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How to Nail the Art of the Brand Comeback on Social Media

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Look, Twitter may have a reputation for endless political discourse and ancient memes. And sure, sometimes that’s true. But it’s still an important platform for your brand. Especially if you want to practice the art of risky brand comebacks.

These days, snarky brand Twitter is beginning to feel a little played out. But there’s still plenty of room to make waves with the right online presence. And it’s not limited to Twitter alone. TikTok, Instagram and Facebook offer plenty of space to flex your social personality.

Ready to learn from the pros? Let’s examine some successful social risk-takers who can inspire your brand’s comebacks.

Bonus: Read the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

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What are risky brand comebacks?

In recent years, brands have cultivated enormous followings by taking huge risks. They’ve gone snarky (Wendy’s), wacky (Moonpie), unhinged (Duolingo) and downright emo (Steakums). These brands have earned tons of coverage from unexpected sources by thinking outside of the box.

That may have paid off for those brands, but the lesson is not to copy their strategy. Aggro commentary from your small account might not make sense. Plus, trends move fast. The last thing you want to do is copy someone else and end up making outdated or cringe-worthy content.

The lesson here is that with risk comes reward — especially if you stay true to your voice and purpose. Brand comebacks might mean pushing the envelope, owning up to mistakes, or even taking a political stance.

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Risk also might mean, well, being earnest. The days of snarky, sarcastic comebacks are numbered. These days, brands seem to be finding more success by being nice.

But there are still plenty of fresh ways to mix it up online. Here are some of the best comebacks we’ve seen brands make across their social media. Watch and learn.

1. Play the heel

You don’t always need to reply to take risks that pay off. Remember, everyone’s scrolling Twitter in search of something to “dunk” on.

Why should bread have all the fun, when there’s Weetabix? Serving up @HeinzUK Beanz on bix for breakfast with a twist. #ItHasToBeHeinz #HaveYouHadYourWeetabix pic.twitter.com/R0xq4Plbd0

— Weetabix (@weetabix) February 9, 2021

The British breakfast barons at Weetabix had a major win by making themselves the butt of the joke on Twitter. Their hilariously off-putting food pic became a massive global trending topic. (We hope it was intentional, but really, it doesn’t matter.)

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Lesser brand managers may have deleted the tweet when it was getting mocked. But Weetabix won out by staying the course, even getting in on the banter fest.

Keep up Kellogg’s, milk is sooo 2020.

— Weetabix (@weetabix) February 9, 2021

2. Join the dogpile (when appropriate)

The genius of Weetabix’s disgusting food pic lay in its ability to unite the crowd. After all, it’s a pretty gross-looking picture (though we’ll admit, we’re a little… curious).

Still, it’s the kind of non-controversial “bad” post that can unite the internet. And plenty of people got on board.

Us: Pineapple on pizza is the most controversial food ever.

Weetabix: Hold my spoon.

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— Domino’s Pizza UK (@Dominos_UK) February 9, 2021

The post was mocked by everyone from Britain’s National Rail to an official Beatles museum. The gift company Moonpig put beans on one of their own greeting cards. Competing chicken sellers KFC and Nando’s even engaged in a bit of friendly banter in the replies. Even Pfizer got in on the jabs.

It was a veritable honeypot for brand Twitter, all thanks to Weetabix. But some parties still shouldn’t have shown up. The official Israel account‘s reply, for example, wasn’t exactly well-received.

3. Aim for quote-tweets

At this point, the biggest risk you can take on Twitter is putting yourself out there. After all, if your tweet gets a lot of attention, chances are someone will be rude.

But you don’t win big by playing it safe. Instead, if you want attention, try coming up with engagement-bait prompts. If they relate to your brand, even better.

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Music festival newsletter The Festive Owl recently had a huge hit with a simple prompt. It paid off, earning over 5,000 quote-tweets and counting.

First Concert:

Last Concert:

Best Concert:

Worst Concert:

— Festive Owl (@TheFestiveOwl) August 14, 2022

Again — the risk here is that people might be rude. If you choose to go this route, double-check your prompt and make sure it’s relevant to your brand. If your tweet reeks of desperation, it could backfire.

4. Keep it sneaky

There are ways to insert yourself into the discourse without @ing anyone. The folks at Merriam-Webster have proven masterful at this strategy.

It should come as no surprise that one of the world’s most popular dictionaries has a way with words. But their 2021 word of the year was a particularly subtle stroke of genius.

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The word ‘vaccine’

– saw a 601% increase in lookups this year over last.

– had continual spikes of attention through the year.

– was about much more than medicine in 2021.

‘Vaccine’ is our 2021 #WordOfTheYear.https://t.co/i7QlIv15M3

— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) November 29, 2021

By choosing “vaccine,” the brand broached a hot-button topic without risking any backlash. The real conversations continued in the quote-tweets, but Merriam-Webster got it started.

5. Really include the audience

The sugar merchants over at Skittles may be sweet, but they’re not afraid to get a little salty. They’ve included their audience in plenty of hilarious comebacks without being rude.

It works because they make themselves the butt of the joke. For proof, check out this absurd list of thousands of people who complained about a recent change.

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Marketing would like to apologize to 130,880 people for taking away lime. Unfortunately, they can’t all fit in a single post.

Download the complete jpg to receive your apology: https://t.co/8enSa8mAB7 pic.twitter.com/He4ns7M4Bm

— SKITTLES (@Skittles) April 5, 2022

And it paid off. Skittles even won Twitter’s official best brand bracket in 2022:

You helped them #RallyForTheRainbow, now last year’s runner-up can officially claim their crown.

Congrats @Skittles, our #BestOfTweets Brand Bracket ‘22 champion! 🌈 pic.twitter.com/RamCOWRZxN

— Twitter Marketing (@TwitterMktg) April 5, 2022

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6. Use snark when appropriate

It’s easy to slap a pride flag on your profile picture and call it a day, right? Wrong. The LGBTQA+ community is (rightly) starting to call out brands who don’t walk the walk. One way to show you actually care is to address the trolls when it feels appropriate.

When Xbox unveiled new pride-themed hardware, a Twitter troll replied, “No one asked for this.” Xbox bounced back with a snappy comeback.

Our Pride controller features 34 flags representing the many LGBTQIA+ communities! 🏳️‍🏳️‍🌈

Meet some of the amazing people who inspired the design and learn what each flag means here: https://t.co/s3c6bp9ZhL pic.twitter.com/xQ99z5WpKg

— Xbox (@Xbox) June 8, 2022

It wasn’t rude or particularly attention-grabbing. But it was enough of a clapback to warrant daps for Xbox — and plenty of attention for their new controller.

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And no one asked for you to reply, but here we are.

— Xbox (@Xbox) June 8, 2022

Again, you don’t have to hold a giant “pick me” sign to engage in critical discourse on Twitter. With sensitive topics, it’s possible to show grace and poise via the art of subtlety.

That’s exactly what the Star Wars Twitter account did to address a toxic faction of its fanbase. The long-running franchise is often targeted by obsessive trolls. With each new release, the account fields nonstop vitriol aimed at actors of color that appear in their projects.

We are proud to welcome Moses Ingram to the Star Wars family and excited for Reva’s story to unfold. If anyone intends to make her feel in any way unwelcome, we have only one thing to say: we resist. pic.twitter.com/lZW0yvseBk

— Star Wars | Andor Premieres Sept 21 on Disney+ (@starwars) May 31, 2022

After announcing that The Queen’s Gambit star Moses Ingram had been cast in Obi-Wan Kenobi, they were hit with a flood of toxic discourse. The way they chose to respond is particularly compelling. It addresses racist trolls without platforming their hateful rhetoric.

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There are more than 20 million sentient species in the Star Wars galaxy, don’t choose to be a racist.

— Star Wars | Andor Premieres Sept 21 on Disney+ (@starwars) May 31, 2022

8. Just be nice

If you haven’t noticed yet, the snarky Wendy’s tone seems to be on the way out in the modern Twitter era. Sometimes, “risk” means daring to be different. And makeup manufacturer Glossier is leading the pack.

@aanasmira “gloss-ee-yay!”✨

— Glossier (@glossier) March 11, 2018

They’ve cultivated a kind, friendly space online — and that can really stand out. Glossier’s version of brand comebacks include a gentle, relatable tone and plenty of emojis. They stay in tune with Glossier’s mission while delivering excellent customer care.

This was only available for a limited time, but we’re bringing the candle back later this year! Stay tuned 💕

— Glossier (@glossier) August 12, 2022

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9. Go with the flow

Twitter has certainly calmed down as the place for brands to get silly with it. But on TikTok, things can and do get weird.

In a recent master class, user @ramblingsanchez baited the crowd. Their completely innocuous broccoli-eating video shouldn’t have gone viral. But their caption, “A bunch of brand accounts should comment on this for no reason,” made all the difference.

The video’s comment section blew up fast. Brands like Trojan Condoms, lululemon, and even the official TikTok account showed up.

@tellmemore.agency

@ramblingsanchez managed to get every social media manager together 🪑 #brandsontiktok

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♬ original sound – tellmemore.agency

10. Come up with your own idea

The @ramblingsanchez TikTok (now removed) was a fun experiment that will go down in history. But the internet moves fast, and fun ideas can quickly feel stale.

Foam dart manufacturers Nerf tried copying the @ramblingsanchez format with diminishing returns. Their TikTok expert told brands to challenge one another to a Nerf duel in the comments. Sadly, it didn’t quite pay off in the same way.

@nerf

We will just be here creeping in the comments, eating some popcorn🍿 Thanks to @ramblingsanchez for the inspo. #Nerf

♬ Funk Hip Hop Music(814197) – Pavel

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Sure, a couple of brands tried their hand in the comments. But the rest of the feed is full of people roasting the video for being, well, tryhard.

Inspired by these brand comebacks? Use Hootsuite to monitor all relevant conversations and engage your audience (with a bit sass, if appropriate). Try it free today.

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Do it better with Hootsuite, the all-in-one social media toolkit. Stay on top of things, grow, and beat the competition.

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Social Media Activism in 2022: How to Go Beyond the Hashtag

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Social media activism is no longer optional, especially for larger brands. Consumers, employees, and social followers all expect your brand to take a stand on issues that really matter.

Bonus: Read the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

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What is social media activism?

Social media activism is an online form of protest or advocacy for a cause. Because hashtags play a central role in mobilizing movements on social media, the term is often used interchangeably with hashtag activism.

Activism on social media includes promoting awareness of social justice issues and showing solidarity through the use of hashtags, posts, and campaigns.

Genuine social media activism is supported by concrete actions, donations, and measurable commitments to change.

Without genuine offline action, using a hashtag or posting a black square or rainbow flag comes across as opportunistic and lazy. Critics are often quick to call out these minimal efforts as “slacktivism” or performative allyship.

Brands should tread carefully: More than three-quarters of Americans (76%) say “social media makes people think they are making a difference when they really aren’t.”

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Along the same lines, when a company participates in social media activism that does not align with its past or present actions, it can prompt backlash and calls of virtue signaling, greenwashing, or rainbow capitalism.

We’re about to dive into 10 ways to engage in meaningful activism on social media. And, of course, we’ll provide plenty of social media activism examples where brands got things right.

But it really all boils down to this:

Words are just words, and hashtags are just hashtags. Yes, they can both be extremely powerful. But for brands, especially those with significant market share and resources, actions speak much louder. Social media activism must be accompanied by real world action.

Listen to credible voices working on the cause. Learn from those who have well-established expertise in the movement. And commit to working towards real change.

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How to use social media to authentically support a cause: 10 tips

1. Pause and review your social calendar

The first thing to do before engaging in social media activism – whether you’re responding to an immediate crisis or beginning a longer term campaign of activism and allyship – is to hit pause.

Review your social calendar. If you use a social media scheduler, you might want to unschedule upcoming posts and save them for later. Review your content calendar to see how things align with the stance you’re about to take. If you’re responding to a crisis, you’ll likely want to stay focused on the cause at hand.

Consumers do want brands to respond in times of crisis. More than 60% say “brands should acknowledge moments of crisis in their advertising and communications when they are occurring.”

In the wake of the Uvalde shooting, the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays paused their social media game coverage and instead used their social channels to share information about gun violence.

pic.twitter.com/UIlxqBtWyk

— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 26, 2022

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They went all-in on this, not holding anything back.

Firearms were the leading cause of death for American children and teens in 2020.

— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 26, 2022

While your regular content is on pause, take the time to learn about what’s happening beyond the headlines so you can take a meaningful stance followed up with concrete action.

That action component is critical in terms of garnering support for your activism rather than backlash.

Before returning to regular programming, consider how your campaigns and content will resonate within the larger context.

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DON’T:

  • Try to profit from your support. Social movements are not marketing opportunities, and customers will call out actions your brand takes that appear motivated by anything other than good faith.

2. Listen to your customers (and employees)

It’s normal for emotions to run high during social justice and human rights movements. But those in-the-moment spikes can lead to long-term changes in how people feel and behave – and how they expect companies to behave.

70% of members of Generation Z say they are involved in a social or political cause. And they expect brands to join them. More than half (57%) of Gen Z says brands can do more to solve societal problems than governments can, and 62% say they want to work with brands to address those issues.

But the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer found consumers don’t think brands are doing enough to address social change.

graph showing business engagement on societal issues

Source: Edelman 2022 Trust Barometer

Use social listening to better understand how your audience is feeling. Understanding the broader perspective allows you to express empathy and solidarity with negative sentiments, then rally your audience around positive sentiments with strong calls to action.

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This could include rallying followers to share messages, sign petitions, or match donations. Sometimes it’s as simple as acknowledging how people feel in the context of social upheaval, such as Aerie’s ongoing advocacy for mental wellness – in this case, literally giving followers tools for combatting anxiety and improving mental health.

DON’T:

  • Dismiss emotions or police tone. People typically have legitimate reasons to feel what they feel.

3. Be honest and transparent

Before posting anything in support of a cause, reflect on your company history and culture. That might mean looking at the diversity of your teams, re-evaluating non-environmental practices, assessing the accessibility of your marketing, and more.

While difficult, it’s important to have honest internal conversations about company values and changes you may need to make. If you’re not honest, you’re going to have problems with social media activism.

Admitting past mistakes is the first way to show that your company means what it says. Be upfront about anything that goes against your current position. Without doing this, your social activism will ring hollow—or worse, hypocritical. It could also prompt people to call you out.

Disney originally stayed silent in response to Florida’s “Dont Say Gay” bill, sending out an internal email of support for LGBTQ employees rather than making a public statement. That quickly became a problem for the company, as the hashtag #DisneyDoBetter took off and employees, creatives, and fans all shared their concerns about the weak stance as well as the company’s previous donations to supporters of the bill.

tl;dr: “We will continue to invite the LGBTQ+ community to spend their money on our sometimes-inclusive content while we support politicians working tirelessly to curtail LGBTQ+ rights.”

I’m a huge Disney fan as is well documented on this site. Even I say this statement is weak. https://t.co/vcbAdapjr1

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— (((Drew Z. Greenberg))) (@DrewZachary) March 7, 2022

Within a few days, Disney had to acknowledge its mistake and make a lengthy public statement.

Today, our CEO Bob Chapek sent an important message to Disney employees about our support for the LGBTQ+ community: https://t.co/l6jwsIgGHj pic.twitter.com/twxXNBhv2u

— Walt Disney Company (@WaltDisneyCo) March 11, 2022

Brands can either hold themselves accountable, or be held accountable. But don’t feel you need to be perfect before you can take a stand. For example, more than half of employees say CEOs should publicly speak out about racism as soon as the company has its own racial equity and diversity goals in place, with concrete plans to meet them.

DON’T:

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  • Hide internal issues and hope no one finds out about them – or hide behind internal communications. Internal emails can quickly go public when employee concerns are not addressed.
  • Be afraid to be honest. Customers appreciate honesty. But Edelman found only 18% of employees trust their company’s head of DEI to be honest about racism within the organization. If your employees can’t trust you, how can customers?

4. Be human

Humanize your communication efforts. People can and do see through inauthentic behavior.

Overused phrases and carefully calibrated language tend to make company statements look templated. (Thoughts and prayers, anyone?) Be considerate in what you want to say, but throw out the corporate jargon and canned content. Be real.

Edelman found that 81% of respondents to the 2022 Trust Barometer expect CEOs to be personally visible when talking about work their company has done to benefit society.

When then-Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier spoke out about voting rights, the company posted his comments on their social accounts.

This morning our Chairman & CEO Kenneth C. Frazier appeared on @CNBC taking a stand on Georgia’s restrictive new voting law. pic.twitter.com/P92KbhN1aL

— Merck (@Merck) March 31, 2021

Yes, this is a statement that has likely gone through lawyers and other corporate messaging professionals. But it’s clear and does not hold back. And Frazier has repeatedly proven his ability to unite business leaders in social action. He’s talked about his values and how the issues on which he chooses to take a stand align with corporate values.

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He told the Albert and Mary Lasker foundation that when he stepped down from President Trump’s Business Council after the President’s remarks about events in Charlottesville, he spoke to the Merck board about whether he should present it as a strictly personal decision or include mention of the company.

“I’m very proud to say that my board unanimously said, ‘No, we actually want you to speak to the company’s values, not just your personal values,’” he said.

DON’T:

  • Just say what everyone else is saying. It needs to come from your company.
  • Worry about keywords, irrelevant hashtags, or algorithms. Say the right thing, not the highest ranking thing.

5. Make your stance clear and consistent

When you do share a message in support of a cause, ensure that message leaves no room for ambiguity. Don’t leave people asking questions or filling in the blanks for you.

The gold standard for clear brand positioning comes from ice cream brand Ben and Jerry’s. They are consistent and vocal in their support of racial and social justice.

Consumers want your stance on important issues to be clear before they make a purchase. That means taking a stand in your social content and ads, but also on your website, so the message is consistent when someone clicks through to learn more or buy.

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DON’T:

  • Try to have it all or do it all. Speak to the causes that matter most to your brand and your employees, so you can be consistent and authentic.

People want to hear how brands are tackling issues beyond social media.

It’s one thing to post a message in support of Ukraine. But it’s action that really counts. More than 40% of consumers boycotted businesses that continued to operate in Russia after the invasion. On social, both #BoycottMcDonalds and #BoycottCocaCola were trending in early March, until the companies finally ceased Russian operations.

@CocaCola is refusing to pull out of Russia – outrageous and disgusting decision. I will NOT be adding to their profits (and I am particularly partial to Costa Coffee) and i would encourage others to boycott too. #BoycottCocaCola #Ukraine️ pic.twitter.com/tcEc6J6sR1

— Alison (@senttocoventry) March 4, 2022

Show that your company is actually taking action. Which organizations are you donating to, and how much? Will you make regular contributions? How is your brand actually doing good within communities? What steps are you taking toward a more ethical production process and supply chain? Be specific. Share receipts.

For example, when Dove launched its #KeepTheGrey campaign to draw attention to ageism and sexism in the workplace, the brand donated $100,000 to Catalyst, an organization that helps create more inclusive workplaces.

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Age is beautiful. Women should be able to do it on their own terms, without any consequences 👩🏼‍🦳👩🏾‍🦳Dove is donating $100,000 to Catalyst, a Canadian organization helping build inclusive workplaces for all women. Go grey with us, turn your profile picture greyscale and #KeepTheGrey pic.twitter.com/SW5X93r4Qj

— Dove Canada (@DoveCanada) August 21, 2022

And when the makeup brand Fluide celebrated Trans Day of Visibility, they highlighted diverse trans models while committing to donate 20% of sales during the campaign to Black Trans Femmes in the Arts.

DON’T:

  • Make empty promises. Edelman’s 2022 special report on business and racial justice found more than half of Americans think companies are not doing a good job meeting their promises to address racism. If you can’t live up to your promises, you’re better off not to make them in the first place.

7. Ensure your actions reflect your company culture

Similar to point #3, practice what you preach. If your brand promotes diversity on social media, your workplace should be diverse. If you promote environmentalism, you should use sustainable practices. Otherwise, it’s not social activism. It’s performative allyship or greenwashing. And people notice: Twitter saw a 158% increase in mentions of “greenwashing” this year.

One way to ensure your activism aligns with your culture is to choose causes that connect to your brand purpose. In fact, 55% of consumers say it’s important for a brand to take action on issues that relate to its core values and 46% say brands should speak about social issues directly related to their industry.

For example, the sexual wellness brand Maude has an ongoing campaign promoting inclusive #SexEdForAll.

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Offering real calls for action and donating a percentage of profits from their Sex Ed For All capsule collection, they work in partnership with the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) to promote inclusive sex education.

That said, your brand purpose may not have an obvious connection to social causes. That doesn’t mean you can opt out of the conversation.

when can brands speak about social justice issues bar chart

Source: Twitter Marketing

Responsible corporate culture should be first and foremost about doing the right thing. But know that over time, it will actually improve your bottom line. Diverse companies are more profitable and make better decisions.

Plus, nearly two-thirds of consumers – and nearly three-quarters of Gen Z – buy or advocate for brands based on their values. They’re willing to pay more for brands that do good in the world.

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DON’T:

  • Take too long to follow through on commitments. Your customers are watching and waiting.

8. Plan for good and bad responses

Before your brand takes a stance on social media, prepare for feedback.

The aim of social activism is often to disrupt the status quo. Not everyone will agree with your position. Customers may applaud your brand, while others will be critical. Many will be emotional. And unfortunately, some commenters may be abusive or hateful.

Brands taking a stand in the face of the overturning of Roe v. Wade faced abusive comments on their social posts.

Benefit did all the right things on this post by stating the actions they were taking, showing how the cause related to their core values, and linking to partners who are experts in the work.

That said, they still faced comments that could be very triggering for their social team to see coming in, especially anyone impacted by their own abortion or fertility experiences.

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Expect an influx of messages and equip your social media managers with the tools they need to handle them. That includes mental health support—especially for those who are directly impacted by the movement you are supporting.

Consider the following do’s and don’ts:

DO:

  • Review your social media guidelines and update as needed.
  • Clearly define what constitutes abusive language and how to handle it.
  • Develop a response plan for frequently asked questions or common statements.
  • Be human. You can personalize responses while sticking to the script.
  • Hold relevant training sessions.
  • Apologize for past actions, when necessary.
  • Adapt your strategy for different audiences on different social media platforms.

DON’T:

  • Disappear. Remain present with your audience, even if they are upset with you.
  • Delete comments unless they are abusive or harmful. Don’t tolerate hate.
  • Be afraid to admit that you don’t have all the answers.
  • Make it the responsibility of your followers to defend their basic human rights.
  • Take too long to respond. Use tools like Mentionlytics to keep track of messages.

9. Diversify and represent

Diversity shouldn’t just be a box your brand checks during Pride month, Black History Month, or on International Women’s Day. If you support LGBTQ rights, gender equality, disability rights, and anti-racism, show that commitment throughout the year.

Make your marketing inclusive. Build representation into your social media style guide and overall content strategy. Source from inclusive stock imagery from sites like TONL, Vice’s Gender Spectrum Collection, and Elevate. Hire diverse models and creatives. Remember that just about every movement is intersectional.

Most important: Listen to people’s voices rather than simply using their faces. Shayla Oulette Stonechild is not only the first Indigenous global yoga ambassador for Lululemon, but she’s also on the company’s Vancouver-based committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

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Open your platform up to takeovers. Amplify unique voices. Build meaningful relationships with a broader group of influencers and creators. You’ll likely grow your audience and customer base as a result.

DON’T:

  • Stereotype. Don’t cast people in roles that perpetuate negative or biased stereotypes.
  • Let abusive comments go unchecked after spotlighting someone. Be prepared to offer support.

10. Keep doing the work

The work doesn’t stop when the hashtag stops trending.

An important point to not forget. This is not the time to divest from purpose and inclusivity in marketing, it’s actually the time to dive deeper into those commitments— and truly great marketers should be able to both show ROI AND center purpose https://t.co/8w43F57lXO

— God-is Rivera (@GodisRivera) August 3, 2022

Commit to ongoing social activism and learning. Continue educating your brand and your employees and sharing helpful information with social media users who follow your brand.

Champion the cause offline, too. Perform non-optical allyship. Look for ways to support long-term change. Become a mentor. Volunteer. Donate your time. Keep fighting for equity.

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DON’T:

  • Think of brand activism as “one and done.” One supportive post isn’t going to cut it. If you’re going to wade into the waters of digital activism, be prepared to stay there for the long term.

Schedule messages and connect with your audience on social media using Hootsuite. Post to and monitor multiple social networks from one dashboard. Try it free today.

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Do it better with Hootsuite, the all-in-one social media toolkit. Stay on top of things, grow, and beat the competition.

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How Brands Can Support Indigenous Communities on Social—the Right Way

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There is a growing interest among businesses, large and small, to add their voices to the nationwide acknowledgment of the trauma inflicted upon Indigenous children at Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.

This was amplified in 2021 with the location of nearly a thousand unmarked graves at sites of the now-shuttered institutions—and we know thousands more have yet to be discovered.

On National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, it’s important for Indigenous people (and, frankly, for non-Indigenous people) to see businesses and brands honour those who lost their lives through the 165-year program of assimilation.

It’s also important for us as Indigenous people to see them pay tribute to those who survived their years at the notorious schools.

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But deploying the hashtag #TruthAndReconciliation or #EveryChildMatters can be a risky undertaking. There are many ways to make a well-meaning blunder that will prompt eye rolls throughout Indigenous Canada or, worse, to accidentally post something that’s outright offensive.

That’s why I wrote this blog post. I’m a Métis woman and lawyer who has been the CEO of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), the largest organization representing Indigenous women in Canada, since 2017.

I, and other Indigenous women who follow social media, brace ourselves as September 30 rolls around, waiting for the inevitable ham-fisted attempt by non-Indigenous actors to be part of the commemoration.

Please don’t misunderstand. We want you to be there with us as we grieve and as we remember and as we honour. We just want you to do so respectfully. So here are some guidelines.

What is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation? How is it different from Orange Shirt Day? And what should we call it on social media?

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was declared by the Canadian government in 2021, after the graves were found at Indian Residential Schools.

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(Please note: “Indian Residential Schools” is the official name for the schools and a construct of the colonial mindset of 19th Century Canada. In any other context, the word Indian is extremely offensive when used to refer to the Indigenous people of Turtle Island.)

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a day for honouring the victims and celebrating the survivors of the schools. And it’s a federal statutory holiday, so it applies to all federally regulated workplaces. But it’s been left to provinces and territories to choose whether it is marked within their own jurisdictions.

We note that it took Canada’s federal Liberal government (which came to power in 2015 promising to act on all 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission) nearly seven years to meet the relatively simple Call Number 80. It urged the creation of the holiday “to ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

There is no doubt that the discovery of the graves—which the Truth and Reconciliation report said would be found if an effort was made to look for them—bolstered public support for such a day.

September 30 should be thought of as our Remembrance Day, and it should be referred to by its official name: the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Any other name fails to communicate the sombreness of the occasion, just as it minimizes Remembrance Day to call it Poppy Day.

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September 30 is also Orange Shirt Day, reminding us of the day in 1973 when six-year-old Phyllis Webstad from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation arrived at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School, just outside Williams Lake, B.C.

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She was wearing a vibrant orange shirt her grandmother bought her to match her excitement for her first day of school. But the shirt was immediately taken from her by school authorities and never returned—an event that marked the beginning of the year of atrocities and torment she experienced at the institution.

We wear orange shirts on September 30 as a reminder of the traumas inflicted by residential schools. If you’re specifically referring to Phyllis’ story on social media, then it is appropriate to call it Orange Shirt Day.

But the holiday is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and should be referred to as such.

What terms should you use when you refer to Indigenous people? (Terminology 101)

Speaking of terminology, when is it appropriate to refer to someone as First Nations, Métis, or Inuit, and when is it appropriate to refer to someone as Indigenous?

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First up, here’s what those different terms actually mean:

  • First Nations: The largest Indigenous group in Canada, these are members of the 634 First Nations spread across the country
  • Métis: A distinct group of people who have an ancestral connection to a group of French Canadian traders and Indigenous women who settled in the Red River Valley of Manitoba and the Prairies
  • Inuit: The Indigenous people of the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions
  • Indigenous: The First Peoples of North America whose ancestors were here before the arrival of the Europeans

Next, where to use them: It’s always best to be as specific as you possibly can when describing us on social media.

Here’s a quick reference on the best way to refer to Indigenous individuals:

  1. Reference the person’s specific first nation and its location
  2. Reference the person’s nation and ethno-cultural group
  3. Reference their ethno-cultural group
  4. Refer to them as First Nations, Mètis, or Inuit
  5. Refer to the person as Indigenous

So, if someone is a Cree from the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi, say that. Second best would be to call them a Waswanipi Cree. Third best would be to call them a Cree. Fourth best would be to call them a First Nations member.

And fifth best would be to call them Indigenous, which is a catch-all phrase that includes all First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. But it also includes all Indigenous people around the world. The Māori of New Zealand are Indigenous.

Saying someone is Indigenous is like calling a Chinese person Asian. It’s true. But it misses a lot of detail.

If you don’t know how best to describe someone, ask us. Preferences vary from individual to individual.

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But please, despite the fact that my organization is called the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which is a holdover from a much earlier time (NWAC was formed in 1974), please do not call Indigenous people ‘native.’

What role should brands play on social media on September 30?

At NWAC, our hashtag for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is #RememberHonourAct. We think those are good guidelines for everyone—individuals and businesses alike—on September 30 and, indeed, year-round.

Remember the survivors of the residential schools, honour them, and act to strengthen the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

If yours is a local business, pay tribute to the Indigenous people in your area. Acknowledge their traditional territory. Recognize that your operations are taking place on the land that they have shared with you, and that you and your employees are benefitting from that.

If you are a national brand, turn the spotlight back on the First Nations communities. Highlight the achievements and the contributions that First Nations people have made to Canadian prosperity.

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Yes, September 30 is a sombre day of remembrance. But we don’t want pity. We want acknowledgments of past wrongs and promises that they will not be repeated, but we also want to embrace the promise of a better future in which Indigenous people can enjoy prosperous and happy lives free of historical trauma.

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Are there other notable days for brands to keep in mind for Indigenous people?

Yes.

There are other sombre days.

Less than a week after the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Indigenous women across Canada will gather at Sisters in Spirit Vigils to honour the women, girls, and gender-diverse people who have lost their lives in the ongoing genocide that targets us for violence. This is an annual event created to give support and comfort to the families and friends who have been left to mourn their loved ones.

On February 14, Valentine’s Day, annual Women’s Memorial Marches are held in cities and towns across Canada and the United States. They too are meant to honour Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or who have gone missing.

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And on May 5, we mark Red Dress Day, a day on which red dresses are hung in windows and in public spaces around Canada, again to honour the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

But there are also joyous occasions.

Although there is not a specific date set aside, summer is the time for gathering. It is powwow season. Fall is the time that we traditionally rejoice in the bounty of the hunt.

On June 21, the Summer Solstice, we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day. This is a day for rejoicing in our heritage, our diverse cultures, and the contributions that Indigenous people are making to the complex fabric of Canadian life.

What social media mistakes do brands make on September 30?

The most egregious examples of brand behaviour around the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation are attempts to monetize our pain for financial gain.

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If you own a clothing company, please don’t print a batch of orange shirts and sell them for profit. And don’t promote the sales of your shirts on social media. This happens every year and it is offensive in the extreme.

On the other hand, printing and selling orange shirts and then turning the profits over to Indigenous causes is a wonderful gesture of support.

And it’s not just the small brands that are doing this. Walmart, for instance, promises to donate 100% of the profits from its Every Child Matters t-shirts, which have been designed by an Indigenous artist, to the Orange Shirt Society.

screenshot of a post about Orange Shirt Day from Walmart Canada

Be the brand that does something like that.

In all of your social media posts, be mindful that this is our history. Every Indigenous person in Canada has been touched by the residential school experience, whether or not we or our ancestors attended one of the institutions. Be mindful of the traumas that can be brought to the fore with a thoughtless twist of words.

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And again, Indigenous people are at a place where we don’t need or want pity. We need people to celebrate our accomplishments. We need to feel part of a society that is eager to include us.

What opportunities are there for intersections between Indigenous people and other social movements?

In a simple word: lots.

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If there is a social justice issue being championed—whether that is Pride in the gender-diverse community, or climate justice, or prisoners’ rights, or racial equality—you’ll find Indigenous people at the forefront.

My organization is an example of that. We have whole units of staff working on all of those things.

Reach out to us, or other national Indigenous organizations (we list a few later on), to ask about ways you can get involved, projects you can promote, and causes you can stand behind.

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This is a prime opportunity to collaborate with Indigenous creators who are passionate about the larger social issue at hand.

How can brands work with Indigenous content creators?

Find them and ask them. There are plenty out there. Any search engine will quickly turn up hundreds of names of Indigenous content creators and influencers, and many will be eager to collaborate with you.

Here are some examples of places to look:

What Indigenous organizations can brands support or partner with?

Most of the National Indigenous Organizations are looking for partners. We, at NWAC, have terrific partnerships with brands like Sephora, Hootsuite, and TikTok.

@tiktokcanada

Applications for the TikTok Accelerator for Indigenous Creators are now open! Indigenous creators, apply by September 15 💫

♬ original sound – TikTok Canada

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But there are also smaller groups out there who would be delighted to hear from you.

One example that immediately springs to mind is Project Forest in Alberta which is working in partnership with Indigenous communities to restore sacred lands so that medicinal plants and native species will thrive again in First Nations communities.

There is also a range of organizations that are working tirelessly to improve the lives of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit.

I would point to the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, Susan Aglukark’s Arctic Rose Foundation, The Martin Family Initiative, or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.

Those are just a few. And of course, there is NWAC—we work tirelessly for the well-being of Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit and gender-diverse people.

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What are some examples of brands that are supporting and/or highlighting Indigenous communities the right way?

Many brands are doing things right. I will again mention beauty company Sephora partnered with the NWAC to run a roundtable on Indigenous beauty to find out where they could improve. And they’ve acted on their learnings.

TikTok, likewise, has taken the time to reach out to us to ask for guidance on how to get engaged with Indigenous people and communities. And, over the past few years, we have worked closely with Hootsuite, providing advice and information.

But others are also making great strides.

I would point to the National Hockey League which has been unreservedly vocal in denouncing the racism directed at Indigenous hockey players. The Calgary Flames opened their season with a land acknowledgement.

Ahead of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the #Flames wore orange jerseys for the morning skate and the day will be recognized prior to puck drop tonight 🧡 pic.twitter.com/appz0sN7c9

— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) September 29, 2021

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This would not have happened 10, or maybe even five, years ago. But society is changing, corporate behaviour is changing, the world is changing. And social media has had, and will have, much to do with that.

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How To Win at TikTok (According to TikTok)

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That’s how Khartoon Weiss, TikTok’s Global Head of Agency & Accounts, described the world’s most downloaded app at The Gathering, an annual business and marketing summit held in Banff, Canada.

What’s the distinction?

People don’t “check” Tiktok. They watch it. And, Weiss says, “that small pivot in behavior is everything.”

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Bonus: Get a free TikTok Growth Checklist from famous TikTok creator Tiffy Chen that shows you how to gain 1.6 million followers with only 3 studio lights and iMovie.

So what does it mean for marketers?

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In this post, we’ll share key takeaways from Weiss’s on-stage presentation. But that’s not all!

Weiss shared more detailed insights at one of The Gathering’s intimate “inner sanctums”. And we’ve got the scoop for you below.

Embrace the shift from Me to We

TikTok is not a platform for YOLO, FOMO, and selfies. Instead, it’s familial and inclusive.

You see into everyone else’s living room. And they see into yours.

It’s a collaborative space that rewards optimism. “Microcommunities” crystalize around hashtags like #crafttok, #planttok, and #DIYtok.

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The experts within these communities share “complex information boiled down so usefully”. This in turn creates even more experts and more knowledge to share.

@housetohomediy

#learnontiktok #diytiktok #diytok #painterstape #oddlysatisfying #painting

♬ Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man

As a brand, this means you need to focus on providing entertainment or edutainment.

Find your place in these existing communities and contribute value that’s uniquely yours. Turn your assets into multiple TikToks and learn as you go what works for your brand.

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And leave the comments on your content open – the community will tell you what they think. Use their insights to guide your ongoing TikTok strategy.

Be real, not retouched

You know who’s not big on TIkTok? The Kardashians. “We keep it real on TikTok,” Weiss said. “They are not accepted at the scale of a Jessia.”

So who’s Jessia? A Vancouver-based singer who went from this:

@jessiamusic

TikTok is too beautiful 😂 #Welcome2021 #RareAesthetic #belly #🍑 #pretty #fun #fyp #neverseentwoprettybestfriends #wtf #bop #trash #newyear #new

♬ original sound – JESSIA

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To this:

@jessiamusic

Tour with @OneRepublic was a dream 💙 #nexttime #onerepublic #tour #pov #tour #tourlife #fyp

♬ Next Time by Jessia – JESSIA

After her song caught fire as a body positivity anthem that spawned countless TikTok duets.

On TikTok, it’s all about “the language of the next generation and the new digital media behaviors.”

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“It’s challenging if you want it to be great, but the community doesn’t have a problem with accepting whatever it is you want to put out there,” Weiss said.

And that community acceptance is critical. TikTok’s algorithm focuses on a content graph, not a social graph. That means what you see in your feed is what the community brings to the surface, rather than who you follow.

On this front, #smallbusinesstiktok is leading the way. How? You guessed it: by telling real behind-the-scenes and product-creation stories.

“Small businesses have taken their creativity and turned it into content and now it’s automatically commerce,” Weiss said.

@frolic_creations

Guess what scent they will be? 😋 #smallbusiness #ZFlipClackdown #halloween #spooktember #spookyseason #slimemonster #cute #newproductalert #cutesoaps #foryou #froliccreations

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♬ original sound – Meg ✌

Real, genuine stories create that visibility in the content graph. And the best people to tell those genuine stories about your brand may not (yet) work for or with you.

Understand the power of creators

“We’ve redefined what celebrity means,” Weiss said. “And we’re the driving force behind the migration from the attention economy to the creator economy.”

A key example? Just like Jessia, 7 of the 10 nominees for Best New Artist at the 2022 Grammys gained at least some of their momentum from TikTok.

Creators fuel discovery. And discovery creates demand.

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“We consume things, and we convert on product, because it embodies the communities and the people we want to emulate,” Weiss said.

For marketers, this means empowering and learning from creators who understand the platform.

@andrea.animates

#ad made a new level on @candycrushsaga 🍬

♬ original sound – Andrea Love

Unlearn everything you’ve learned,” Weiss said in her inner sanctum. “It’s not how the next generation speaks. You’ve always had agencies consult you – why wouldn’t you let creators? Creators will help you unpack your brand and think about ways to connect with your audience.”

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View discovery as lower funnel (aka #tiktokmademebuyit)

“When every touchpoint becomes an opportunity to buy, every strategy becomes a commerce strategy,” Weiss said. “It’s a brave new world where media and entertainment have found their way to content, creator, and commerce.”

Rather than social commerce, TikTok likes to think of this as “community commerce.”

“Thousands of creators are jumping in, and they are delivering product efficacy and product advocacy,” Weiss said.

Witness the case of 54-year-old Trinidad Sandoval:

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She created a nearly 3-minute TikTok showing her go-to eye cream in action. Trinidad thought only her 70 followers would see it. Nope.

She went viral and led the 10-year-old product to sell out virtually everywhere within a week.

@trinidad1967

♬ original sound – user3761092853451

This wasn’t a paid partnership – it was brand loyalty and advocacy in action.

This all adds up to one important lesson for brands: TikTok is not like other platforms, and it’s impossible to fake your way to success.

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Above all: Be real and put the community first. Create a great product. Build that loyalty. And the community will fuel the discovery of your brand.

Want to learn more about how to get the most from TikTok? Check out the resources below!

Grow your TikTok presence alongside your other social channels using Hootsuite. From a single dashboard, you can schedule and publish posts for the best times, engage your audience, and measure performance. Try it free today.

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Schedule posts, learn from analytics, and respond to comments all in one place.

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