Top image: Q&A with Max Runyon

Evelyn Taylor, Community Manager, Emplifi

Community Corner: Q&A with Max Runyon

Launching Slim Jim to X/Twitter fame

Crafting an engaging and unique brand voice is one of the most important parts of social media marketing. X (formerly Twitter) accounts Steak-umm and MoonPie have excelled at this, sharing fun content that racks up thousands of likes while keeping posts relevant to the brand or industry.

In 2022, snack brand Slim Jim’s X account skyrocketed to social media stardom under the leadership of Max Runyon, former Creative Strategist at Slim Jim. What started as a few relatable tweets written in the style of an everyday social media user quickly turned into continued virality and connections with other brand accounts. Emplifi asked Max to share his story, how he brought Slim Jim to fame, and the key lessons he learned along the way.

We’d love to get to know you! Tell me a bit about yourself and your background in marketing and social.

I was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas, and I'm the fourth of six kids. I always argue that middle kids are the best marketers because they have developed, out of necessity, unique ways to grab their parents' attention.

I went to Wichita State, where I noticed there wasn’t much student camaraderie, so I wanted to find a way to unite our campus. I started an organization called Marshallville, which was an area outside of our basketball arena where students could camp out before games and bring some spirit. I started an account on a few social media platforms, and eventually, we got news organizations like ESPN College GameDay to come out to our games. That was my first marketing experience. I was 20 and had no idea what I was doing, but I look back on it very fondly.

After graduating, I worked at the Kansas Humane Society to help them grow their channels and show them how social media marketing works. During that time, I started my own Twitter account called Literal Larry, where I basically responded to content and Tweets as if they were meant to be taken literally. The account grew to 100,000 followers in the first three months, and I started having brands like Jimmy John’s and McDonald’s interact with my content. The first brand that reached out with a job offer was Slim Jim, so that’s how I ended up working there.

Currently, I’m doing some freelancing for PooPourri, but I’m trying to take my time and keep my workload minimal as I look for my next position. I’m really excited to see what the future holds.

What was your strategy as you started managing Slim Jim’s Twitter/X account, and how did that change over time?

I started with Slim Jim in the winter of 2021, and at the beginning of 2022, I was asked if I could help revamp the Twitter page that had become stagnant over time. The team was looking for a new voice and a new opportunity to reach our audience. My initial strategy was really to just do what we've always done — to stick to the status quo. I noticed that some of the content that resonated really well with our audience on Instagram wasn’t hitting the same on Twitter, so I wanted to go a different direction that was more community-driven.

It's easy for brands to speak down to audiences and create content, regardless of how the audience feels. I felt it was important to create content that felt indistinguishable from something our audience would post. Once we started creating content that felt like any average user could have tweeted — it just happened to be from the Slim Jim Twitter account — we started to get a great response. 

We started hyper-engaging and operating that platform like any 19-year-old who was handed the password to the Slim Jim account would handle it. It felt very unhinged and off the cuff at points, but ultimately, it really was a catalyst for our account’s rapid growth.

In 2022, many of us on social media noticed a huge spike in follower growth and engagements for Slim Jim’s account. What were some of the main drivers of that success?

We were running some campaigns when I arrived, like leaning into the Dogecoin community on Twitter, but the hype around our community wasn’t sustainable in the long run. We wanted to give our account a more relatable feel and make sure that everyone in our audience felt heard, and their voices felt amplified. We decided to start following people back on Slim Jim, which felt unique to Twitter users, because a lot of times it can feel like a one-way street with a brand’s social media presence. They’re creating content all about their brand and expecting you to be a fan, but I felt like it was important that the brand also be a fan of its community.

Originally, we put out a post asking our community to help us get from 190,000 to 200,000 followers and offering everyone who retweeted a follow back. Prior to this effort, we were gaining roughly 1,000 new followers every few months. After the follow back post, we gained 10,000 new followers in one week and quickly realized we were on to something.

Following back was one way we started to foster more genuine relationships, and I also created posts specifically to make sure people felt heard and seen. We started giving people “meat nicknames” when they tweeted at us. Due to the volume of responses to these engagement posts, Slim Jim would regularly trend nationally on X. When a brand interacts with a user in its community, it's creating a bond between that brand and the user that can absolutely be a driving factor when making purchases. Humanizing the brand also helps users feel like they’re connecting with a real person, not speaking to an impersonal organization.

How did interacting with other brand accounts on X influence Slim Jim’s organic growth?

Our relationship with other brands, from 7-Eleven to Auntie Anne’s to Cinnabon, was crucial in growing the Slim Jim account. All of the other social media teams are down to play as much as you are. They have the same goals of making sure that social media is fun, and that people are entertained and connected. 

We put out a tweet that said, “I miss her,” and Cinnabon replied with, “I’m right here,” so people started to speculate that we were “dating.” After putting out a few more posts, we decided to “ask out” Cinnabon, and that turned into a year-long relationship and fostered unprecedented engagement from our communities. 

People felt invested in our relationship like they would with a celebrity couple, and it was an amazing opportunity for both brands. Any time you have the opportunity to engage with another brand, I always say you should take it. Not only is it an opportunity for your brand to grow, but it’s also an opportunity on a personal level to get to know other social teams.

What’s your best advice for social media managers who are asked to “go viral”?

The word viral is a term that apparently all social media marketers can't stand when it comes from their bosses. I don't mind it so much. I think every piece of content you put out should be created with the intention of it going viral. They aren’t all going to blow up, but even a couple of posts going viral can be amazing for reach. Any time you’re creating content, you should keep in mind the goal of getting as many eyes and as much engagement on your content as possible.

Good marketers take inspiration from any number of places. For example, you can create a post related to a video that might seem like it has nothing to do with your brand, but there might be a factor that made that video go viral that could be very relevant to your brand. Always be a consumer of what performs well on each platform. Think about how you can emulate that for your brand in hopes that the algorithm will do its thing for you, and your boss will love you.

Any other insights you’d like to share with our audience?

Build relationships with other marketers and brands! You never know — two brands that seem completely opposite could be an asset to each other. Developing a relationship with the people behind those accounts could also help you professionally when you’re inevitably going to be on your next job search and might appreciate some support, a tip, or a connection.

Don’t be afraid to be different. If your team is tasked with marketing a bake sale, 99% of people would say, “Let's build a beautiful sign that says ‘Bake it ‘til you make it’,” while 1% would say, “Let’s strap a GoPro to a box of pastries, send it off a cliff, and post the results on TikTok.’” Strive to be that 1%.

Connect with Max on LinkedIn, and check out his website.

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