What Brands Need to Know Before Working with Black Influencers
You want to do better, we know. Start by listening.
We’ve seen the articles [insert brand name] called out for lack of diversity in [insert campaign name] all too often. This isn’t new — what is new, however, are the public outcries and demands for actionable change from brands when it comes to highlighting and supporting Black influencers.
It only took a global pandemic and national uprising against police brutality to get brands to seemingly understand why Black Lives Matter, and that the representation of Black lives in their marketing and throughout their organization is crucial.
As brands and agencies scramble to connect with Black influencers in an attempt to “make things right,” understand that this is not a simple fix. It takes time, intention, self-reflection, and an unrelenting willingness to reconcile years of Black influencers being overlooked and underpaid.
As a Black woman who worked on the agency side for 5+ years specializing in influencer marketing, I’ve seen a lot. From the “well we at least need to have one Black girl in this campaign” to the “can she change her hair, that’s not our style” to the more progressive and intentional “we need more representation in this roster” comments, I know firsthand some of the biases that Black creators face even before getting a fair chance.
I know brands and agencies are eager to do better, or at least try to, but I urge you all to read the room. Be thoughtful and compassionate in your approach, and please, I beg, do not overwhelm Black creators with your unreconciled guilt of contributing to these issues that plague the influencer industry.
I sat down and chatted with a few Black creators and asked them what they want brands to know before reaching out, and here is what they had to say.
“I just want brands to know that it’s really not that hard — pay us what we are worth just like you do our White counterparts and stop making us jump through hoops for even just a small piece of the pie. Don’t try to water us down, let us be who we are when hiring us to do a job. Lastly, back up your PR statement about Black lives mattering and prioritize diversity across your company. It’s going to be impossible to do any better with us as influencers if as a company there is little to no representation of Black employees.”
“We are dynamic and we each bring something to the table that is unique and refreshing. We all come from different backgrounds, family dynamics, and have our own personal preferences. Don’t let societal constructs dictate what it will be like to cast a Black influencer for a campaign. Don’t use Black influencers to just check a diversity box and expect that token Black influencer to represent all of us. It is imperative to truly grasp that we are a dynamic people and in order to represent us they need to cast Black influencers that vary in complexion, shape, style, and all the aspects that make a person unique so that they can truly speak to a diverse audience.”
“When partnering with brands, it’s important that they know that we are well aware of what we’re worth. Absolutely no one knows our audience better than us, the Influencer. We know what converts, we know how to talk to them, we know what they want to see and what they need to hear. That detailed value needs to be reflected in the budget being offered. Every single time.
We are not interested in being your last resort or your only creator of color. We expect brands to value us the exact way that our audience does. As a brand, if you are truly trying to be inclusive and do a better job of consistently highlighting and collaborating with Black influencers, our offers need to match your intentions.”
“For me personally, the most important aspect of creating content is remaining authentic and genuine. Audiences can see right through forced captions and content. I have not and will not ever fake who I am in order to appeal to an audience that may be a different race than me.
I want brands to know that they need to allow Black influencers to be themselves when collaborating with us. We should be allowed to express ourselves how we know best while genuinely promoting a brand. We should not have to hide our true selves in order to make others more comfortable. Allow Black influencers to be creative and free.”
Companies need to understand the power of the Black dollar and respect that power. As an influencer with a predominately Black audience, I am giving brands access to my diverse audience, who’s trust I gained over the years. I will not be quick to accept an opportunity from just any company because they want to be “more diverse.” If it’s not something that I would personally use or see value in, I’m not going to promote it. I’d rather see companies ignite real change or don’t say anything at all. If you don’t have anything to say, that tells me everything I need to know. Companies need to understand that if they are not supporting the Black community, they should not expect Black influencers’ support.
“Adding black influencers to your roster and donating money is not enough! We want to know what your company is doing internally to educate yourselves, hold yourselves accountable, and make LONG-LASTING change. This is a crucial time that we are navigating. Take the time to really deep dive and see where your company has been falling short. Ask the hard questions. Figure out why you’ve previously chosen not to include more Black women on your board, within your employees, or on your influencer roster. We don’t want to be hired as good PR. You should understand, believe in, and support what we’re fighting for and have actionable steps that back that up.”
“We create quality content that deserves equal visibility and the pay to match. It is extremely disheartening to see brands do everything Black except hire Black creators. Brands will use inspiration from Black culture, historic hairstyles, lingo, style, and even hire models who “blackfish” before hiring a Black influencer.
We are not the token Black content creator to throw into the roster just to hit diversity numbers. We are not a prop for appearing to be diverse, we are a worthy investment because your brand values us. We are not too urban, too vocal, or too edgy. We are Black first and content creators second who deserve better than second class pay for the same work as our not of color counterparts. The difference in pay Black influencers experience is a taboo topic but it needs to be brought to the forefront. Use analytics and accolades to gauge worth, not the color of our skin. We create quality content that deserves equal visibility and the pay to match.”
“It’s important to me that brands know that while I am flexible and adaptable while working with them, my image is a part of my brand. So naturally, my hair, my skin, my nails, and my style are all a major part of how my audience identifies with me! It’s important that I am still able to be my authentic self in all my content. I understand brands have standards for their aesthetic, but real people want to see themselves represented in a realistic way how we would normally appear. It’s my goal to make sure my audience knows it’s okay to be who they are and let their creativity shine through their appearance, so I appreciate when brands respect that and allow me to showcase my own aesthetic.”
“I would love for brands to know that they should trust how well I know my audience. I am very aware of the unique buying patterns amongst my diverse and eclectic group of followers. They take their time before trusting a brand or product. It would be in the best interest of everyone to create a campaign strategy that allows me to promote to my audience in the way that they respond to best: several times over a period of time to build trust and confidence.
Also, asking me to promote in exchange for free product is never beneficial for me. I’d rather buy the product without content obligations to give my honest feedback than giving up the time it takes away from my family and work.”
“Brands need to understand that we are also a diverse, multidimensional, creative group of individuals. We’re business owners, have years of experience in Corporate America, understand how to tell compelling stories to a range of audiences, and know how to execute projects with perspective and professionalism. When you approach us, it should be to connect with the person, not the box that they could check.
It’s also important that brands understand that their past actions and approach to diversity in their branding have been noticed. If those actions are not ones you’re proud of, taking ownership and holding yourself accountable to change inspires much more trust and confidence with us, than simply stepping over it and hoping potential partners did not see. Partnerships are the unity of shared values and diverse offerings, and the best partnerships honor that unity with honest communication and sincere intentions. Please hold yourself accountable as you take these next steps towards genuine change.”
“I’d like for brands to know that we want to be represented across the board. It is not enough to invite us to your events and photoshoots without having proper representation. If you want us to be at your photoshoot, we need to feel comfortable in knowing that there will be someone who specializes in our hair type and skin tone. I urge brands to be more thoughtful when hiring across the board and make it a point to hire people who are capable of doing Black hair and makeup. We deserve to not only be invited but to also be treated like every other individual in the room. Representation matters on all levels!”
TLDR: Key takeaways whether you are on the brand or agency side.
- Blackness is not a monolith. Casting one Black influencer to represent our entire culture is smallminded and irresponsible.
- Do not expect Black influencers to accept your new offers, especially if you have not done the work to support Black lives.
- Be honest and transparent in your approach. We understand that mistakes have been made, and we are happy to help be the positive change, but do not include us as a PR stunt all to simply go back to “business and usual.”
- If you want to work with us, have team members who are knowledgable in the nuance of Blackness. People who understand our complexion, who can style our hair, who appreciate our style, aesthetic, language, and more.
- Pay Black influencers what they are worth!