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    We wanted to explore consumer misconceptions of social media professionals: Instead, it sparked a dialogue about the need for greater diversity

    “Who do consumers think runs brand accounts?” That’s the question we set out to answer when we surveyed 1,623 consumers from the US and the UK.

    The results are telling: According to our Q4 2023 Sprout Pulse Survey, respondents believe the average social media manager is: white (65%), female (73%), 25-40 years old (55%), and a part-time employee or freelancer (40%).

    We wanted to explore consumer misconceptions of social media professionals: Instead, it sparked a dialogue about the need for greater diversity

    Candidly, we hoped consumer perception was far from reality. We aspired to write an article that would prove consumer stereotypes wrong.

    But after running a follow-up survey of our own audience and comparing our findings to third-party data, we realized consumer views about social marketers were mostly spot-on. The only difference is experience level (most people working in social aren’t entry-level or freelancers). Which means the industry is primarily made up of Millennial white women. Even the majority of our own team fit within that demographic.

    This led us to new questions. What is it about social media careers that makes them dominated by white women? What does it say about the way brands co-opt BIPOC culture? Why do people assume a women-led field requires less experience and expertise? How can we make a place in the industry for people from different generations?

    We asked social professionals outside of the majority demographic to weigh in, and got their take on what’s amiss in the industry and how we can chart a more inclusive path forward.

    Meet our experts

    Who are social media marketers, really?

    To answer our initial question, we used available third-party sources and conducted a small proprietary survey. All data sources pointed to most social media marketers being Millennial white women.

    Kikora Mason, Vice President of Social Listening and Community Management of Chase Social Media, anticipated this result. “Unfortunately, this data isn’t surprising. Generally, women outnumber men in communications (with the exception of upper leadership). I think there’s a perception that a career in social media is unserious and a job for an intern or a recent college graduate.”

    Greg Rokisky, Social Media Strategist at Sprout Social, agrees. “I’m not surprised and, at the same time, I’m hopeful data like this shifts our hiring practices. To match the makeup of the world, we need equal representation in these business-critical roles—across ethnicity, race, gender, ability, orientation and experience level.”

    Laurise McMillian, Social Creative Lead at Facebook, adds, “[Industry] stereotypes support the notion that social media management jobs are only for a certain type of person. That person being white and woman-identifying. If you don’t see other people like you in a role, it can be harder for you to see yourself in that role. If POC of all genders aren’t applying for these positions, then businesses run the risk of having teams without diverse points of views and approaches.”

    Future-proofing your social media team is about more than integrating emerging technologies into your workflow and increasing headcount. It also requires unpacking bias, and rethinking hiring practices.

    How diverse teams will propel the industry forward

    In the past few years, the term diversity lost meaning as it morphed into a performative buzzword, often associated with corporate initiatives that lack impact.

    A screenshot of a LinkedIn post reposted by Greg Rokisky. The original post read: I know a lot of the "2020 to 2021" guilt is gone, but diversity is still important. The LinkedIn post was authored by Everette Taylor, CEO of Kickstarter.

    But when we zoom out and examine social media usage data, diversity takes on a new meaning. For example, in the US the majority of people across generations, races, genders, income levels, education and community types all use social media—with some traditionally underrepresented groups like the Black community being the most active. Social media is a channel defined by a diverse mix of people.

    As Rokisky explains, “Diversity isn’t a choice—it’s a fact of the world. Our only choice is to recognize or turn away from it.”

    Despite the diversity present on social, most people’s feeds resemble echo chambers, environments that amplify or reinforce their pre-existing beliefs. Mason breaks down how this stifles brand innovation: “There’s nearly 5 billion people actively using social media today. It’s ridiculous to think that one person, or one type of person, knows the best social media decisions. Culturally diverse teams push businesses forward, creating a lane for vast creativity and previously inconceivable activations.”

    But true diversity requires more than hollow optics. Bringing people with a variety of backgrounds, experiences and identities to the table, and deeply listening to their perspectives, will help businesses succeed at building engaged, loyal communities on social. And, more importantly, break down unhelpful stereotypes that permeate internet culture.

    As Rokisky says, “While it’s not realistic to try and reach everyone on social, there will be individuals who don’t identify the same way you do in your target audience…When the majority of social media content is crafted by a homogenous group, there’s a risk of alienating and misrepresenting perspectives—which only perpetuates a cycle of exclusion and falsely paints stereotypes as true.”

    Mason points out, “We’re all seeing different things on our timelines these days. Making space for diverse perspectives empowers us to create authentic connections with social audiences.”

    Cassandra Blackburn, Head of DEI and Corporate Social Responsibility at Sprout Social, sums it up: “Encouraging inclusion and breaking stereotypes isn’t just a social justice issue; it’s a strategic move. Embracing diversity leads to better business outcomes, enhanced creativity and a positive societal impact. Brands connecting with a diverse audience through inclusive practices are better positioned in today’s social media landscape.”

    Centering diversity in your approach to social media will have tangible benefits for businesses and their audiences. For example, Rokisky described how tuning into conversations about accessibility helped drive product development at Sprout. “At Sprout, we care deeply about social media accessibility, and factor the needs of our community into our platform. Whether it’s implementing dark mode or adding alt text to content in our publishing suite, accessibility is considered from start to finish.”

    A LinkedIn post from Sprout Social that reads: Ignoring accessibility issues is to ignore the people who could be your customers or even your employees. The root of all these efforts is to remove barriers for real people, so that they can realize their full potential through your products and services. Prioritizing accessibility is about far more than checking a box; it's about openly embracing diversity through inclusion.

    Steps to building more inclusive teams

    To create the most effective social presence, brands and products, companies need to increase diversity on their social media teams. Where do companies go from here?

    We asked Blackburn, Mason, McMillian and Rokisky what brands should do to encourage inclusivity. Here’s what they hope you’ll take away:

    A multi-colored cyclical flow chart with the headline: How to build more inclusive teams. These four points are presented in a circular shape, suggesting one leads to the next and each item feeds into the others: 1) remove bias from hiring, 2) explore new hiring pipelines, 3) educate your wider team and 4) invest in long-term career success.

    1. Remove bias from hiring

    Blackburn details the various places where bias originates, “Stereotypes arise from various sources, influenced by societal, cultural and historical factors. Factors include media representation, industry trends, cultural biases and a lack of visibility for individuals from diverse backgrounds.”

    And it has tangible implications. Bias can infiltrate everything from the way social media management job descriptions are written to which candidates are selected for interviews to the ultimate hiring choice. For example, one study argues that companies advertise social media jobs with traits typically associated with women—e.g., flexible, emotional management and sociable—which has contributed to social media roles becoming increasingly feminized and reinforced a gender gap in the tech world.

    Mason explains, “The act of creating culturally diverse teams—especially in social media—has to be intentional. In hiring, it’s challenging not to bring your own biases to the table, but we have to if we want to create stronger teams. People tend to hire people like themselves. We have to be willing to step outside of our comfort zones to create opportunity and leverage the best talent (who may not be white).”

    McMillian advises companies to proactively train their key hiring decision makers. She says, “Brands should implement mandatory unconscious bias training to make sure hiring managers aren’t just hiring people who relate to them, personally.”

    A screenshot of a LinkedIn post from Laurise McMillian that reads: working in social media takes a great deal of social responsibility.

    2. Explore new hiring pipelines

    According to recent research from LinkedIn, Latino members are much more likely to exchange connection invitations with other Latino members. While this research is still new, it suggests that networking opportunities on social media are largely impacted by race. Because three-quarters of the corporate social industry is white, it’s likely that most people who see social media job openings are also white. Which excludes people of color from the running altogether.

    As LinkedIn continues to grow as a candidate sourcing channel, hiring decision makers should take a closer look at their networks. Are a diverse mix of identities represented? Do they have trusted BIPOC industry peers they can contact for help recruiting their next social media team member?

    They should also look to hiring pipelines beyond what they’ve used in the past. Mason explains, “When it comes to hiring, BIPOC candidates must be considered at every level on the team. Tapping historically Black college and university networks helps, along with reaching out to your network on LinkedIn and communicating your intentions [to hire diverse talent].” Other resources like Black Marketers Association of America can help, too.

    3. Invest in long-term career success for social marketers

    Hiring is only the beginning of increasing diversity. The next stage is investing in career longevity and professional development.

    Mason describes, “Once a diverse team is created, brands must be intentional about providing the necessary resources for the success of BIPOC individuals. Getting them in the door is only the first step.”

    A screenshot of a LinkedIn post from Kikora Mason. The post explains Mason's experience speaking at hashtag SM23 on the topic of cultural fluency. She explains how the intentional act of creating diverse thought, action and minds is critical for creating the most meaningful work. The post includes photos of Kikora and other speakers at the event.

     

    From meaningful onboarding and training sessions to mentorship and community resource groups, fostering career growth of professionals from underrepresented groups should be prioritized. While what that looks like company-to-company might vary, what’s most important is that you create these opportunities with the input of underrepresented employees. Ask them what resources they need to be successful.

    4. Educate your wider team

    Industry demographics won’t shift overnight. In the meantime, social marketers should educate themselves (and their companies) about the contributions underrepresented communities make to internet culture, and find ways to intentionally partner with them.

    McMillian points out that the corporate social industry has a long history of ignoring contributions from non-white communities, especially the Black community. “It is so wild how Black and brown creators continuously create social media trends and define culture, but the corporate side of social media is skewing white.”

    Mason adds that white social media marketers would learn a lot by seeking out content from BIPOC creators. “There are multiple studies on the impact of Black Twitter. The internet is made up of so many sub-communities. Educating oneself about these sub-communities expands your worldview, and helps you become a better, more well-rounded leader and people manager. It’s important to step out of your own way to stay culturally relevant on social media.”

    They should also work with (and compensate) DEI educators to learn how to best prioritize the needs of underrepresented communities in their audience and candidate pools.

    Rokisky describes how he did this in a past role. “When I worked at an LGBTQ+ nonprofit, I couldn’t just prioritize the perspective of gay, cisgender, white men (which is how I identify). So, I spent countless hours listening to, uplifting and making sure other marginalized voices within the LGBTQ+ community—especially folks with intersecting identities—felt represented in the social content we were publishing.”

    A screenshot of a post from Greg Rokisky that reads: Two things: 1) Rooting ourselves through the lens of intersectionality is as vital for us now as it's ever been. 2) The more privilege you hold, the more important it is for you to take action and engage when there is injustice, no matter how tired or helpless things might feel. I know you got this. Heart emoji.

    And it’s critical to apply your learnings across the work you do. Rokisky advises, “Always question what you can do to make your content, team and practices more authentic, transparent and inclusive. Build these exercises into your processes and planning throughout the year.” One way to do that is by co-creating content with creators and subject matter experts from underrepresented demographics. Even if you don’t have the budget to increase headcount, seeking out freelancers, creators and agencies is a step toward a more inclusive industry.

    Inclusivity in the social media industry starts with you

    We know many of you, our readers, fit within the majority demographic of social media professionals. As a fellow Millennial white woman in the social world, I must confess the data we collected and expert interviews we conducted for this article pushed me to confront what I (and Sprout) do to make the industry a more inclusive place. I hope they did the same for you.

    Armed with this data and these perspectives, may you feel empowered to rethink hiring processes, invest in the long-term career development of employees from underrepresented backgrounds, and educate yourself and your wider team about the impact diversity can have on your strategy.

    Take the first step by reviewing our guide to building a social media team.

    The post We wanted to explore consumer misconceptions of social media professionals: Instead, it sparked a dialogue about the need for greater diversity appeared first on Sprout Social.

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