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How to Create a Diverse, Inclusive Online Community
Diversity is a hot button issue nowadays. The country is moving towards a more multicultural and diverse environment, with diverse audiences possessing significant buying power. It's important for brands and marketers to recognize this immense potential.
Editor's note: This is a guest post by Nailah Blades.
The thing I enjoy most about running is not the “runner’s high.” It’s not the sound of my feet hitting the pavement or even knowing that I’m keeping my body healthy and strong. The thing I love most about running is the community. There’s something special about running past a fellow runner, jogger, walker, or cyclist during foggy, dew-dropped mornings and receiving that simple head nod or sly wave. It’s that recognition that makes me smile, makes me feel like I’m a part of a larger community, and presses me forward.
Marketing is no different. At its heart of hearts, marketing is about community and conversation. But oftentimes, as business owners and marketers, we complicate the issue and drive customers away instead of casually waving them in to experience our brand. This is particularly true when we begin courting new or diverse target audiences.
Why Diversity in Marketing Matters
Diversity is a hot-button issue nowadays. The country is moving towards a more multicultural environment, with diverse audiences possessing significant buying power. It's important for brands and marketers to recognize this immense potential. Embracing diversity is not only the right thing to do; it's also the best decision you can make for your business. Ignoring diversity means you’re leaving money on the table. While many brands recognize they should be embracing diverse audiences, there is also a disconnect in the "how" of it. No one wants to feel like they're being exploited at the hands of some marketing department; instead, we want the head-nod experience of feeling like we authentically belong to a larger community. How do you walk this fine line as a business owner?
Bridging the Gap
Social media has the amazing power of allowing us to build online communities and start conversations. Marketing is now a two-way street. It's not enough to push your message out to your target audience; you must also recognize that once the message gets out there, it will get interpreted and re-interpreted by your community. Furthermore, your supporters, your influencers, and even your detractors will begin to create your message for you. It's important that you're authentically engaging with all members of your online community so that you have a good handle on your brand's message and image. Creating an inclusive community goes a long way in getting your consumers invested in your product. Your brand is more than just a product or service; it's an important part of your customer's everyday lifestyle.
How to Create an Authentic, Inclusive Community
DO find a natural fit: Tommy Hilfiger was recently quoted as saying that he made the mistake of chasing a trend when he changed his marketing to cater primarily to urban hip-hop culture. Because of this, he forgot what his brand was truly about, and when influencers in the hip-hop community abandoned Hilfiger in favor of creating their own brands, he was left with a severely altered brand and no one to sell it to. Hilfiger's problem was that he didn't approach his marketing in an authentic way. He equated hip-hop with African-American and went after that population, rather than looking for the people of color who would have worn his clothes or been attracted to his clothes in the first place. Don’t force your round brand into a square hole. Look for a natural fit.
DON’T flip-flop: Unfortunately, building an inclusive audience can sometimes be met with criticism or ignorance. Stand strong in your conviction. A recent Honeywell commercial drew sharp criticism for including same-sex couples. Instead of backpedaling or softening their stance, Honeywell released another commercial, doubling down on their position that love is love.
DO go where your audience is: Develop different strategies to approach your online community members. For example, African-American, Latino, and Asian-American users make up 41% of Twitter’s total United States user base - more than 54 million users in the U.S. The size and diversity of this user base open up an opportunity for brands to communicate directly with consumers and prospects on Twitter with a much higher rate of engagement. Instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach, brands can now create different strategies to attract different types of consumers, using the tools and platforms already familiar to those consumers.
DON’T make sweeping generalizations: HBO recently created a hip-hop mix-tape for Game of Thrones in an attempt to get more African-American viewers. While it may have seemed like a no-brainer to HBO marketing execs, the campaign ended up feeling awkward and forced. It gained a lot of buzz - most of it negative - but it probably did nothing to increase the number of minority viewers. A better strategy would have been to approach influencers within the “Blerd” (or Black Nerd) space who are already ardent GOT fans and collaborate with them on the best campaigns for introducing a different target audience to the show.
DO walk your talk: Attracting new, diverse and inclusive audiences to your community has to be more than just a ploy for more profits. (Click to tweet - thanks!)
Consumers are savvy and can smell an inauthentic campaign from a mile away. If you are committed to creating a more diverse online community around your brand, show it. Hire with this goal in mind, talk to diverse communities, and get different people with diverse ideas involved within your community and your company. It all starts from the inside.
Start Small with What You Have
Remember, all that's needed is that simple head nod. Perhaps it’s using more diverse imagery in your advertising and branding or specifically reaching out to influencers within a more diverse population who are already using your product. Focus on building your community of thriving fans. Focus on their needs and wants. Focus on who is already using your products and why. And then communicate with them in exactly the way they want to be spoken to. Speak in their language. Speak on their terms. Invite them on in.