5 Ways to Keep Your Food Brand in the Social Media Conversation in 2021

As we say goodbye to 2020 — a most unprecedented year — social media food marketers find ourselves yet again in a tenuous position. We have to plan campaigns for the next year, set KPI goals and start negotiating contracts and partnerships. However, contrary to the hopes we had in March, the pandemic has not passed. And if we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that even the most well-laid plans may be subject to change.

If the word “pivot” makes you cringe at this point in the year, you’re not alone.

A new wave of lockdowns and restrictions may bring us full circle for Q1. However, we’re better prepared to expect the unexpected! Don’t let uncertainty about the future dampen your plans for 2021. It’s time to work within the constraints of the “new normal,” not in spite of them.

Here are five social media strategies to take into the New Year to ensure your food brand stays at the forefront of the conversation across your brand’s channels, no matter where it may go.

Give Consumers an Escape — But Don’t Be Tone-Deaf

It’s no secret that the general population is feeling more anxious, uncertain and mentally depleted than pre-pandemic. Whether it’s concerns about the shifting political landscape, the economy, job instability, health risks or juggling work and family life, your customers have a lot on their minds. Give them something to smile about as they scroll.

It starts with understanding who your online community is so you can anticipate their full range of emotional needs. In these times, it’s completely acceptable to post your most indulgent recipe one day and offer self-care tips the next. Talk to your followers the way they’re talking to each other. A “we get it” attitude is just as relevant in January 2021 as it was in April 2020.

#1 Memes have never been better. Find one your brand can riff on.

Is your food brand’s tone of voice on social media earnest and helpful? Silly and playful? Snarky and irreverent? No matter how edgy or conservative your persona is, there’s an internet joke that you can jump in on in an organic way. You can use the highly engaging “Choose Your Quarantine House” template to showcase your wide variety of products like Hidden Valley Ranch did, an evergreen meme format like the “Upstairs Neighbor Starter Pack” to support a product selling point like RXBAR, or the “How It Started/How It’s Going” setup for a way to tell your brand’s heritage story like Snickers.

The key to doing it right as a food brand? Be timely! Trendy memes typically have a short life span, so a surefire way to seem out of touch is to post one a week after the moment has passed and your customers have moved on to the next thing.


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A post shared by RXBAR (@rxbar)


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A post shared by SNICKERS (@snickers)

This brings us to our next point …

#2 Be prepared to move quickly on social.

Part of expecting the unexpected means setting up a strategy and content generation machine that’s agile. While you can’t predict when the next “Tiger King” will sweep the nation, you can arm your team with tools and processes to be able to act at a moment’s notice. When you’re able to be part of a collective experience as it’s happening, this signals to your customers that you are a brand who is relatable and relevant.

#3 Find the right “hashtag holiday” for your food brand.

There’s a “hashtag holiday” every day — in fact, there are several every day. And there’s a reason why it feels like new ones are popping up all the time: They work. The benefit of building a strategy around hashtag holidays is twofold:

  • Your brand gets to capitalize on a trending topic (hello, organic reach); and
  • It encourages people to post about the day — hopefully in relation to your brand.

When you publish a post about #NationalTaterTotDay, it tells your super fans that such a day exists, reminds them to go pick up a bag of your tater tots and may even result in their own post about how they’re celebrating the day!


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A post shared by Chips Ahoy! (@chipsahoy)


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A post shared by California Walnuts (@cawalnuts)


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A post shared by Alexia Foods (@alexiafoods)

There are many ways you can approach a brand-relevant hashtag holiday — consider hosting a giveaway, partnering with an influencer or creating something highly shareable that showcases your brand. Not sure where to start? Download our complete guide to hashtag holidays for 2021 to find the right ones for your food brand.

Rethink How You Partner With Social Influencers

The influencer model isn’t going anywhere in 2021. However, there are some ways that 2020 has changed the game. It’s impossible to ignore the impact TikTok has made in the marketing industry and on internet culture at large. Suddenly, nearly anyone can have a massive audience — not just those who have carefully curated an aesthetic on Instagram. This shift requires a new playbook for food brands but also presents a big opportunity. Set aside some of your budget for 2021, and be prepared to use it in ways you’re not accustomed to.

#4 Develop an influencer gifting program.

While you’re not likely to manufacture a viral trend that Gen Z will adopt en masse, you can still ride the wave of some viral moments as a food brand. Martinelli’s, the 152-year-old apple juice and sparkling cider brand, is a great example of this in action. They employ social listening tactics to identify people within their target market who are picking up steam on social media.

Next, they proactively reach out, offering to send them free product. From the adorably polite @greyandmama trying his first sparkling cider to the savvy reviewer @theshirleytempleking, they’ve shipped apple juice to rising stars right in their demographic. The result: They associate themselves with the most trending names, earning massive impressions — all for the cost of shipping.

What’s the lesson here? Pay attention to what’s happening on social media, find where the Venn diagram overlaps with your food brand and shoot your shot! Consider a regular cadence of proactive gifting (tap into key moments throughout the year, seasonality, product releases, etc.), and be ready to say “yes” when someone reaches out to partner with you. You never know who will catch fire!

Invest in Video — Even More

Content has been trending toward video for years, starting with the launch of tools like IGTV and Facebook Live. Of course, now there’s TikTok. While TikTok may feel like a daunting new territory for brands to navigate, the debut of Instagram Reels tells us that this short-form video content is the future of how consumers expect to experience social media.

#5 Start making Reels. 

Instagram wants you to make Reels, so they are favoring them in the algorithm. Don’t miss out on this organic reach opportunity!

Chances are you already have content that is ready to be turned into a Reel. Do you have recipe videos? A quick edit can format them for vertical viewing. Set them to the song of the day, add some community hashtags to your caption and watch the organic views rack up.

Another benefit of the TikTok effect is the lower barrier of entry for video content. It’s no longer necessary to have professionally shot, well-lit and highly produced video content. If you have a decent phone camera, you can film a morning smoothie routine featuring your yogurt, and consumers will respond to it because it feels approachable — something they can do in their own kitchen.

Seasoned and Ready to Move Forward With Confidence

As food marketers, we’ve always had to be nimble and adjust to the ebbs and flows of the market. This historic moment we’re in requires the same approach. With the past year of uncertainty now under your belt, you’ve undoubtedly learned a lot that you can take forward. Now it’s time to move into 2021 demystified and ready for whatever may come. As you can see, there are a lot of opportunities in social for bold food marketers who are ready to accept the challenge.

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Bre Rodriguez Social Media Content Manager EvansHardy+Young
Bre Rodriguez, Social Media Supervisor

As a published writer, personal stylist with Stitch Fix and budding graphic designer, Bre supervises the social media strategy for EHY’s roster of clients. Her attention to detail and eye for emerging trends helps her grow each brand’s social footprint via strategic content marketing, advertising and influencer marketing programs.