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.

What You Should Do if You Go Viral

In today’s digital era going viral is not impossible and in fact it is happening more and more frequently as new media has become more popular than traditional media. It is a fascinating occurrence which is, more often than not, unpredictable and this is what makes it so exciting. Everyone wants to know how to go viral and whilst it is possible to create the framework and conditions for virality through tribe building for example, if we were able to measure or predict the ability to go viral too much it would lose its essence and that sense of collective enthusiasm. Brands and media outlets try to tap into this sensation and if done correctly it works but if forced down people’s throats it can come across as inauthentic. The beauty of “viral sensations” is that they can just be normal people (sometimes influencers who already know what their audience wants and so have been very strategic) who share content at the right moment on social media.

In this video I offer some guidance on how you can deal with going viral and what you should do to capitalise on your moment in the spotlight. Going viral does not guarantee long benefits unless you are willing to do the work and remember that you have to learn how to handle the sudden fame that comes with going viral. You don’t have to necessarily hire a publicist but you should definitely consider investing in media training. I made this video so that when the news cycles move on you have strategies and steps to ensure that you can take advantage of your “15 minutes of online fame”:

Here are a few recent viral clips that have lead to some exciting opportunities and exposure for the people involved.

This adorable video of Zoe Turner trying to speak to get Alexa to play her favourite song “Baby Shark” and it soon went viral across social media and achieved plenty of press coverage:

Osh with “My Yé Is Different To Your Yé” has had extensive media coverage from a viral clip that was posted on his instagram (which has since been removed) and might even end up with a music contract. Who knows? This twitter post suggests that the future is bright:

The Kupe Boys went viral with this clip of them doing the Kupe Dance Challenge – their online influence has gone through the roof and they have gone on international tour…

 

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You may also like this piece on handling the fame of going viral: http://www.ronkelawal.com/2017/01/pr-advice-coping-fame-going-viral.html.

How Much Should You Pay Influencers?

Working with influencers has become an important part of the PR and branding building mix. By working with influencers brands can reach audiences that traditional advertising, PR and marketing campaigns might miss and the ROI can be very beneficial. Influencers very often have a captive audience, their followers have become their digital tribe and so whatever they showcase, discuss, comment on draws the attention of their followers. Influencer marketing therefore has become big business; in the UK alone “one in four Brits has bought a product as a direct result of social influencer recommendations – but 42% called for content creators and influencers to curb the fake news and offensive opinions” according to research from Golin (2018). This highlights the need for transparency from influencers and brands as advertising regulations stipulate that all paid for content should be made clear. If you are willing to pay for content creation the question that often arises, particularly for small brands, is how much they should pay for influencer marketing.  Brands are not always sure how much they should be paying or if they should be paying in the first place.

A few things to keep in mind as you watch this video:

  • Be clear on the audience you want to attract by working with an influencer of any size.
  • Always do your research and due diligence on them – do not get caught up in the follower count of an influencer.
  • Build a relationship with the influencers that you want to work with
  • Be respectful of an influencer’s platform – they cannot be dictated to.

This video will give you some key tips that you should keep in mind when building relationships with influencers. Watch and share your thoughts.

This infographic is a useful tool in understand the value of influencer marketing and includes some useful points to pay attention to including follower count vs engagement.

How Much To Pay Influencers