I was bored. I was underemployed. I was @fairmountbagel, and this is my story.
Three weeks ago, I was on the bus back to Ottawa from Montreal. I had just tanked an interview for a minimum wage social media marketing gig, and the only thing I had to my name besides an outstanding student loan was a bag of fresh Fairmount bagels.
Feeling that my social media skillset had been spurned — the gravest indignity for a burgeoning narcissist — I set out to mend my slighted ego.
I did what anyone in my situation would do: I created a parody Twitter account for Fairmount Bagel Bakery, Montreal’s second-best bagel shop (according to Cult Montreal’s 2014 reader survey).
Despite the fact that you, dear reader, wrote off Fairmount as second-rate, I was determined to return Montreal’s bagel crown to its rightful owner.
Fairmount is Montreal’s original bagel dealer, having begun bootlegging bagels way back in 1919. Now it’s not like I had anything against the city’s perennial bagel champions, the St. Viateur shop a block away (although they might’ve given my ex a freebie from time to time). I just couldn’t resist an underdog.
Pulling off this coup d’état wasn’t going be easy—especially since I wasn’t, you know, actually affiliated with Fairmount. But they lacked a Twitter account, and I had managed a few corporate Twitter feeds for a summer job, so I set out to fill the void.
The thing about Twitter is ya gotta be a bit unconventional. Instead of posting a bunch of navel-gazing bagel selfies or seedy bagel recipes, I was going to catch people off guard with content you wouldn’t expect from a 95-year-old institution.
If I was going to be a bagel salesman, I was going to be the Jay-Z of bagels.
And St. Viateur was going to be my Nas.
Before we were able to bag those initial retweets and favourites, we first had to get vetted by someone with a bit of social clout. Our earliest success was landing a co-sign from Montreal’s alt-lit heartthrob, Guillaume Morissette, when he retweeted one of our posts to his page.
His innocuous plug then lead to a viral blog post on Eater.com, after which thousands of followers began to roll in. Before I knew it, we had managed to get more followers in three days than St. Viateur had managed to amass in three years on Twitter.
A dash of Kanye and a sprinkle of arrogant surrealism was all it took to gain an edge in the brimming #MTLBagelWar.
With great power comes great responsibility, and soon we (me, myself, and my delicious stash of bagels) had to begin dealing with blowback.
Like francophile journalists unhappy with @fairmountbagel’s English bent:
Which I think I handled rather gracefully…
I began to get requests for bagel donations too.
Despite the blizzard outside and my lack of an expense account, I tried my best to fulfill their bagular wishes. To keep up with the holiday spirit.
By far the strangest encounter though was being spotted in real life while (blasphemously) enjoying some donuts over at Chez Boris.
I was with my girlfriend in their shop when they tweeted that. She was the only one that knew I was the man behind the account. I’m still a little creeped out (compare the timestamps).
The cute baristas really are looking what you’re up to on your laptops, folks.
Things were getting a little overwhelming, so I decided to reach out to the actual Fairmount guys to see if we could partner. Strangely, their website contact form and email were down, so I messaged them on Facebook instead.
Suffice it to say, they were less happy than I anticipated.
This is where it got weird. Fairmount demanded a public apology, in addition to having me forfeit all access to the account.
But I was greedy. I was responsible for a nano-pop-culture-phenomenon, and it had caught the eye of some of my favourite musicians (including an absolute stunner who once slung me beers at Casa del Popolo).
Fueled by hubris, I rebuffed them and kept on marauding as Montréal’s preeminent bagel provocateur.
I thought a little bagel theatre would generate buzz and be good for both businesses. And it was. During our social media dogfight, even my rivals at St. Viateur gained a few hundred followers on Twitter.
Honestly, I considered my tactics to be pretty benign. After all, I was just a bored twenty-something having fun, and the idea of handing over the keys to a Twitter Ferrari was unpalatable.
Although I refused to pull over, I should have known the party was coming to an end. Instead of rejuvenating what I thought was a long-brewing rivalry, I was inadvertently messing with a complicated relationship that went deeper than your average cross-street-capitalistic-war-of-bagel-attrition.
The media eventually reached out to Fairmount, and outed my account as a parody. I had the dubious distinction of being called “semi-literate” by the CBC, which to this day is still the biggest compliment my literary capacities have received from the fledgling broadcaster. In the end though, Fairmount got in contact with Twitter, and convinced them my account was guilty of impersonation—despite parody accounts being totally kosher under Twitter regulations. I guess I hadn’t made that distinction clear enough, and my account was suspended. So it goes.
What I found most interesting about this whole affair is how little social capital was required in order be taken seriously. Despite the flagrant absurdity of a bagel shop using Kanye West memes to sling bagels, I found that people were surprisingly ready to put up with a little willful disbelief—as long as they were being entertained. No wonder: while the CBC article undressing the account as a parody was shared twice on Facebook, the blog post detailing the funny tweets was shared over three thousand times.
Capturing the modern mind is a tricky business. Our generation doesn’t watch TV, and when we do, it’s pirated without commercials. We know how to avoid internet marketing departments’ feeble attempts to bombard us with popups by hiding them with AdBlock. Most of all, we aren’t going to follow your corporate brand on social media if all you do is pollute our feeds with notifications on 15% discounts for products we don’t even want.
To nab our attention you have to stand out, and that requires more than merely “existing” on these new channels. It requires you to tailor your content so that it rises above the white noise.
Nobody likes a pamphlet-wielding corner canvasser, but everyone likes a talented busker. That’s because people want to be amused, not solicited. If you’re going to bother with social media, do it right. Be absurd. Be unorthodox. Be unnerving. That’s really all I was trying to prove with this little stunt—that entertainment is power, and that a little bit of personality can go a long way.
At any rate, esteemed Fairmount proprietors: consider this my public apology. I still like your bagels, but I think this hole experience has converted me to a Chez Boris donut man for the forseeable future. I wish you the best of luck in your bagel pursuits, offline and on. I just hope you don’t forget to keep it #fresh.
You can follow Joe’s new (and much less popular) Twitter over @MTLBagelBoy