Diversity on social media is crucial. However, accomplishing diversity on social media is not a job that can be accomplished solely by your social media manager, or by posts alone.
Truly embracing diversity in marketing requires cross-organization collaboration, a sustainable strategy and internal work first.
People expect the companies they shop with and the organizations they support to take a stand. In fact, according to the 2022 Sprout Social Index™, 40% of consumers will pick a brand over a competitor because the brand aligns with their values.
Your team has likely created campaigns in the past for Black History Month, Women’s History Month or Pride. And you may have made commitments to supporting marginalized communities and DEI. In fact, more than half of marketers say their company has adopted more communication internally and externally about DEI values, according to a recent Sprout Social survey of 300 marketers.
That’s all a great start. But diversity in social media must be incorporated into your long-term strategy—not just when a hashtag is trending. And that requires work inside of your organization, and out. Use this article to guide your diversity efforts.
What to consider as you emphasize diversity in marketing
Diversity in marketing isn’t a nice-to-have—it’s a must-have to ensure you’re truly representing and building trust with your audience.
According to Pew research, the “post-Millennial generation” is the most ethnically and racially diverse. Truly representing your audience means they can see themselves in your organization’s marketing materials, and within your organization.
This impacts your bottom line, too, and will continue to. According to a recent Sprout Social survey, 66% of respondents said they were more likely to buy from brands showcasing people of diverse races, gender identities, ages and more.
From including more diversity in social media images, to identifying when to add your voice, diversity in marketing must be done mindfully and authentically. It’s all well and good to create social content. But developing a strategy for diversity in marketing rooted in your business and values will ensure that you have a sustained, meaningful plan.
As you get started, here are two things to consider:
1. Start from within
Diversity in marketing is external. But we can’t do this work without first looking inward.
Before you can publish anything on social, it’s important to have an understanding of the DEI landscape and values within your organization.
When it comes to DEI, content developed in a communications or creative silo risks coming across as performative if your company’s commitments and activities don’t back it up. After all, 91% of 25-40 year olds think social media has increased accountability for businesses.
If you don’t know what your company is already working on when it comes to DEI, start a conversation—here are a few questions to ask internally:
- What is our company’s DEI strategy? What are the main areas our brand is focused on?
- Where are the gaps in our own organization’s education and how can we further our knowledge?
- How has our audience responded to communication about these topics in the past? Are there areas of our efforts they were particularly interested in?
- How is our approach to DEI integrated with our employer brand? How do we represent our employer brand on social, and what could we add or change?
- Does our workforce reflect our audience and our DEI commitments?
In the meantime, focus on the elements you and your team can control and change. This might be internal representation when developing new ideas, representation within social creative, who your brand Retweets or where you source user-generated content.
For example, Target’s social feed is visually extremely inclusive, right down to their UGC—and they often back this up with the products they offer.
Every brand and community are different. If you want your social media approach to resonate with your audience, it’s important to develop a plan that’s truly representative of your brand.
2. Know where you can add authentic value
What your brand says and does on social media should be a direct reflection of your organization’s values and actions.
No brand will be able to speak up on every issue (although some will require speaking up), or jump on every celebration. But your brand values can help guide what to prioritize, where you can add expertise and where you can show up authentically—not in a performative way.
Ben and Jerry’s, for example, is known for having strong, clear values—and sticking to them. They have a landing page that outlines their brand values and commitment to DEI.
And they use their social channels to back these values up with content they produce, or relevant content they reshare from other people or organizations they want to amplify.
Election day is November 8! Make a plan to cast your ballot and make your voice heard.
Find Change is Brewing near you: https://t.co/p9sH8jm3nu
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) November 3, 2022
In the context of your brand’s responses and actions, take a step back to determine what role your brand should play in larger conversations and what your audience is expecting from you.
How do you determine your brand’s place? Ask yourself and cross-team stakeholders questions like:
- What are our company values, and how can we connect these to more diversity in our marketing efforts?
- What stances has our our company taken in the past? What cultural moments have we activated on? What were the next steps we outlined, or how can we improve?
- Where in larger conversations about DEI, equity, policy or systemic inequity does it make sense for our company to weigh in?
- How can we be there for those in our brand’s community who are looking for support or resources from us?
- Are we living up to the values we claim to uphold?
These questions will help you understand where your organization is focused today and develop a social strategy to share those efforts with your audience. They will also help you identify potential problem areas or gaps so you can proactively connect with the right internal stakeholders to support responses and share feedback.
Finally, when it comes to contributing to larger conversations, it’s not all about your brand. Maybe your focus will be on sharing resources, using your data to talk about how this issue relates to your customers or industry, increasing representation in your content or amplifying expert voices where it counts.
Prioritizing diversity in social media
DEI efforts cannot exist on social media alone. They must be backed up by your company’s actions, products, commitments and more.
That being said, diversity on social media is crucial to building trust with online communities and consumers. All consumers want to work with brands that share their values, and want to see themselves represented—27% of Gen Z survey respondents said they’re more trusting of brands that represent them in ads.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Highlight representation all year round
Diversity in marketing is a year-round effort. When setting your goals, consider the demographics of your core audience, who currently isn’t represented in your social feed and the specific process you’ll use to increase and track representation in your photos, videos and written content.
Clothing brand Aerie and their #AerieREAL Life initiative comes to mind here. They’re known and celebrated for featuring unfiltered women of diverse body types and backgrounds in their social media content, product photos and campaigns…
— Aerie (@Aerie) June 15, 2022
and in the creators, fans and companies they work with.
Gym day with @jesi stracham! We LOVE how she went all out with the ruched deets on her OFFLINE by Aerie set.
Prioritizing representation on social media also means amplifying underrepresented voices–through content you create, and even passing the mic.
For example, in the #ShareTheMicNow campaign, Black women took over white women’s Instagram accounts for a day. The goal? To center Black women’s voices, work and experiences. More than 40 pairs of women participated with a reach of over 300 million followers, amplifying previously underrepresented perspectives.
Amplifying diverse voices on your brand’s social platforms, as celebrities and influencers did with #ShareTheMicNow, is an intentional, measurable step that companies can take towards fulfilling their commitment to DEI. For example, a brand may set a goal along the lines of, “We will ensure that X% of our social content features Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) or their work.”
How to improve representation:
- Choose your models and images with intention. Gen Z is the most diverse yet. Keep that in mind while putting together creative assets and gauging representation of perspective, backgrounds, identities and religions.
- Credit BIPOC content creators and creators from other underrepresented groups for their work. External representation of your internal team counts, too!
- Ensure your content is accessible: Representation also means removing blockers. Ensure your social posts are accessible: add alt text to images, add closed captions (and edit them for accuracy) and, if you have a global audience, consider multi-language campaigns and captions.
- Know your audience. Who is in your audience who may not see themselves enough in your marketing materials? And what communities do you want to reach that your marketing materials don’t reflect?
- Enlist your followers. Your brand’s social media pages present an opportunity to uplift marginalized voices. Seek out and share UGC from underrepresented followers or their networks to pump up their volume and improve representation.
Representation isn’t only about external content, either: It’s about ensuring the internal voices of BIPOC at your organization are heard and taking part in decision-making about your social approach.
2. Show, don’t tell
A corporate statement tells your audience what you believe and what you plan to do about it. A long-term social media strategy shows them how your brand is doing what you promised, and the ways that DEI is a long-term commitment for your brand.
Instead of showing me your diversity statement, show me your hiring data, your discrimination claim stats, your salary tables, your retention numbers, your diversity policies, and your leaders’ public actions against racism.
End performative allyship.
— Dr. Monica Cox (@DrMonicaCox) July 8, 2021
Make a plan to highlight your employees’ actions and your brand’s ongoing work in your social media strategy. This could focus on education; for example, if one of your initiatives focuses on internal education and dialogue, you can share the resources and organizations your team is learning about with your audience.
If your team is focused on volunteering, use your platforms to highlight your team members and their stories of impact when it comes to serving the community. This gives you an opportunity to promote nonprofit organizations and show the world who makes up your team and what they care about.
And of course, if your brand is making a financial commitment, communicate it clearly and make sure to follow up to cover how that money has been donated or spent. Foot Locker’s LEED initiative includes a $200 million commitment to the Black community. Since the program’s 2020 launch, they’ve regularly provided updates on where this money is going, and how they’re following through on their promises.
LEED is our commitment to invest in, amplify, and empower the Black community that has been pivotal in shaping sneaker culture!
We celebrate our business partners and their life changing stories! #FTLLEED #NationalBlackBusinessMonth pic.twitter.com/PHr071GQI9
— Foot Locker (@footlocker) August 3, 2022
The ability to make financial commitments ranges from company to company, but fortunately there are many ways to help and to be part of a movement rather than just posting about it.
How to provide solutions:
- Research how racism affects your industry and create or recommend, promote and amplify anti-racist resources like books, podcasts, industry thought leadership and more.
- Get your company involved with the movement via volunteering (remotely if necessary), and invite your followers to do the same.
- Learn about your company’s efforts and develop a plan to tell your employees’ stories and show your company’s actions on social.
3. Check yourself
Your approach shouldn’t focus only on sharing the DEI work your brand is doing. Instead, focus on how you bring the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion to all of the work you do. All of your content and initiatives should be evaluated through that lens, even when they don’t specifically relate to your brand’s DEI efforts.
If you’re not thinking about DEI before publishing any of your content, you run the risk of coming off insensitive at best. Take, for example, the fashion industry. Statements about solidarity and diversity in social media posts feel inauthentic when brands’ products, decisions and content have historically showcased a lack of diversity and been hurtful as a result.
But fear of making a mistake should not hold us back. Instead of running from the solution, take time before making a post or finalizing a campaign to think about the impact of your content.
When developing campaigns and content, ask questions such as:
- Are we appropriating elements of a marginalized culture?
- Are we using insensitive language or phrases that have racist origins or insensitive connotations?
- Are we amplifying the voice of someone who is considered racist or harmful to the BIPOC community?
Make it a habit to filter your content through a lens of equity, and be ready to get it wrong sometimes. Doing the work behind the scenes will give you a stronger product when it’s time to hit publish. And, if you do make a mistake and receive critical feedback, you’ll be able to reflect on the process you went through to determine what went wrong and how to improve in the future.
How to prepare:
- First, talk with your team about the potential for missteps. Together, you can come up with a social response plan that covers who to inform if negative or constructive feedback appears, who responds or approves responses and anything else your team deems helpful.
- Make intentional space in your strategy for feedback to learn from your experience.
- Accept criticism with an open mind and a goal of understanding.
- Be brave and prepare for mistakes. You will mess up, and you will need to bring it up to leadership when it happens in order to have productive conversations and move forward.
Mistakes are how we learn. Growth happens outside of our comfort zone, and we need growth now more than ever. Now is the time to be open to criticism and change.
Hire diverse teams
Remember how we mentioned that diversity in social media starts from within?
Hiring diverse candidates should always be a priority, and there are plenty of reasons why this can positively impact your business (beyond just being the right thing to do).
Diverse teams enrich content and stories
More diverse teams generate more diverse ideas.
This extends to your team, and to the creators and agencies you work with, too.
“Diverse content comes from diverse, innovative perspectives,” Sprout’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion Cassandra Blackburn tells us. “We also know that diverse teams drive innovation–it literally increases the range of perspectives in a room.”
Beyond inspiring more unique content, more perspectives on your team also helps bust bias. This can help stave off mistakes that even the most well-meaning teams can make in social content and campaigns.
Cassandra said it best: “If you build a diverse team and network, your content will follow.”
Next steps: Audit your hiring materials for bias, and review the perks you offer employees and company culture.
For example, research shows that women are more likely to feel they need to meet job postings’ full criteria. Eliminating the college degree requirement can expand your candidate pool. And a recent Atlassian study highlighted that location flexibility may expand your talent pool.
— Gokce Tuna, PhD (@G_innovates) January 11, 2023
Diverse teams have a positive business impact
Diversity sparking innovation doesn’t stop at creative content. These teams can have a serious impact on your company’s bottom line.
Research has shown that more diverse teams create a high-performance environment. And companies with more diverse management teams and decision makers see higher revenue.
As Cassandra put it, “Diverse teams are critical to the success of any company. Research from McKinsey shows companies that have a more diverse workforce outperform industry norms by an average of 35%.”
Next steps: Look at your teams and decision makers—are these as diverse as they can be? Are there leadership opportunities that can be provided or expanded to extend opportunities to more diverse internal candidates?
Diverse teams enforce your values
A company can say they prioritize DEI all day.
But if a company that prioritizes diversity in social media lacks diversity behind the scenes, that doesn’t bode well for their reputation or trust.
As Cassandra put it, “The world’s demographics are shifting and the public increasingly relies on social media to understand which companies align to their values,” Cassandra says. “A diverse social media team ensures you can maintain your brand’s reputation with your target market.”
Next steps: Review those values again, then look within. Are your current diversity goals being met?
Diverse teams improve company culture
Cassandra put it best: “All people want to work with and for companies that live their values. Companies seeking to diversify their talent without investing in their people won’t succeed in maintaining that talent.”
It’s no question that diversity has a positive impact on company culture. In fact, according to a Deloitte survey, Millennials are more likely to feel engaged at work when they feel their workplace fosters an inclusive environment.
Being challenged with new ideas and perspectives also helps teammates think in new, sharper ways than a homogeneous group would. In fact, research has shown that diverse teams make better decisions 87% of the time.
Next steps: Celebrate your teams. Create a meet the team social post series showcasing your team members’ stories and uplifting the diverse voices within your organization. This builds connection with your employees (and with prospective talent) in an authentic way.
Prioritize diversity in social media and in marketing now
If you haven’t started prioritizing diversity in social media, now’s the time to start.
But this work cannot be done within a silo, or by one person. Nor can this work solely be done externally.
Your social media efforts should be backed up by your internal efforts. Work across teams and across your organization to kickstart real change. Next up, check out our social media for global brands article to help you along the way.
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