When we build social networking plans, we tend to think in terms of corporate branding and strategy that meshes with our marketing plans. As a result, our thinking is often very “corporate” — and that’s not always a good thing.

Social marketplaces are crowded with businesses, which means you have to do something special to stand out and make potential fans want to follow you, talk about you, and share your content. Worse still, an overly corporate online voice can alienate the very fans you wish to court with messaging that’s stiff and formal.

How’s a social media pro to get around this problem? One method is to throw out the corporate handbook entirely (or almost entirely) and go with offbeat content that’s hard to fit into a business plan, but talks to a tech-savvy social audience in its own language.

This is precisely what Denny’s has been doing with its social presences, and as a result the old-fashioned — and just plain old — diner has become a place that looks very hip to its growing number of tech-savvy followers. So what can we learn from Denny’s strange social presence?

How Denny’s Does Social

Denny’s maintains an active presence on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook — and the company takes a different approach to each network, while keeping with its online identity. It’s a smart strategy for any brand, but let’s break down just what Denny’s does on each of its social channels.

On Facebook, Denny’s posts could pass for ordinary, featuring information on contests and photos of food. The conventional strategy is one that makes sense for Facebook’s older audience, especially since users are only likely to get the occasional post from Denny’s in their feed.

Focusing standard content that pushes the food and the brand makes a lot of sense — that way you always know what kind of content is going to show up on your fans’ feeds, offering a consistent (if somewhat predictable) experience. Similarly, Instagram is mostly food photos — just what Instagram users expect.

It’s on Twitter and Tumblr that Denny’s strategy starts to look less conventional. There’s some overlap between these channels, but there’s distinct content, too. Twitter, obviously, has character limits that must be adhered to and many of Denny’s tweets are short messages about food, often infused with pop culture, popular memes, or other timely references. Some examples:

Not all of Denny’s tweets are big hits, but most of them have a few hundred retweets and favorites — and when they hit on a particularly viral subject, those numbers jump into the thousands, giving the brand enviable social reach.

The company’s Tumblr presence leans towards the outright bizarre, featuring graphics and animated GIFs, typically with a breakfast theme. There’s a caricature of Weird Al with an egg for a face and bacon for hair, an animation of an opera singer breaking an egg with her voice, and a page of a Star Wars Episode VII script in which the heroes of the original trilogy meet at Denny’s (where they run into Jar Jar Binks and, oddly, Nintendo’s Luigi).

But this kind of strange content works perfectly in the Tumblr environment, especially since it doesn’t feel forced or corporate — it speaks in the strange, visual language of Tumblr users. Because of this, Denny’s Tumblr presence starts conversations, encourages reblogs, and even has followers creating their own Denny’s inspired GIFs and fan art — a fantastic level of engagement for any brand.

How You Can Mimic the Denny’s Success

The reason businesses spend so much time and effort on social is because it offers a great opportunity to engage with potential customers in places where they’re choosing to spend their time. Once, that might have meant advertisements on television or in newspapers, but social has increasingly become a more effective way to reach new audiences.

The best way to reach those audiences, however, isn’t to send press releases (or similar messaging) into the social channels where they’re trying to have fun. Going more casual and speaking to your social fans in their own language — even if you don’t go all-out like Denny’s has — can have positive results.

But while you shouldn’t be afraid to go casual with your messaging, you do need to have care not to go too off-message for your brand or post content that might offend others. Everything you say, even if it’s silly, needs to fit your brand’s identity. Denny’s does this with a heavy focus on fun over controversy, though the account does sometimes walk a fine line, like when it tweeted a photo responding to the NSA controversy saying “Denny’s knows what you want before they do.”

Though what’s funny and what isn’t can be subjective and difficult to gauge, many followers found the way the message made light of a serious issue to be decidedly un-funny. Trying to hit the latest topics and trends without upsetting any of your followers means you need to take care, but if you can manage it there are a lot of advantages to Denny’s edgy approach in terms of building awareness and engagement.

So consider every day casual Friday on social networks. Sometimes a little out of the mold thinking in your social plan can really pay off.