So you posted a black square, now what?

For years, people of color have spoken out about the inequalities across industries when it comes to opportunities, equal pay and overall acceptance and value placed on them being their authentic selves. As it relates to social media strategy, many brands opt to erase comments when a diversity issue is addressed than to address it and take a true stance.  Before the unfortunate death of George Floyd, businesses were not willing to listen, answer emails or return phone calls when people like me wanted to hold them accountable. For the last few years brands used ‘’Diversity and Inclusion’’ as buzz words, yet had no true call to action and continued showing able-bodied, skinny white people in their campaigns and messaging. 

On the morning of June 2, 2020, at a peak of frustration, a social media movement spread like wildfire and suddenly brands and people who’ve historically been quiet around racial injustices and allyship decided they were going to support ‘’Black Lives Matter.” Blackout Tuesday is a day that will forever be embedded in social media history. To them it was a moment, but to the Black community we knew it was a movement for true change.  A movement that influenced millions, without some truly understanding what they were posting. What was initially the music industry’s protest and show of support by posting a black square on Instagram and not working for the day, became a ‘’Black Lives Matter’’ call to action to all. Before you knew it, by 10am that morning everyone’s Instagram feed was black. 

I remember feeling so proud that people could stand together socially and make a bold statement. But as I continued to scroll, I noticed brands that previously never showed any diversity also posted. ‘’How dare they’’ I thought to myself. ‘’Did they think we’d agree with this?’’ As a Black content creator I found this extremely frustrating, which added to the anxiety and anger we had been dealing with since Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. For many, this action backfired and caused a negative consumer reaction. It left many brands stuck because they posted without a plan. I thought to myself, “so you posted a black square, now what?”

Brands failed to realize how big of a statement they were making by saying yes, your Black life matters and we stand with you. They didn’t understand the responsibility that came with that action. They didn’t realize that posting a black square wasn’t a one-off and that everyone was watching to see what was next.  How were they truly standing with us? They thought we wouldn’t notice when they archived the Blackout Tuesday post, but we did. They thought we wouldn’t be annoyed that suddenly their usual White-only social media feeds were filled with Black faces, but we were and still are. Brands must understand that authenticity can’t be brainstormed and that they must hire people of color to help with their long-term strategy and messaging to be more inclusive. Dear brands, you must do better!

When brands posted that black square, they made the decision to be an ally. That is a 365 days commitment with an indefinite end term. Allyship isn’t predicated on a social media movement, but by your character and intentions offline. What are you doing when you’re not on display? Are you hiring people of color internally, so your brand is naturally inclusive? Have you dedicated a position specifically for DE&I? If you can’t hire someone full-time, are you researching diversity and inclusion consultants who can come in and provide training to your staff on unconscious bias, privilege and how to dismantle negative stereotypes? Have you connected with experts and organizations who have access to inclusive communities?

Horace Flournoy, CEO and Founder of SwayBrand, a two-sided influencer marketplace that specifically provides opportunities for influencers and content creators of color, explains the importance of diversity and representation in marketing strategy.

“The true beauty of SwayBrand is the way we are disrupting how influencers source and execute brand deals. Until now, our ‘culture’ has not properly captured or commanded the economic value and impact  from the trends and movements that we in fact start for brands. We want to uplift voices and break cycles. And simply put, we want to close the influencer pay gap. SwayBrand’s vision is also to create a platform and marketplace to combat the challenges brands face in authentically connecting with multicultural audiences. The reason why brands have traditionally had a hard time with this is because they haven’t done well in hiring us to their brand marketing and leadership  positions. We’ve seen countless examples of brands missing the mark in authentically connecting with the  “culture” resulting in very public crises. SwayBrand is a win-win for everyone.” 

It’s time to step up, and properly plan. Your campaigns should be heartfelt, and purpose driven. We’re depending and watching you to see if you kept the same energy a year from now. We’re expecting you to do your own research and take the initiative to be leaders in your space. We’re looking forward to seeing you at those uncomfortable diversity and inclusion sessions so you can continue learning and applying principles to your brand. Nothing changes, if nothing changes and you all have an opportunity to change.

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