It surely isn’t news to you that influencer marketing has been criticized for having a diversity problem. As blogger Stephanie Yeboah wrote last year, “by exclusively using white influencers to tout holiday experiences, beauty and skincare products and fashion pieces, the story being told is that these experiences are only available to white people. Only white women use luxury skincare. Only white slim women go on holiday. Only white women wear a certain brand’s fashion pieces. It needs to stop.”
The importance of diversity in influencer marketing goes beyond the avoidance of consumer backlash. At my agency, we advise our clients to make diversity an integral part of their campaign planning, particularly if they’re looking to attract millennials or Gen Z — not because it’s the politically correct thing to do, but because representation tells a more powerful brand story.
What Do We Even Mean By Diversity?
Diversity has become something of a buzzword in recent years, which can create a lot of confusion and bias about what people mean when they say it. For instance, it most definitely doesn’t mean “including a token person of color.” Diversity incorporates all of the elements that make individuals unique from one another, including but not limited to sexual orientation, ethnicity, skin color, gender, body type, socioeconomic status, physical abilities, religious beliefs and more.
In a nutshell, diversity is the range of human differences, and unfortunately, many influencer marketing campaigns have not been very good at reflecting these differences.
Why Is Diversity So Important For Influencer Marketing?
It’s important for all advertisers to embrace diversity, but it’s particularly critical for brands to make diversity a priority in their influencer outreach because of how influencer marketing works.
Audiences are drawn to influencer marketing because of its relatability. Influencer marketing works best when it comes from a place of authenticity and audiences can relate to what’s being shared. While many of us have learned to tune out advertising and sales pitches, influencer content often comes across as a recommendation from a trusted friend. When done correctly, influencer marketing drives consumer action by providing real value to like-minded audiences.
However, I predict we’re going to see more and more audiences becoming turned off by what has become stereotypical sponsored influencer content. In my experience, today’s consumers, particularly younger demographics, are looking for brands who care about connecting with consumers through authentic, nontraditional representation.
When influencer brand campaigns show more diversity, diverse followers feel more associated with the brand and are therefore more likely to try the products that influencers recommend. It’s not just about appealing to those consumers, though — diversity in media is a social issue, one that has a profound educational impact on audiences.
How Can Influencer Marketing Better Embrace Diversity?
It seems obvious that diversity for diversity’s sake isn’t a great strategy. One only has to look at the colossal backlash to Pepsi’s infamous Kendall Jenner ad to see why tone-deaf corporate lip service doesn’t work.
Start building an inclusive campaign strategy by recognizing individual attitudes and practices. Market research can help with this process, but it’s beneficial to simply spend some time considering the unique qualities that make up your target demographics before drilling down into specific messaging.
From there, use the insight you’ve gained to put together your diversity-focused influencer marketing tactics:
• Forge the right influencer partnership. You can partner with an agency that is well-qualified to recruit the kind of influencers you need, or you can use your own resources to identify influencers who better represent their communities and your brand values.
• Ask the right questions. Before you embark on a campaign together, ask your prospective influencers how they would choose to speak about your brand and offerings. It’s one thing to find an influencer who matches the kind of representation you’re looking for, but you need to go a step further by ensuring that they have the kind of tone and values that will resonate with the demographics you’re trying to reach.
• Prioritize authenticity. When influencers speak from their hearts with real-life stories and opinions, their content resonates — whether it’s sponsored or not. For an award-winning campaign we did for a national savings program for individuals with disabilities, our agency recruited people either living with a disability or closely connected to a disabled person to talk honestly and openly about why the brand’s pre-tax savings account was important in their lives.
• Allow for content flexibility. One of the most critical strategies in successful influencer marketing is guiding the content rather than spoon-feeding influencers brand slogans and corporate messaging. While some brands require more structure in their campaigns than others, it’s important to allow influencers to speak in their own voices and contribute to your brand story in their own way.
• Prove that you value consumer differences. Don’t just talk the talk; show consumers that you care about underrepresentation with the people you choose to portray in your outreach, your visual content and your overall offerings. Just because an influencer has a major presence and a lot of followers doesn’t mean their voice is right for your specific brand or cause.
In the End, Treat Influencers As Partners
By partnering with the right creators and listening to what they have to say, every brand has a better chance of sharing the kind of diverse messaging that both helps our society and drives consumer action. Don’t limit yourself to thinking of influencers as media channels; allow them to contribute to your brand in their own authentic way. Recognize the value of their perspectives and experiences, and know that like-minded audiences will likely respond the same way.
It’s not up to any one brand or agency to do the work to make the influencer marketing industry more beneficial through diversity. If we all do our part and take steps in the right direction, we’ll see the change that more and more consumers have been asking for.
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Author: Danielle Wiley, Forbes Councils Member