Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Social Media and Race

Black people use social media a lot.

I’ll pause for a moment until the sound of plates dropping to the floor and crashing dies down.

In our supposedly post-racial America, we claim not to notice race anymore.  However, we clearly do.  We agonize over the ethnicity of cartoon characters, for crying out loud.  Yet I see little discussion in marketing circles of a well-recognized trend--the great acceptance of social media by African-Americans.  The invaluable Pew Internet & American Life Project has followed the trend for years, most recently noting that blacks use Twitter at a rate more than double that of whites (28% vs. 12% overall).

Other sources point to blacks’ use of social media as well.  Let’s explore them and what they mean for marketers.

Bluefin Labs, via eMarketer, recently posted these findings about the most popular TV programs of the first half of the year in terms of social media traffic.

Sure, big-tent programs such as the Superbowl and the Academy Awards made the top 10.  And, overall, sports predominates the list because of its real-time nature.  However, note that the BET Awards made #3 and that NBA games accounted for half of the top 10.  International soccer made one spot, but heavily-watched NFL playoffs and the NCAA bowl games did not.  I think you can see what you’re driving at here.

To give these numbers further context, African-Americans have traditionally adopted emerging technologies quickly, going back to mobile phones.  I’m sure that straightforward explanations as to why exist, but I don’t care to discuss the sociological aspects of the trend.  Rather, let’s discuss what marketers should do about it.

First off, let’s discuss what NOT to do:

Seriously.  Don’t do it.

While I post this video for fun, it underscores a key point.  Marketers should not feel compelled to act more “street” because they suspect that they have a strong social following among African-Americans.  More to the point, doing so will make the brand look foolish at best and racist at worst.  By extension, avoid pandering by mentioning the Martin Luther King holiday and then ignoring black consumers the rest of the year.

Instead, marketers should think about more substantive ways of connecting with black audiences via social media.  So think about the following:
  • Do you have products that have more resonance with black audiences than others?  Talk them up on social media.  Based on the chart above, ABC should focus more on the NBA than on, say, “Nashville” in social media.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Charley Pride has a smaller fan base than even LeBron at this point.

  • Actively seek out and address bias.  You know who has no problem talking about race?  Trolls, that’s who.  If you have a product that appeals to African-Americans or if African-Americans have talked up your brand in the social media space, you can bet that the Archie Bunkers of the web have tried to engage them.  So, use social listening tools, even Google alerts, to keep abreast of discussions with your brand, especially when they devolve into racist arguments.  

    Consider stepping in and setting things straight.  Obviously, marketers need to take care around trolls, who only want to spew nonsense.  However, a few kind words go a long way in cementing a brand’s reputation as one of the good guys.

  • Fish where the fish are.  Actively seek out social discussions on sites oriented specifically to African-Americans.  While sites like serve as analogs to Facebook, even more niche sites exist for categories such as entrepreneurs, athletes and even nerds.  Make sure your brand participates in a meaningful way.

And, for the record, I do take my coffee black.

Not like that!

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