5 ways to develop a long-term strategy for diversity, equity & inclusion on social media

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As the United States is experiencing the largest social movement in history, it’s become clear that inaction and silence are no longer options for brands.

People expect the companies they shop with and the organizations they support to take a stand—in fact, 70% of U.S. consumers say it’s important for brands to take a stand on social and political issues. Furthermore, 67% of people believe brands are effective at raising awareness around important public issues when they speak out on social media specifically.

As a social media manager, perhaps you’ve created campaigns in the past for Black History Month, Women’s History Month or Pride, or posted about holidays recognizing marginalized groups of people. You might have recently published a corporate statement in support of Black Lives Matter and racial justice.

That’s all a great start. These campaigns and posts suggest that your organization is aware of the issues and has internal buy-in to be vocal about your values and role in facing injustice. However, as God-is Rivera, Twitter’s Global Director of Culture and Community, recently wrote:

This is not a fad or a ‘moment.’

While it seems like the entire world is paying attention to this fight for equality now, it’s a battle that Black Americans have been fighting for centuries. It’s important to recognize that this movement existed well before the recent protests and will live on long after. This community wants to know that you’ll show up for them even when it’s not popular to do so.

Brands need to go beyond a one-time statement about diversity on social media. As social marketers, we should be integrating diversity, equity and inclusion into our social strategies for the long term. To do that successfully, we need to focus on both internal and external steps to ensure the efforts are authentic, sustainable and helpful.

Here are five of the ways we’ve approached this at Sprout. We’re constantly learning, so we’d love to hear more thoughts and ideas from you on Twitter.

1. Recognize your brand’s role.

It’s natural to feel a sense of urgency when it comes to addressing racial injustice. In the context of your brand’s response, however, it’s important to take a step back to determine what role your brand should play in this conversation and what your audience is expecting from you.

Developing your brand’s position isn’t something that social can do in a silo—if you aren’t already, work with other brand and communications stakeholders to have these conversations. It’s all well and good to create social content, but developing your brand’s position in a way that’s rooted in your business and values will ensure that you have a sustained, meaningful plan.

How do you determine your brand’s place? Use these questions as a guide.

Ask yourself:

  • Where in the conversation about DEI, Black Lives Matter or systemic inequity does it make sense for our company to weigh in?
  • Where are there gaps in our own organization’s education and how can we further our own education?
  • What questions might our audience have right now where we could provide helpful, valuable insight?
  • How can we be there for those in our brand’s community who are looking for support or resources from us?

Most brands simply aren’t expert authorities on racial justice, and it’s completely fine if that’s not your brand’s place. Maybe your focus will be on sharing resources, or using your data to talk about how this issue relates to your customers or industry, or increasing representation in your content. Every brand and community are different, and 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.

Speak to your expertise, with your lens. For example, the McBride Sisters Collection, a wine company, offered their followers specific tips on how to keep up this momentum by supporting black-owned wineries:

Similarly, Red Bay Coffee joined the call for major retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to black-owned businesses:

As you determine your brand’s role and direction, it’s important to keep checking in throughout content creation to ensure your brand messaging is appropriate and contributes to the larger conversation.

2. Prioritize representation.

On June 10, Black women took over white women’s Instagram accounts for day as part of an action called #ShareTheMicNow. 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.”

When setting these 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 provider POP Fit comes to mind here: Their mission is based on representation, inclusivity, and body positivity—and their unretouched images of a diverse group of models show it!

Instagram example from POP Fit clothing showing a feed of diverse, unretouched images

How to improve representation:

  • Choose your models and images with intention. For example, according to the Census, the U.S. population is 18% Hispanic or Latinx, 13% Black or African American, 6% Asian and 3% multiracial. A U.S. brand can keep that in mind while putting together creative assets and gauging representation.
  • Credit BIPOC content creators and creators from other underrepresented groups for their work. External representation of your internal team counts, too!
  • Enlist your followers. Your brand’s social media pages present an opportunity to uplift marginalized voices. Seek out and share user-generated content 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.

At Sprout, our very own Kristen Rice, a Senior Marketing Analyst, recently moderated a discussion in the Social Marketers’ Exchange community with Stephanie Morgan, Social Media Specialist at Givelify, and Talisa Beall, Social Media Manager at Idea Grove. Check out the conversation below to learn how to incorporate diversity into your current social strategy and how to take a stand in an authentic way.

3. 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. It goes beyond announcing a donation or new diversity goals and shows the many ways that DEI is a long-term commitment for your brand.

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 racial justice resources, organizations and materials that 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. For example, financial solutions provider Esusu had already been providing rent relief in the wake of COVID-19. Their recent post addressing police violence encourages disproportionately affected Black renters to apply to the assistance program:

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 (more on that in section five) and develop a plan to tell your employees’ stories and show your company’s actions on social.

4. Check yourself.

It’s important to remember that your approach shouldn’t focus only on sharing the DEI work your brand is doing. Instead, your approach should 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 diversity, equity and inclusion 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.

5. Understand your organization and your sphere of influence.

We started by talking about external representation, but we can’t really do this work without looking inward. Before you can publish anything on social, it’s important to have an understanding of the DEI landscape within your organization.

What your brand says and does on social media should be a direct reflection of your organization’s values and actions. When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, 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.

If you aren’t sure what your company is already working on internally when it comes to DEI, start a conversation with your manager or your human resources contact to learn more about what your organization is doing. In the meantime, focus on the elements you personally can control and make change there. Depending on your role, those might be things like internal representation when developing new ideas, representation within social creative, who your brand Retweets or where you source UGC, etc.

Here are a few questions you can research and ask within your organization to start the conversation.

Internal questions to inform your social strategy:

  • What is your company’s DEI strategy? What are the main areas that your brand is focused on?
  • What stance did your company take on Black Lives Matter and what were the next steps covered there?
  • How has your audience responded to communication about this topic in the past? Are there areas of your company’s efforts that they were particularly interested in?
  • How is your approach to DEI integrated with your employer brand? How do you represent your employer brand on social today and what could you add or change?

These questions will help you understand where your organization is focused today and develop a social strategy to support those efforts and share them with your audience. They will also help you identify potential problem areas or gaps that your audience might point out on social and proactively connect with the right internal stakeholders to support responses and share feedback.

If your organization can achieve it, there are many ways to take your efforts to social media.

How we move forward

At Sprout, we prioritize DEI throughout our organization and our day-to-day in a number of ways. In spite of the progress we’ve made, we also recognize that there is still room to improve. It will come in the intentionality of asking the questions presented here, answering honestly and prioritizing BIPOC and other marginalized voices at every turn.

It’s time to get it right, and that means correcting mistakes, seizing opportunities to learn and contributing to equality and justice. It’s the only way forward.

Looking for inspiration on what to do next and want to connect with other social professionals wondering the same?

Check out our Social Marketer’s Exchange Facebook group to connect with your fellow marketing peers and share best practices, tips and more. Agency marketers can also join The Agency Exchange.

This post 5 ways to develop a long-term strategy for diversity, equity & inclusion on social media originally appeared on Sprout Social.

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