The Common Sense Guide For Brands That Want to Show Support Without Looking Like Asshats

by Mack Collier

One of the themes last week at #SoMeT13US was how do you create social media content that communicates that your brand supports people involved in a tragedy or situation, without giving them impression that you are simply trying to leverage the situation to promote yourself?

First, you don’t do this:

RandiTweetHere, Randi has taken a holiday that’s important to so many of us, Veteran’s Day, and she’s attempted to leverage the feelings we have for Veteran’s Day to support her book.  This isn’t the first time Randi has gotten into hot-water over an ill-advised tweet.  This tweet doesn’t honor Veteran’s Day or veterans at all, it’s a thinly-veiled promotion for her book, which many people quickly picked up on, which is why she’s caught flack over it.

Now check out how Three Dog Bakery mentioned Veteran’s Day on Facebook yesterday:


See the difference?  The focus is on veterans, not the brand.  But notice that by including dogs in the update, Three Dogs Bakery was able to make the update somewhat relevant to its brand without making it about the brand!  That’s the difference between these two updates.  Randi’s update was about Randi.  That’s why it honked people off.  Three Dogs Bakery’s update was about honoring all veterans, ‘both two and four-legged’.  So the update was about Veteran’s Day and related to the brand.  Since it didn’t directly promote the brand, it didn’t upset people the way Randi’s tweet did.

It’s always risky to use social media to comment as a brand on an event or situation that many people have strong feelings about.  Still, many brands do want to communicate to their customers that they sympathize with their feelings and that they care about the people being affected.

So if your brand feels compelled to use social media to comment on a new event or other situation that many of your customers have strong opinions about, there are three ways you can respond:

1 – Show your support and sympathy for those involved and impacted, without any mention or promotion of your brand.  Unless your brand is a natural part of the story, then it’s incredibly risky to insert them into your update in any shape, form or fashion.  If in the future there is, God-forbid, a tragedy that affects your customers, you want to communicate that your thoughts and support are with those affected, without giving any impression that you are trying to leverage feelings associated with this event to promote your brand.  Remember that emotions will likely be high at this time for your customers, so you don’t want to send them any message that could possibly be misunderstood.

2 – If you must involve your brand in the update, mention ideas and themes related to the brand, not about the brand.  This is exactly what Three Dog Bakery did.  They didn’t insert their brand in the update, they mentioned dogs.  Which are related to its brand.  This is very tricky to do correctly, so be careful.  If it doesn’t pass the ‘smell’ test with you, then don’t post it.  At #SoMeT13US I mentioned that you should have a ‘devil’s advocate’ that comes up with all the possible objections that people might have to your update.  That can help you figure out if the tone and content of the update is too self-promotional or not.  Again, if your audience smells even a whiff of self-promotion from your brand, it will quickly backfire.

3 – Use the event/holiday/situation as an excuse to promote your brand.  This is obviously what you want to avoid in almost every possible situation.  You’re just inviting backlash and anger from the very people you want to connect with.

Before you publish that update ask yourself this simple question:  Where are we putting the spotlight?  If you are putting the spotlight on your brand, then start over.

Roopa Dudley November 13, 2013 at 8:34 am

What an awesome post Mack! I really liked how you used the visuals to explain what you meant. I am grateful to you for this post. It was an eye opener for me.

Mack Collier November 13, 2013 at 8:38 am

Thank you very much, Roopa! Glad it was helpful to you.

Roopa Dudley November 13, 2013 at 8:44 am

How do I buy an “autographed” copy of your book?

Mack Collier November 13, 2013 at 8:46 am

Roopa please email me at and I’ll get you taken care of, thank you!

Kerry O'Shea Gorgone November 13, 2013 at 10:12 am

“It’s always risky to use social media to comment as a brand on an event or situation that many people have strong feelings about.” Absolutely, although you minimize the risk by examining your own motivations prior to posting. Is your overarching goal to express sympathy or solidarity, or is it to shill? If you’re honest in answering that question, you’ll know whether or not to post!

Mack Collier November 13, 2013 at 10:15 am

Great point, Kerry. If the prime motivation is ‘it will reflect well on us’ then you’re likely headed for trouble.

Or maybe a case study on the social media conference circuit :)

Maria Elena Duron December 9, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Hello Mack,

Well done! A really great post, Mack. And, you nailed it that it must be about the event and the people NOT the brand.

Your post was shared in our Facebook #brandchat group in a thread of discussion we had about Spaghettio’s recent mistake around Pearl Harbor Day.

Thanks Mack!

Mack Collier December 10, 2013 at 7:53 am

Thank you Maria! I actually tweeted Spaghetti Os a link to this post, that’s a perfect example of what I was talking about!

Previous post:

Next post: