90 mentions
  • Tostitos: >25 mentions
  • Stouffer’s: >20 mentions

Of all these brands, we saw most brands using the two words to respond to customer comments/mentions.

How many baes equal one fleek?

'Bae' was used more times than fleek, with over 15,400 mentions, accounting for more than 90 per cent of the conversation. Good old 'fleek' only received about 1,340 mentions. There were less than 100 posts combining the two for a truly new-age speech pattern.

The public’s response to brands using the terminology has been mixed. Some think it’s funny and cute, while others think that the brands are trying too hard.

There is even a Twitter handle mocking these brands, @brandssayingbae. The handle was created in late December and already has almost 30,000 followers. It’s also one of the most mentioned tweeters unsurprisingly in our data analysis.

The brands that appear in the top hashtags include Taco Bell, Burger King (#chickenfriesareback), Chili’s, and Pizza Hut (#12daysofhutswag).

Brand names like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, IHOP, AT&T, and Walmart have been some of the most mentioned topics in the conversation.

General brand buzz vs the bae/fleek effect

In addition to the social data around mentions using 'bae' and 'fleek,' we also analyzed all mentions (general consumer and brand activity) for Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and IHOP from December 12, 2014 to January 12, 2015.

Due to the sheer volume in size of the general mentions, 'bae' and 'fleek' seemed to have a minimal share of voice in the overall conversations around each brand, but we did find the majority of use of these specific terms is used for engagement.

In the grand scheme of things, the 'general' mentions about and published by brands dominate the conversations. Below is a timeline of history of all mentions, as well as bae and fleek mentions for the three brands.

Pizza Hut

We compared mentions of Pizza Hut from December 12, 2014 to January 12, 2015 to compare 'bae' and 'fleek' mentions to general mentions.

Overall, 'bae' and 'fleek' mentions had a 2 per cent share of total conversations. But let’s think about it for a second, 2 per cent of over 240,000 mentions – that’s a lot. For two words that weren’t in common use a year ago, they are used in a notable percentage of a powerful brand’s conversation. With the exception of some odd definitions of fleek on Urban Dictionary dating back to 2010, and one December 2009 entry defining it as English slang for 'awesome', bae and fleek were essentially non-existent until 2014.

Brand Mentions: 240,400+ mentions

Bae/Fleek Mentions: 4,800+ mentions

Taco Bell

From December 12, 2014 to January 12, 2015 to compare “bae” and “fleek” mentions to general mentions of Taco Bell.

Overall, 'bae' and 'fleek' mentions had a 1 per cent share of total conversations.

Brand Mentions: 713,500+ mentions

Bae/Fleek Mentions: 4,400+ mentions


From December 12, 2014 to January 12, 2015 to compare 'bae' and 'fleek' mentions to general mentions of IHOP.

Overall, 'bae' and 'fleek' mentions had a 1 per cent share of total conversations.

Brand Mentions: 285,800+ mentions

Bae/Fleek Mentions: 2,000+ mentions

Do you think using words such as 'bae' and 'fleek' is just a passing fad of weird brand Twitter?

Or will the IBMs and Oracles of the world be tweeting to their baes and talking about their on fleek software in TV ads within the next few years?

Will McInnes is chief marketing officer of Brandwatch


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