Oct 01, 2019

Diversity and Empowering others through Social Media

Following National Inclusion Week, we take a closer look at the potential social media and advertising has to make a real difference, and convert diversity from merely conversation into action.

  • The advertising industry is going through an important shift that sees more focus on diversity and inclusion  than ever before.
  • As discussed in our article last week, the new ASA guidelines have banned gender stereotypes in advertising, and as a result, will hopefully open the door to a new era of inclusive creativity.
  • Alongside more traditional advertising, social media can inspire new ways of telling stories to global audiences and in this time of change, marketers must understand both its power and potential.

“As advertisers our role is not just to remove the bad, but to advance more progressive, modern and empowering characters that help to flip stereotypes on their head, challenge conventions and change culture for the better.” Aline Santos, executive vice president of global marketing and chief diversity & inclusion officer at Unilever.

This statement resonates with the current shift the industry is experiencing. Advertising needs to be a positive and progressive representation of its society and to learn more about the role social media has to play in promoting diversity and empowering others, we visited The Goat Agency for their event, Behind the Curtain: The Power of Empowerment. This article will discuss the first steps to promoting diversity and inclusion, the importance of authenticity and the potential social media has to empower others.

Where do we start?

Businesses cannot hope to represent a positive and progressive society if their internal system does not equally reflect this. An inclusive culture is an essential component of any business or industry and must be present throughout all areas of the workplace

“You need to have a representation of the entire human experience, not just bits and pieces of it. [...] It’s up to the leadership of an organisation at the top to take accountability for creating that kind of environment.” Caroline Casey, founder of Valuable.

This can be taken one step further, not only does a business need to have a workplace that has an inclusive culture, but they also need to ensure that this culture is one that allows people to feel as though they can bring their authentic self to work.

Richard Miles from Therapy Agency commented on the issue: 

“Research shows that 62% of graduates from the LGBT community went back in the closet when they joined the industry [...] A further 34% are still not out in the industry.”

If employees are unhappy or feel like they cannot truly express themselves, a business will never experience them at their full creative potential, hence the business will inevitably suffer.

Miles goes on to say,

“There will always be dinosaurs in our industry even though there is progress to be made. There is still a tendency to stereotype people and put them in the background and embrace tokenism. A good example of that is the companies pulling out colourful stripes for Pride once a year but who don’t have policies in place to support the community. It’s inauthentic and possibly detrimental to your brand.”

This message is crucial with the rising trend of authenticity and was discussed among the panel at The Goat Agency event, The Power of Empowerment. Lottie L’amour, Joshua Patterson, and Martyn Sibley explored what it means to be authentic on social media and how ‘influencers’ should embrace this more to empower their following. They also discussed how they are reflecting this throughout their content, moving focus away from vanity metrics and focusing on values that are important to them and that can truly help others.

“A byproduct of writing about fashion was empowering other women that looked like me, and I thrive off that kind of empowerment.” Lottie L’amour

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Feeling very fulfilled after last night’s @thegoatagency panel speaking about diversity and empowerment. There were some AMAZING discussions: • I got to flex my debating skills about body positivity vs body confidence • we talked about the future of social media and how we need to move into a more authentic space • we talked about how AI is ruining all of our worldly views by only feeding us a tenth of the info we need by curating the Internet • we discussed how, in being vulnerable and letting the curation of Instagram life slip, you open yourself up to more meaningful discussions • but most importantly we talked about how theres a shift happening. How brands are now looking towards real life stories, towards investing in people over product and how, actually, a lower quality image but with a stronger message behind it is more valuable to a consumer than a slick, art directed shot with shallow intentions. Content consumption fatigue is real! The industry is shifting. Can you feel it yet? 💪🏻💜✨

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What happens if a brand gets it wrong?

Authenticity is a big contender here. If a brand attempts to step out of their comfort zone and make a difference, consumers are likely to respond. Even if the message is not quite delivered or received correctly, consumers should be quick to forgive as long as this was executed with a genuine interest to engage with and represent these audiences. However, as mentioned previously, if they simply adopt a colourful logo for pride, or post about recent climate change strikes without actually practising this within their business, then audiences may deem this as inauthentic and switch off to all future content from this business.

How can social media help?

“Empowerment can come from your own adversities but what you can create with it is unbelievable.” Joshua Patterson 

An insightful panel at The Goat Agency’s event explored the potential of social media to combat the issues surrounding diversity and empowerment. Among the panellists was a former Made in Chelsea star, Joshua Patterson who now runs a podcast called ‘Limitless’, where he interviews remarkable individuals who have pushed through physical and mental barriers and defied the odds. He is also a mental health campaigner who takes part in various physical challenges in aid of charities. 

“What both surprised and impressed me about JP was his lack of desire to be labelled an ‘influencer’. He rightly pointed out that while he has been gifted this voice and level of power, what right has he got to influence others? Instead of buying into this ideal Instagram personality, he posts about people and situations that truly matter to him and that he believes will be valuable to share with others.” Georgina Cockaday, social content producer at CLICKON Media.

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On Thursday night I delivered a keynote speech and was a panellist for 'behind the curtain' with @thegoatagency. My talk was about life with a disability, becoming an influencer, and our plans on @disabilityhorizons to create a fully inclusive world. Our panel debate, moderated by @esme.rice, was all about empowerment! Alongside @lottielamour and @joshuapatterson_jp, we discussed how social media has good and bad sides of supporting social change. On the one hand it connects us to like minded people globally. On the other side it sometimes connects us to unhappy trolls. In the end I believe influencers and businesses do have a chance and responsibility to change the world. Simply by utilising social media responsibly and giving a voice to authentic every day people. What do you make of social media for empowering social change? Thanks also to @mathyouwhyat and @harryhugo for their creativity and passion in this space 😎 #socialchange #influence #socialmedia #behindthecurtain #influencermarketing #socialimpact #socialgood #csr #purplepound

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Martyn Sibley, the third panellist, has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and he shed light on his experience with social media and how it allowed a community of people with disabilities to form and support each other. 

“What did I need when I was 15? If I heard that would it have made life better? And I think that’s empowerment as well.” Martyn Sibley 

We are told far too often about the negative consequences of social media, but this event allowed us to reexamine what these platforms have to offer and that given the right voice and content, it has the power to empower others. Hettie Headford, graphic designer at CLICKON Media comments:

“It was great to hear the positive effects, such as encouraging other people to speak out, to be themselves, to be inspired and find out where is accessible for disabled people. By showing your vulnerable side, the truth will encourage others to do the same, which is why I think telling real stories, showing real bodies and real emotions on social media and within advertising is so important.”

A key takeaway from this panel discussion and the shift advertising and social media is currently experiencing is the power of influence. Whether it is a brand exercising their power of influence through an ad, or an ‘influencer’ doing the same through their content, this power has the ability to inspire, comfort and change people’s perspectives. The future of advertising has the potential to be truly incredible if they strive towards reflecting the great diversity of their audiences.