Who Really Profits From Black Influence?

Black influence has been making cultural waves across social media platforms since their inception. Before Twitter and Facebook there was MySpace, where Black creatives inadvertently learnt how to code or even further back there was BlackPlanet which some could argue was the dedicated platform for Black collective discourse and debate. Black influence is how Black communities and diaspora groups around the world use the digital landscape to mobilise, educate, inform and entertain whilst also shaping cultural and media landscapes. But as we move into new territory when it comes to influence and social media the question remains who really profits from Black influence and how do members of Black communities ensure that they are not written out of the proverbial history books when it comes to online trends.

Who really profits from Black influence? The short answer to this question is of course the social media platforms and the owners of these social media platforms, founders like Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg and their ilk have managed to give us these “free to use” platforms whilst monetising all of our individual levels of influence.  If we look at who else profits from Black influence then it’s obviously brands, specifically when it comes to trending topics and virality where the focus tends to be Black Twitter. There is also the media outlets who often use Black trending topics for content and commission journalists who aren’t always Black to discuss those trending topics. The focus is often on Black Twitter as a marker for measuring Black influence but there is Black Instagram, Black Facebook, Black YouTube and even Black LinkedIn. They might not have the same impact in terms of online trending topics but they exist.

We also see how the influence of global Black communities has had an impact on newer platforms like TikTok. There was recently a popular discussion about Jalaiah Harmon, the original creator of a dance routine called Renegade which went viral on TikTok who was not being credited for her work until Black Twitter and mainstream media shone a spotlight on her story.  It’s not the first time that this happened, remember when Peaches Monroee, the woman who coined the catchphrase “on fleek” had to create a GoFundMe page to raise money despite her catchphrase being monetised by major brands and even musicians. She didn’t get a chance to monetise her influence quickly enough before the catchprase’s popularity started to wane. There was also the case of Twitter influencer, MinaLioness being used in a popular Lizzo song initially without credit (or royalties) until that case was resolved.  There are a lot of blurred lines and grey areas surrounding copyright and intellectual property rights when things go viral whether it’s viral videos, dance moves or even tweets. But there is still a lot that Black influencers (big and small) can do when they go viral which I’ve discussed a few times before. The key is to be intentional, strategic and responsive in order to capitalise on influence which unfortunately doesn’t always happen quickly enough in the Twitter space. However I have seen that Black influence is easier to monetise on Instagram and YouTube but that is often because content creators or “career influencers” shape those spaces. When a piece of content by someone who isn’t a “career influencer” goes viral, they sometimes struggle to take control of their newfound popularity. While Black “career influencers” make money from paid content/monetised views (on Youtube) even though there is still an ethnicity pay gap which we need to be paying attention to. 


 Black Twitter has a few “Career influencers” who have turned their online engagement via twitter into sustainable opportunities – they often have other activities which they monetise and use twitter to promote those activities. But Black Twitter as a construct is very much about visibility, community sharing, clout and influence. It’s easier for concepts to be swallowed up without credit or cash. There have been quite a few instances when Black Twitter influence has been commercialised while Black voices remain invisible or uncredited. A good example is Love Island. 


At least 50% of the most popular accounts tweeting about Winter Love Island 2020 were Black women as the chart in the above tweet reflects. The show’s collective enjoyment would be greatly reduced without the input of Black Twitter and yet when it’s time for press junkets, media commissions, sustainable influencer marketing campaigns and in house opportunities suddenly it’s a challenge to find talent. I also want to be clear that hiring influencers isn’t enough when it comes to inclusion BUT if we’re talking about making a dent into who profits from influence then of course the minds behind these trends should be paid for their ideas:

If brands and agencies don’t have teams which include Black creatives then the cycle persist; a lack of representation in campaigns or short-lived well-intentioned messages which lack depth. It is really important that brands change both their internal teams to reflect diverse voices. There have been in recent times a few examples of what happens when Black creatives are given opportunities to mobilise Black collective influence. Let’s take Angela Brown, a Black woman and the social media strategist behind the Popeye’s Chicken viral twitter campaign which according to reports led to a significant increase in Popeye’s profits. AdWeek’s Editor credited Black Twitter for making Popeye’s chicken sandwich a sensation with some branches selling out in regions of the US. It is important to note that the restaurant chain is not Black-owned however by at least giving a Black expert an opportunity to direct the campaign one could argue that there her input proved the power of Black Twitter and Black influence. In the UK Melissa Thermidor was the mastermind behind one of the NHS’ most successful digital campaigns, harnessing Black Twitter to discuss donating blood in an appeal to increase the number of Black Donors in the UK.

I recognise that, in a society which revolves around the constant commodification of every aspect of our lives, it is nice to log into certain platforms and get collectively involved in topics of discussed without the pressure of turning those topics into a monetised activity.  However we cannot escape the fact that brands and trends are being shaped by Black influence across multiple platforms and those Black voices who are the helm of those trending topics should most certainly be given the chance to have a slice of the profit pie.

A Conversation on The Let’s Chat Comms Podcast

I really enjoyed this conversation with Phillipa Chikwedze on her Let’s Chat Comms podcast series. Aside from getting the chance to discuss my business journey we talked about all things PR, Communications, Crisis and social media. What I particularly enjoyed about recording this interview was the authentic energy between Phillipa and I. Whilst we have had different journeys within public relations we have had some similar experiences and perspectives particularly as Black women in the industry so it was really good to be able to have an open and honest conversation on this dynamic new platform. I am really passionate about encouraging more Black women to be visible in the industry and whilst this isn’t a conversation specifically about our experience as Black women it indicates how much we bring to the proverbial table and how much we can offer each other and the wider industry.

Let’s Chat Comms is a communications focused podcast platform on which Phillipa interviews individuals in public relations, working in a variety of sectors for an insight into their roles and their career journeys. I hope this podcast series makes an impact across the industry and gives listeners an insight into the PR industry in a relevant and relatable way.

How Blogs can stay relevant in a fast paced new media era

Given that I’m writing this piece on my own blog the immediate answer to the question posed in the title is YES – blogging is still relevant. But in the ever evolving digital media and new media space it is important to consider what factors are at play when it comes to how people are engaging with and consuming content. With a number of major online media platforms like HuffPost, BuzzfeedMic making cuts or going into administration like The Pool it is clear that the digital space is under pressure. Obviously those platforms are driven by different forces than a standard blog but for those who use blogging to engage with their audience there are lessons to be learnt from what is happening in the digital space.

Are Blogs still relevant?There are a number of reasons why blogs are created: individuals want to showcase their passion for a certain area of life (food, travel, parenting, fashion, careers etc) or business brands want to communicate to a wider audience or as a means of income as blogs with high click through rates can attract advertising revenue.  For the purposes of this piece I will put the financial motives of blogging to one side and focus on the content driven motives. In terms of traditional content marketing  blogs are still a great way of communicating with key stakeholders and interest groups and a effective way to showcase thought leadership. Business owners/service providers can use blogs to showcase their skills and knowledge through owned media as opposed to waiting for earned media features/profiles. This is ideal for reputation management purposes and to maintain continued trust with audiences; it also allows for a level of control in terms of framing perception and understanding of a brand or individual.  However things are changing and one wonders whether blogs are still the most effective way reaching new audiences in such a noisy digital space.

Although blogs are originally a form of social media, a variety of social media platforms have put a strain on blog engagement and interaction. According to research conducted by Chartbeat in 2016, the more shares of a link to an article achieved on Facebook did not actually lead to an increase in engagement of the piece being shared. This shows that despite Facebook being a popular platform to share blog posts and articles people aren’t necessarily reading posts – from personal experience it would appear that most people take pleasure in commenting on a headline as opposed to reading the post in full. Instagram has had an impact on how content is consumed, with influencers and content creators who may have started with traditional blogging interfaces now seeing more engagement on their instagram accounts. Let us not forget my personal favourite, twitter is technically a micro blogging platform so aside from having more characters to play with (Twitter increased the character limit from 140 to 280 in 2018) twitter threads have been a popular way of increasing reach and engagement in a compact real-time way that perhaps traditional blogs cannot contend with. But another issue is not only what platforms people are consuming content from but how they choose to consume content. Podcasts and videos have had an impact on how people are consuming messages. More and more people are choosing to tune into podcasts and video content continues to be popular.

All is not lost though! Visual platforms like Pinterest can actually drive traffic to blogs if used consistently and strategically. Blogs can integrate new media formats in a way that maintains authenticity as well as relevance. Authenticity within the blogging arena has always been its winning factor – blogs allow for a targeted approach to communication which connects with a key audience in a way that can sometimes be lost in the busy atmosphere of the digital landscape. And whilst metrics may reflect that engagement or clicks aren’t necessarily at their optimum, should we be measuring a blog simply by the number of clicks  in order to make it relevant? Yes measurement is important probably more so when focus on income generation but surely blogs don’t always have to feed into the same capitalist beast that is causing the demise of those mainstream media platforms I mentioned at the start of this piece. Perhaps what we should really be focusing on is the impact of content not the numbers and if we do blogs will always be relevant.