When was the last time you visited Sonic the Hedgehog’s social media pages? Has it been a while? Have you never looked at it? Go ahead, give his Twitter a visit right now, scroll down some, and come back. It’s a little different than you might have remembered or imagined it would be.
That’s because Sonic, or rather his social media handler, Aaron “RubyEclipse” Webber, has driven the blue blur’s online presence in quite a unique direction, to say the least. At PAX East 2016, Webber took the time from the equally wacky, and totally lit Totino’s booth to explain what in the actual hell is going on with Sonic’s Twitter account right now, and what the fallout has been from Sonic transforming into a meme-hungry, Twitter beef starting scoundrel.
— Sonic the Hedgehog (@sonic_hedgehog) April 18, 2016
Sonic wasn’t always as completely insane on social media as he is now. Originally, he was just as milquetoast as any other corporate controlled brand name. While it’s not fair to paint with a broad brush, a lot of brand names understandably elect to play it safe, especially when the product is something marketed to children, as Sonic often is. The Twitter account mostly played by the standard, take no chances Twitter rule book, doing stuff like this:
12 years ago, Sonic Pinball Party was released. Which pinball table was your favorite? pic.twitter.com/FD1i9fNM09
— Sonic the Hedgehog (@sonic_hedgehog) June 1, 2015
Nothing wrong with that, but it certainly doesn’t get the social media juices flowing either. In June of 2015, however, Webber took over and decided to get weird with it. According to him, this transition was all about recapturing Sonic’s 90s attitude and plopping it back into the current day. “Being very irreverent, having fun with the brand was a big part of that,” Webber told us about embracing today’s online culture. “I thought they might fire me in a week if this didn’t go well.”
Not only did Webber keep his job, but he sparked a complete reinvention of Sonic’s internet persona.
The point of no return was a Sonic Generations-Shia Lebouf DLC video back in July 2015. Webber tells me that once that video went out, and it got the positive response that it did (it actually won an award), the team decided to cut loose and run with it, fully embracing our strange internet culture. Like Frankenstein’s monster, Sonic was lifted to the top of the SEGA of America HQ, and changed forever. Given life through the power of memes.
— Sonic the Hedgehog (@sonic_hedgehog) July 14, 2015
In the post-Shia Lebouf video world, the strategy became acknowledging, not ignoring, current going ons within the Sonic community. According to Webber, that means the good, the bad, and the ugly are all fair game.
“So look at Sonic in the state that it’s in. You’ve got some really good Sonic games out there and you’ve also got some games that obviously weren’t as great. So how do you sort of take that brand and make it fun. For me, making Sonic really exciting and funny and irreverent, was the right direction. So I said alright, let’s embrace these weird elements of the Sonic fanbase.”
— Sonic the Hedgehog (@sonic_hedgehog) April 6, 2016
While Webber is willing to search high and low for memes, though, some things are too out there, even for this brave new hedgehog. Jokingly, he mentions that “there are some places even I dare not tread.” However, Sanic Hegehog, the knockoff Sonic born from bad fan art is “very popular around the office now,” and frequently appears on the official Twitter account.
Fans that grew up in the 90s might remember the famous slogan “Genesis does what Nintendon’t.” Although the war between SEGA and Nintendo is long over, that rallying cry seems to still live on through Sonic’s Twitter account. When asked about owning the strange aspects of the Sonic community, like Sanic, Webber specifically mentions Nintendo, and the differences between how the two companies promote their most famous brands:
“That kind of stuff [the weird stuff] I said let’s embrace that. No one would expect Nintendo to do with Mario. Like Nintendo would never post bad Mario fan art but with Sonic, he has this really interesting niche in internet culture. Everyone knows “Gotta go fast.” right? Everyone knows these things and so we’re just like, let’s make that part of who we are.”
When it comes to the issues that are important, what side do you stand on? pic.twitter.com/4XGTXqdIic
— Sonic the Hedgehog (@sonic_hedgehog) March 1, 2016
As the Sonic Twitter czar, Webber has boundless material at his fingertips; enough to make any brand jealous. “We browse the internet all day every day. We’re like the rest of you guys, actually,” Webber says. “So like you, we see these funny memes out there and we’re like man, I wish we could do that.”
— Sonic the Hedgehog (@sonic_hedgehog) October 2, 2015
On any given day, Webber could poke fun at some of the newer games or tug at the heartstrings of nostalgic fans of the 90s. Or he can just let the memes and the bad fan art simply come to him. One of the most frightening characters to arise from the community is Knuckles (or Knackles) the Enchilada. According to Webber, the brainstorming sessions with his team are about friends getting together and asking, “How can we make people laugh today on the internet?”
Thanks to that collaboration, we have been gifted with gems like this:
— Sonic the Hedgehog (@sonic_hedgehog) April 5, 2016
When Webber and his internet persona Sonic aren’t reposting bad fan art and memes, they are starting Twitter beef (in good fun) with anyone and everyone that crosses their way. Sonic called out Gametrailers for calling Sonic Generations bad after scoring it an 8/10, and dropped this amazing burn on Mario during a ‘Who has the best mustache’ Twitter contest between Mario and Doctor Eggman (PS: it’s worth clicking through to this tweet to see the amazing reactions from fans):
.@NintendoAmerica We're so proud of you right now. If only Mario paid as much attention to his Princess' location as he did his Mustache.
— Sonic the Hedgehog (@sonic_hedgehog) November 18, 2015
There’s even been this bizarre, un-explainable love affair between Sonic and Deus Ex. Why is a cartoon platforming star from the 90s and a hero from a M-rated Square Enix psychological shooter best Twitter friends? We have no idea. We at Twinfinite genuinely wondered if Sonic is going rogue, or if Webber and his team plan these interactions out. Webber was happy to give some insight:
“They are pretty much all organic. Like the Gametrailers thing, they deserved the response that they got from us for calling Generations mediocre. I forget exactly what they said [writer’s note: according to the Twitter post, they called it bad but the GT link is now dead], but it wasn’t nice but they rated it 8/10. So I felt, let’s call them out on that. The Nintendo stuff, with the moustache stuff, that’s all organic. And with Deus Ex too actually. Brands reach out to us, we’ll hit them back up. It’s really kind of fun because here’s this big brand, sending us something, we have no idea what they’re going to say. And they have no idea what we’re going to say. So it’s like out we go. It’s really fun.”
After all this, you might be wondering, is SEGA actually down with all this? Well, according to Webber, since he took over with this new approach, Sonic has more than doubled its Twitter account followers and grown on other social media accounts as well. “We don’t want to be corporate, we don’t want to be boring,” said Webber. “We know that gamers are just like us. You don’t want to hear marketing phrases all day long ‘Buy our game’ that’s boring.”
That kind of growth signals a positive response from the community, and certainly makes the almost anything goes strategy an easier pill to swallow for anyone at SEGA worried about dank Sanic memes getting posted on official channels. The newfound popularity is well-deserved, as Webber seems to have a firm grasp on what makes social media fun: “We love our memes, and we love laughing, and we love being entertained and we try to take all of that together and make that what the pages are now.”
It's been a good year. Here's to a great 2016! pic.twitter.com/fehl2SifF4
— Sonic the Hedgehog (@sonic_hedgehog) January 1, 2016
Love it or hate it, it looks like Sanic, Knackles, and this new meme-loving Sonic the Hedgehog are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Sonic fans certainly seem to be OK with that, and if it somehow leads to higher quality Sonic games going forward, that’s just a bonus.