Influencer marketing, also known as branded content or working with creators, is a surefire way to expand the reach of your brand on social media.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to making this strategy work, but with the right planning and research, just about every business can benefit. Let’s look at how to make a social media influencer program work for you.
Bonus: Get the influencer marketing strategy template to easily plan your next campaign and choose the best social media influencer to work with.
What is influencer marketing?
At its simplest, an influencer is someone who can influence others. In influencer marketing, a form of social media marketing, brands pay that person to promote their product or service to their followers.
Celebrity endorsements were the original form of influencer marketing. But in today’s digital world, social content creators with niche audiences can often offer more value to brands. These smaller accounts often have very engaged followers on social media.
So, a social media influencer is someone who wields their influence through social media. When you hire an influencer to promote your products or services, that’s influencer marketing.
Almost three-quarters (72.5%) of U.S marketers will use some form of influencer marketing this year — and that number is only going up over time.
Not convinced that advertising with influencers can lead to real business results? Civic Science found that 14% of 18-to-24-year-olds and 11% of millennials had bought something within the last six months because a blogger or influencer recommended it.
For now, Instagram remains the platform of choice for social influencers. According to eMarketer’s estimates, 76.6% of U.S. marketers will use Instagram for their influencer campaigns in 2023. But keep an eye on TikTok.
While only 36% of U.S. marketers used TikTok for influencer campaigns in 2020, almost 50% will do so in 2023. That would make TikTok the third-most popular influencer marketing platform in 2023.
For example, with over 192,000 followers, creator Viviane Audi works with brands like Walmart and DSW on TikTok:
Types of social media influencers
When you think “influencer,” does the Kardashian-Jenner family pop immediately to mind?
Source: @kyliejenner on Instagram
While these famous sisters are certainly some of the top social media marketing influencers, not all influencers are celebrities.
In fact, for many brands, influencers with a smaller but dedicated or niche follower base might be more effective. Influencers with 15,000 followers have some of the highest engagement rates on all platforms*. The cost, of course, can also be much lower.
Let’s look at the different types of Instagram influencers based on audience size. There’s no strict cut-off for audience size, but generally the types of influencers are broken down as:
Nano-influencers have 10,000 followers or fewer, like mommy blogger Lindsay Gallimore (8.3K followers)
Micro-influencers have 10,000 to 100,000 followers, like lifestyle blogger Sharon Mendelaoui (13.5K followers)
Macro-influencers have 100,000 to 1 million followers, like food and travel creator Jean Lee (115K followers)
Mega-influencers have 1 million+ followers, like TikTok star Savannah LaBrant (28.3M followers)
How much does social influencer marketing cost?
Influencers with extensive reach rightly expect to be paid for their work. Free product might work with nano-influencers, but a larger influencer campaign requires a budget.
For large brands working with celebrity influencers, that budget may be quite large. U.S. spending on influencer marketing, for example, is set to top $4 billion in 2022.
Think about what kind of payment structure makes the most sense for your goals. But be willing to consider the influencer’s needs, too. For example, an affiliate or commission structure might be an option instead of a flat fee, or to reduce the flat fee.
In fact, 9.3% of U.S. influencers said affiliate marketing (through affiliate links and promo codes) was their top source of income.
That said, the most common baseline pricing formula for influencers’ Instagram posts is:
$100 x 10,000 followers + extras = total rate
What are the extras? Check out our post on influencer pricing for all the details.
Remember that micro-influencers and nano-influencers will have more flexible payment terms.
How to create an influencer marketing strategy
1. Determine your goals
The number-one goal for brands using influencer marketing is to reach new target customers. This makes sense, since an influencer campaign extends your reach to that person’s followers.
Notice that the goal is simply to reach new customers, not necessarily to make a sale right off the top. Driving sales is actually the third most common goal of influencer marketing campaigns, after increasing brand awareness and product consideration.
Source: Advertiser Perceptions
Think about how your influencer marketing plan will fit into your broader social media marketing strategy and create measurable goals you can report on and track.
We’ve got a whole blog post on goal-setting strategies to get you started.
2. Know who you’re trying to influence
An effective influencer marketing strategy requires you to speak to the right people using the right tools—and the right influencers.
The first step is to define who your audience will be for this specific campaign.
Developing audience personas is a great way to make sure you understand who you’re trying to reach. Maybe you’re trying to reach more of your current audience—or an entirely new audience.
Once you’ve decided, create a matching set of influencer personas. This will help you understand the qualities you’re looking for in your influencers.
3. Understand the rules
Before you dive into influencer marketing, it’s important to understand the rules. In the United States, those rules come from the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC takes disclosure very seriously. Make sure you build disclosure guidelines into your agreements with influencers.
Influencers must identify sponsored posts. However, they do not always do so. Or they might do so in such a subtle way that the disclosure is effectively hidden or incomprehensible.
In the UK, for example, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigated “hidden advertising” on Instagram and pressed parent company Facebook to commit to changes that make disclosure easier and more clear.
The specific rules vary slightly by country, so be sure to check the most current requirements in your jurisdiction. For the most part, you just need to be clear and upfront so viewers understand when a post is sponsored in any way.
Here are some key points from the FTC:
- Video reviews must include both written and verbal disclosure of the partnership. It must be within the video itself (not just the description).
- The built-in tools on social media platforms alone are not enough. However, you should still use them. Instagram itself now specifies that any branded content (aka influencer marketing) on the platform must use the Branded Content tag to identify the relationship. This adds the text “Paid partnership with [your brand name]” in the post header.
- #ad and #sponsored are great hashtags to use for disclosure. But make sure they’re highly visible and not just tacked on to the need of a long string of tags.
That last point is an important one. Some influencers may be wary about putting the #ad or #sponsored hashtag right up front. But that’s where it needs to be.
Influencers: If “#ad” is mixed in with links or other hashtags at the end of a post, some readers may just skip over it. Be sure to place “#ad,” or “#Sponsored,” or another easily understood disclosure where it easily noticed and understood. Learn more: https://t.co/oDk34TTSxb pic.twitter.com/dB9kj5qlzO
— FTC (@FTC) November 23, 2020
4. Consider the three Rs of influence
Influence is made up of three components:
A relevant influencer shares content relevant to your business and industry. They need to have an audience that aligns with your target audience.
For example, to showcase their inclusive swimsuit sizing, Adore Me partnered with body positive creator Remi Bader.
You wanted to see the back of my bathing suits.. here it is! @adoreme #adoremeambassador
With 3.2 million views on Bader’s TikTok and more than 8,800 likes on her Instagram Reels, the video exposed the line to an impressive organic audience of dedicated followers.
Adore Me also used Bader’s content to create an Instagram ad combined with an Instant Experience. That influencer ad campaign drove a 25% increase in subscription opt-in with a 16% lower cost per customer than their usual Instagram ad campaigns.
Reach is the number of people you could potentially reach through the influencer’s follower base. Remember: a small audience can be effective, but you need to make sure there’s enough of a following to align with your goals.
This is the potential level of engagement the influencer can create with an audience relevant to your brand.
Not to belabour the point, but bigger isn’t always better. As we said above, a huge follower count is meaningless if those followers aren’t interested in your offer. Niche influencers, on the other hand, can have very dedicated and engaged followers.
5. Compile a short list of influencers
When thinking about who you want to work with, the key is trust. Your audience must trust and respect the opinions of the influencers you partner with. Without the trust component, any results will be superficial. You’ll struggle to see a tangible business impact from your efforts.
How do you tell if your potential influencer is trusted? Engagement. You want to see plenty of views, likes, comments, and shares. Specifically, you want to see these from the precise follower segments you’re trying to reach.
A good engagement rate also means a loyal following, rather than an inflated follower count bolstered by bots and fraud accounts. You need to find someone who’s producing content with a look and feel that complements your own.
The tone must also be appropriate for the way you want to present your brand to potential customers. This will ensure things don’t feel disjointed in either party’s social media posts.
6. Do your research
Take a look at what your potential influencers are posting. How often are they sharing sponsored content?
If they’re already hitting followers with tons of paid posts, their engagement rate may not last. Look for plenty of organic, non-paid content to keep followers interested, enthusiastic, and engaged.
Keep this in mind when thinking about what you’ll ask the influencer to post, as well. Asking for too many posts in a short timeframe will make your offer hard for the influencer to accept, even if it comes with a large paycheck.
In-demand influencers get lots of offers. When you first approach an influencer, you’ll need to show that you’ve put in the time to learn what they do.
Make sure you know exactly what their channels are about and who their audience is.
7. Reach out privately, and personally
Start your communication with a new potential partner slowly by interacting organically with their posts. Like their content. Comment when appropriate. Be appreciative, not salesly.
When you’re ready to suggest a partnership, a direct message is a great place to start. If you can find an email address, try that too. But don’t send a mass email or generic DM.
It may take a little longer to write a personal message to each influencer. But, it will show you’re serious about the potential partnership. This will in turn increase your chances of striking a deal.
Provide as much information as you can about your brand. Tell them what you hope to accomplish with your Instagram campaign. Make it clear how the influencer will benefit, beyond the paycheck.
One key thing to keep in mind during this process: You may not actually want to use the word “influencer” when reaching out to potential partners. Content creators prefer to be called just that—creators—and may view “influencer” as a bit of an insult that belittles their work.
8. Collaborate with your influencer to develop effective content
A social media influencer who has worked hard to build a following will not accept a deal that makes their own personal brand seem inconsistent.
After all, influencers are content creation experts. This is why they prefer to be called creators. You’ll get the best value from their work by allowing them to showcase those skills.
It’s a good idea to provide some guidelines about what you’re looking for, of course. But don’t expect to stage-manage the entire campaign.
9. Measure your results
When you launch your influencer campaign, it can be tempting to focus on vanity metrics like likes and comments. If your influencer has a much larger following than you do, you might feel a little dazzled by the sheer number of likes that can rack up.
But to measure the effectiveness of a campaign, you have to understand its value in terms of return on investment. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to measure your campaign’s success.
UTM parameters are one way to track the visitors an influencer sends to your website. They can also help measure how much engagement the campaign receives.
When you assign each influencer their own unique links with UTM codes, you’ll get a clear picture of the results. That allows you to calculate the impact on your bottom line.
The “coupon” link referred to in the above influencer’s post likely had a UTM attached to it so that Royale could track how many sales came from it.
Giving influencers their own discount code is another easy way to track the sales they send your way.
If you use the branded content tools on Facebook and Instagram for your influencer campaigns, you’ll get access to insights for both feed and Stories posts. You can access these through Facebook Business Manager.
You could also request that the influencer send you detailed reports on the reach and engagement levels of their posts.
Influencer marketing tools
Now that you’re ready to get started with influencer marketing, here are some tools to make it easier.
Hootsuite search streams can help you discover influencers by monitoring conversations relevant to your industry across multiple channels.
Once you have an initial set of influencers in mind, add them to a stream to track what they share and who they engage with. This will help you understand their relevance to your audience while highlighting other potential influencers to work with.
This app can search out top content shared by influencers based on topic and location. Use it to identify thought leaders and discover potential influencer partnerships based on the quality of the content they share.
This app provides custom influencer recommendations. It helps predict estimated reach, engagements, and other campaign results and guides you in creating influencer campaign proposals.
Insense connects brands with a network of 35,000 content creators to produce custom branded content. You can then promote the content through ads on Facebook and Instagram, optimize content for Instagram Stories, and use the AI video editor to break up content into multiple videos.
This free tool from Facebook allows brands to connect with pre-screened content creators on Facebook and Instagram.
Influencer marketing platforms
Want to use an influencer marketing platform to connect directly with influencers? Some of the best include:
Make influencer marketing easier with Hootsuite. Schedule posts, research and engage with influencers in your industry, and measure the success of your campaigns. Try it free today.
*Source: Influencer Marketing Hub
Social Media Activism in 2022: How to Go Beyond the Hashtag
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.
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.”
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.
How to use social media to authentically support a cause: 10 tips
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.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 26, 2022
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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
— (((Drew Z. Greenberg))) (@DrewZachary) March 7, 2022
Within a few days, Disney had to acknowledge its mistake and make a lengthy public statement.
— 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.
- 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.
— 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
How Brands Can Support Indigenous Communities on Social—the Right Way
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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?
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:
- Reference the person’s specific first nation and its location
- Reference the person’s nation and ethno-cultural group
- Reference their ethno-cultural group
- Refer to them as First Nations, Mètis, or Inuit
- 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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
The most egregious examples of brand behaviour around the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation are attempts to monetize our pain for financial gain.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a prime opportunity to collaborate with Indigenous creators who are passionate about the larger social issue at hand.
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:
- TikTok Accelerator for Indigenous Creators
- APTN Profile of Indigenous Creators
- PBS Article on Indigenous Creators
- TeenVogue Roundup of Indigenous Creators
- CBC Profile on Indigenous Creators
Most of the National Indigenous Organizations are looking for partners. We, at NWAC, have terrific partnerships with brands like Sephora, Hootsuite, and TikTok.
Applications for the TikTok Accelerator for Indigenous Creators are now open! Indigenous creators, apply by September 15 💫
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.
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.
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) September 29, 2021
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.
How To Win at TikTok (According to TikTok)
What’s the distinction?
People don’t “check” Tiktok. They watch it. And, Weiss says, “that small pivot in behavior is everything.”
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.
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?
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.
The experts within these communities share “complex information boiled down so usefully”. This in turn creates even more experts and more knowledge to share.
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.
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:
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.”
“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.
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.
“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.
#ad made a new level on @candycrushsaga 🍬
“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.”
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:
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.
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.
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!
- The Ultimate TikTok Culture Guide for 2022
- How To Get Verified on TikTok in 2022 [5 Steps]
- How to Get More Views on TikTok: 15 Essential Strategies
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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