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Signal. Telegram. Mastodon. Discord. Geneva. We’ve recently seen a sudden surge in the social media sector, possibly due to the tenets of Web3, as people ditch larger platforms and flock to ones that provide better security, tighter data privacy and less algorithmic manipulation. The niche subcultures these newer platforms cultivate, focused around specific topics and industries, serve as a throwback to the early internet, rife with forums like Yahoo! Groups and Reddit.
But for Black users, creators and developers, the exodus to smaller, closed social networks isn’t just motivated by a need for security. It’s driven by a quest for ownership. By launching proprietary apps and communities, Black creatives are able to reclaim culture, gatekeeping it from brands looking to appropriate norms and rehash them without providing credit. This is important to consider in a world where the pay gap between Black and white influencers is 22%, and where Black users are 35% more likely to trust any Black media over any general media.
Black-owned social networks offer increasingly equitable methods of monetizing content, more moderation and less censorship, offering digital safe spaces for Black users to present their most authentic selves. This means gaining and maintaining audience trust and credibility. An example of this is Spill, a forthcoming Black-owned social app that aims to prioritize culture, inclusivity and pay equity. Founded by ex-Twitter employees Alphonzo “Phonz” Terrell and DeVaris Brown, Spill has integrated blockchain in order to credit creators for their ideas as well to compensate them for content that goes viral on the platform. Set to launch this quarter, it already has over 50,000 users on its waitlist. There’s also Valence, a social platform for Black professionals frequently compared to LinkedIn, which has raised $7 million from investors.
Pretty much any tech platform can attract a Black audience—Clubhouse proved that—but the difference with these Black-owned apps is that they are built from the start with Black inclusivity in mind, making them more likely to stand the test of time.
But what does all of this mean for marketers? Should CMOs drop “Big Social” from their multicultural marketing mixes for good? Are the days of social executives using Twitter lookalike audiences to target “followers of Fenty Beauty” gone? Not necessarily—but it does mean that marketing leaders must begin to integrate Black-owned communities and apps into marketing plans in a way that is authentic and sustained.
Research and segmentation
The best place to start is researching the Black audience segments you’d like to target based on the level of alignment with your brand. Just like the users in any other audience, recognize that Black users are not a monolith—we are gamers, comic book nerds, musicians, consultants, scientists, historians and more. We all have different purchasing habits, attitudes toward brands and intersections with other identities. Once you have created personas that include these variables and have identified segments that align with your goals, find out where your target users live online. This might be on Black-owned apps, but it could also be in newsletter mailing lists, on blogs or on websites directly. Many of these channels address specific segments of the Black community—for example, Black Girl Gamers, a multiplatform community of over 8,000 Black women that share a passion for gaming.
Once you have figured out the networks you’d like to tap into, the next step is to learn the rules for brands engaging within these spaces. Each Black online community has its own unique set of rules, guidelines and ways of speaking. For example, Black Twitter, the community of Twitter users that discusses Black culture, has made mainstream a variety of terms including “tea” and “on fleek.” The growth in Black-owned communities will result in even more unique dialects online, perhaps driven by companies like Spill, which is “leaning into meme culture” throughout its user experience. Brand leaders should learn these vernaculars, not as a means to co-opt or appropriate them, but to better understand themes and trends that make their audiences tick. This, before enlisting Black employees or agencies to create content that resonates.
Quality beats quantity
Whether or not smaller, community-focused platforms are the future of social media is generally a point of contention for marketing leaders. Some state that the small scale of these platforms mean they can never beat Twitter when it comes to audience reach. But when it comes to multicultural marketing, quality definitely beats quantity. For minoritized audiences, scale isn’t achieved by putting out a message to as many as possible, but by reaching the people who are most likely to engage with or act upon a message. This might mean developing a presence within multiple smaller, targeted networks rather than just one or two larger ones. Digital strategist Sara Wilson coined these smaller networks “digital campfires”—according to Wilson, “If social media can feel like a crowded airport terminal where everyone is allowed, but no one feels particularly excited to be there, digital campfires offer a more intimate oasis where smaller groups of people are excited to gather around shared interests.”
A key benefit for companies that involve digital campfires in their marketing is the ability to reach people in a highly engaged state rather than when they’re mindlessly scrolling. Black users choose to be a part of a community—they don’t choose to be a part of an audience.
Leverage influencer communities
It isn’t just Black tech leaders who are building their own communities to have more autonomy over their content and its monetization. Black influencers are, too. As more and more Black influencers consider their futures on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, creator-owned apps and newsletters should not be ignored.
Boasting an Instagram following of over a million users, Black lifestyle influencer and tech entrepreneur Hannah Bronfman has launched beauty and wellness community app HBFIT to have more freedom over what she shares online. On a recent podcast, Bronfman enthused, “I don’t know where Instagram is going to be in five years. Long-form content and storytelling is what I truly love to do, and there’s not really a platform anywhere for that, so I thought I’d make it myself. This isn’t like a Patreon. This is my own app that I own, and I think that is starting to look like what, maybe, the future of influencing is.”
Overall, the benefits of companies that adopt a community-led multicultural marketing approach, in contrast to one led by Big Social, shouldn’t be taken lightly. You’ll be able to convert Black users into long-standing brand advocates by reaching them in more inclusive environments where they are fairly compensated for their ideas.