Social Business, Social Media Staffing and Operations

Blinded by the White: Social Media and Diversity

Over the past couple weeks, two events got me thinking.

At South by Southwest in Austin, I was at several events attended by the “social media mafia” – the 300 or so folks that create much of the content around social media nationally. Bloggers, consultants, community managers, et al. There are of course many excellent social media practitioners that do not attend SXSW, but there is definitely a high concentration of social media pros at these taco-fueled events. One of the events was even produced by Amber Naslund and me, as a launch party for The NOW Revolution (awesome pics here).

social media and diversityAs I looked around at these events, I noticed that the vast majority of attendees appeared to be 25-39 years old (I’m actually an old fart in social media circles), and the vast majority were White. The fact is, most social media pros can easily name the handful of people of color in the business. Excellent professionals like Wayne Sutton, Stanford Smith, Shashi BellamkondaShama Kabani, and Rohit Bhargava are the exceptions that prove the rule.

In Louisville a few days before SXSW, Amber and I presented to a group of social media and business leaders at a terrific event produced by our pal Jason Falls. During the questions, an attendee asked whether companies should be thinking about increasing diversity in their social media ranks. It was the first time I’d been asked about diversity in a social media context.

The premise of The NOW Revolution is that business success is increasingly about reaction time, and that to be fast your company needs to operate with one head, and one heart. Decentralizing social responsibilities and empowering employees to make the right decision right now, is the hallmark of social evolution. The best way to move fast and with authenticity is to innately understand the perspective of the person on the other end of the social telephone. That’s why ThinkGeek is so effective socially (as chronicled in the book). They sell to geeks. But more importantly, their employees ARE geeks.

Consequently, I do believe companies need to consider proactively adding diversity to their social media teams, to ensure that first responder and content creation teams understand the perspectives of all customers and potential customers.

If social media is going to be a public “face” of organizations, and drive kinship with the populace, we have to do more than rely on a bunch of 30 year-old White people to do so. As an industry, we cannot fall into the same trap that the advertising business did, whereby they continue to struggle with attracting and retaining a diverse workforce 30+ years after it was first identified as a shortcoming.

I realize the labor pool for social media is tight. The Jay Baer Job Fair component of my 3-2-1 newsletter is always full of open positions. But let’s make sure social media practitioners look like the people with whom they are supposed to interact: our customers.



Facebook Comments


  1. Anonymous says

    There is a large Hispanic presence on social media – just by looking at the #latism stream you can see it. There are Hispanic social media conferences and agencies specifically geared toward that. The community is effective and understands what many marketers fail to do – how to actually market to Hispanics in different regions, countries and generations. Many go to SxSW, and many don’t. It’s just how it is. I think its easy to be consumed by the social media bubble and put blinders on to the bigger picture.

    Hispanics can struggle because many look “white” and actually aren’t. Most Spanish people are fair skin, which translates to Central American Hispanics as well. My dad is from a different country, and until he says “Arturo Fernandez” people don’t know. Until I say my last name, people don’t know that I’m Hispanic. That’s ok. Education and research is key, especially when understanding Hispanic culture as a whole.

    Initial impressions (ie. they “look” white) doesn’t mean that they are. I can assure you, there was probably a larger Hispanic presence than what it seemed as such on the surface. :)

    Lauren Fernandez

  2. says

    Diversity is important in any industry. It’s up to hiring managers to be cognizant of that and speak to a diverse pool of candidates during the hiring process. It won’t simply happen on its own. It takes effort and it has to matter to you. For many it does not, and that’s across the board. This is something that you just noticed and you’ve been doing this for a good while. See, your awakening just occurred. But now, you will fuel it in others because so many people are interested in and value what you have to say. The social media industry – particularly those in the influencer space can be a bit cliquish and what do we know about cliques or social groups as a whole? That people tend to surround themselves with people like themselves.
    As you also mentioned, there are people who fly under the radar. There could be much more diversity. Go back and take a peek at Wayne Sutton’s 28 Days of Diversity from 2010 and 2011. I know that he tries to highlight some of that.
    I think that we all could stand to broaden our horizons a bit.
    Good conversation starter, Jay.

    Angela Connor
    Author, “18 Rules of Community Engagement”

  3. says

    This has been a topic of conversation for quite some time. In my opinion hiring more diverse people is always a great idea in ANY industry. Social media would be great as well. However, i think the majority of the white 30+ dudes in social media got their readerships and attention mainly because of how well they promoted themselves especially during the days when social media was just getting hot. So those are the people that everyone else has stayed with.

    On the flip side, would you be able to find those diverse speakers and social media strategists if you had to find them? There are quite a few events and resources for them but if those don’t get the same amount of exposure then it’s tough all around.

    Hiring is great but I think if the “big wigs” included their posts in their blogs and even tweeted with them rather than stay in one big clique, it might do even more good.

  4. Anonymous says

    One of the things that never ceases to surprise me are marketers who consider Hispanic marketing a completely different market. The reality, and what surprises me is that too many times that market is being looked at like some sort of exception to the rule. Fact is – it really is just like marketing to anyone else. Messages must be catered to a specific audience and culture.
    As someone whose lived in multiple countries & a polyglot, being able to understand diversity and culture is much more impacting than just focusing on, “The white guys”. I hope that sooner than later social media can help over come so many of the cultural barriers we face in marketing.

    • Anonymous says


      This may or may not be aimed at my above comment, but I can’t help and feel like it is. I almost wanted to say, “It never ceases to surprise me that marketers are still ignorant about the Hispanic market.”

      Frankly, I receive “marketing” from people all of the time in Spanish. Do I want it? No. Marketers do not know how to market to Hispanics. They are lazy and target me solely based on my last name. My dad, who is a native speaker, does enjoy receiving materials in Spanish. He is from a different country, and he has been offended on numerous occasions because what marketers view as blanket Hispanic culture is not the same as Cuban culture. Puerto Ricans are different from Cubans. My Honduran godfather is different from my dad. Hispanic marketing is difficult because each individual is different – not even by specific country or region of the country.

      U.S. v. Latin America is different. Latin America v. Central America is different. Central American country v. Central American country is different. A 1st generation Cuban living in Miami is different than a 1st generation Cuban living in Texas.

      If it isn’t an exception to the rules of basic target demographics, then why are people still failing at how they target? Its a unique and specific approach. The culture is at the crux of the messaging.

      Do I agree that messages have to be catered to specific audience and culture? Absolutely. Thing is? I can name on ONE hand marketers that actually get the Hispanic market.


      • Anonymous says

        Absolutely! In fact I read your comment afterwords and couldn’t agree more. My dad is Brazilian, but I have lived in Mexico, and Spain. It just shocks me that so many marketers feel the need to group, and not do their proper research. I’ll reiterate that it’s just like marketing to anyone else, one must know who they’re talking to. If not, it’s a failed half-assed attempt at marketing.

    • says

      If an account tweets in both Spanish and English most followers see it as a downside. I notice that if I tweet frequently in Spanish to friends I will get unfollowed a lot by those who are non-Spanish speaking.

      Language is always a sticky subject with companies and individuals. Especially in the United States where we maintain our ignorance in thinking English is the only language needed to get by in the world.

      The funny thing is I have friends with hispanic last names that cannot speak a lick of Spanish, but I tweet or write a post in Spanish and get looked at like I’m nuts.

        • says

          As an african-american social media speaker, event consultant AND a conference organizer I’ve seen it from all sides. I attend many social media events/conferences as well as organize them.

          Here’s the problem: Whenever I have a client interested in obtaining speakers they always gravitate to the “experts”. We’ve somehow alienated the “call for speakers” and have constantly focused on the “social media experts”. Unfortunately, experts to them are those early white male adopters. Those experts truly have created and shared some of the most fascinating elements to social media; at the same time many non-white experts have come up in the ranks and in many cases have even surpassed some of those “experts”.

          However, we’ve conditioned ourselves to focusing on the social numbers and not the content. Conference organizers, unfortunately, do look at the numbers first and early adopters are leading the pack in the “like” me race.

          Last year I went to 4 social media conferences, every single one of them had the same keynote. And funny enough, he wore the same outfit and delivered the same EXACT presentation. Nothing custom, nothing unique to the audience.

          The fix would be to go back to the way we (conference organizers) used to select speakers. We’d truly look at the content and ask for video samples. Today, speakers are being selected from the “good ole’ boy” network and based on the numbers. Unless you’re part of that network it makes it extremely difficult to get recognized. Which, is why some of those non-white speakers gravitate to the African-American/Latin/Asian based social media conferences.

          For me, I don’t want to be selected as a speaker just because I’m black. I don’t want to fill any conference quota. I don’t want to be asked to speak at the “sub-set” diversity track at a large conference. AND more importantly, I don’t want to be selected ONLY at non-white conferences. I want to be selected as a speaker because I have great content to deliver and am an expert in my field. I want to have a session on the same day and in the same conference track as other “experts” – not pulled and added to the Social Media Expo Diversity Speaker Track. That, to me, is more degrading than just not asking me to speak at all.

          This is certainly a wake up to what African-American social media folks already knew. We, both diverse and others, need to start speaking at universities and businesses about social media training and engaging all races to be involved. Hopefully some of these “experts” will begin to give back to the communities and highlight other expert players.

          • says

            Hi Denise. Great points, and I love the passion you’re bringing to the table here. I think part of the issue with speaker lineups is that in some cases the speakers need to help sell tickets, which emphasizes the importance of the size of the speakers’ existing audience. That’s a business issue more than a diversity issue.

            For conferences that aren’t social media oriented, but want a social media speaker, the category is new enough that a lot of organizers struggle (at least in my estimation) with knowing what is “good” and what is “less good”. Clearly, you can tell who is a good speaker based on videos, but from a content perspective, social is new enough that some organizers aren’t sure who to believe. Hell, most businesspeople are unsure who to believe even when social impacts their company daily.

            The good news is that we’re still in the VERY EARLY days of all this. We still have time to evolve in the best possible way. I’m hoping we can make it happen.

          • says

            Oh, absolutely: big names = butts in seats. I get it.

            But, for events that have a “name” in the social space, they don’t have the problem of slow ticket sales. They’re reputable and don’t have to have every speaker be a “name”. The big social events have a duty to find true talent. They get it and they can vet out the true talent.

            Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying they need to forgo the “experts” but mix things up a bit. Add a no-name expert to a panel of named folks and they’ll be surprised at the talent and expertise that can be shared.

            For non-social media events it is a bit tough because they have no idea. However, it should first start with the social media events and I believe things will start to trickle down.

            We all have a responsibility here and I need to do a better job encouraging my peers to do the same. Hell, we’re the ones planning the damn events!

          • says

            Oh, absolutely: big names = butts in seats. I get it.

            But, for events that have a “name” in the social space, they don’t have the problem of slow ticket sales. They’re reputable and don’t have to have every speaker be a “name”. The big social events have a duty to find true talent. They get it and they can vet out the true talent.

            Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying they need to forgo the “experts” but mix things up a bit. Add a no-name expert to a panel of named folks and they’ll be surprised at the talent and expertise that can be shared.

            For non-social media events it is a bit tough because they have no idea. However, it should first start with the social media events and I believe things will start to trickle down.

            We all have a responsibility here and I need to do a better job encouraging my peers to do the same. Hell, we’re the ones planning the damn events!

      • Anonymous says

        Personally, if a follower can’t accept the fact that I will occasionally tweet in multiple languages, that’s not a follower I want anyways.
        For example, Orange Business, in France will tweet in both English and French, while it works for them it may not work for everyone. It definitely is a very dependent factor.

  5. says

    Though my last name is Irish/German, I am from Guatemala. I was adopted. I can tell you that social media is as diverse as it comes. You should come to Detroit sometime, and you’ll get an idea of just how diverse it really is. I am sure this is the same for many cities.

    If we are just talking about the “movers and shakers” I would agree with Grace. That is a siloed community that should expand to encompass more diversity, let alone professional colleagues. Perhaps the “social media mafia” is the new country club? I doubt it, but we should be talking about this more.

    Thank you for bringing this subject up. Good to see this discussion happening.

    • says

      Thanks Dave. I don’t think it’s the new country club, and I find social media peeps to be a pretty welcoming bunch as a general rule. But these are still early days. The cake isn’t fully baked – far from it.

      • says

        Social welcoming – yes and no Jay. I’ve seen both sides, and I clearly remember being shown to the “not good enough” table by the social media mafia. Only when I collected enough badges did this occur less frequently. I am also sad to report that this exclusion was not limited to my lack of experience, but also the color of my skin. This is not a social media issue, however, it is far bigger than this small group of rock stars.

        • says

          That makes me sad Dave. It really does. The only silver lining I guess is that it’s not a social media issue per se. But I hope that this industry can rise above all that crap.

  6. says

    Jay, read this article in my Google Reader and was coming here to mention #Latism but Lauren covered that :) I wonder if companies realize they need diversity in social media but have trouble finding it. I don’t mention in my twitter profile or on LinkedIn that i’m a Hispanic social media marketer but maybe I should.

    • says

      Really good point, and I imagine that’s a sticky wicket for many #Latism practitioners – whether to acknowledge ethnicity in social profiles. Interesting.

  7. Anonymous says

    Curious how you determined that “the vast majority were White”? You do know that many Hispanics can look White, right? Some of them don’t even have an accent. They don’t all look like Celia Cruz or talk like Desi Arnaz (take me, for example).

    Moreover, when you say: “The best way to move fast and with authenticity is to innately understand the perspective of the person on the other end of the social telephone.” – are you saying that a Hispanic or African-American wouldn’t effectively be able to understand the needs of a White customer or vice-versa? I’d appreciate some elaboration here.

    Lastly, I’d also welcome any statistics and/or data inre to the hiring of minorities (or non-White people) to corporate social media teams. Was this also based on your visual scans of the rooms at the different SXSW events?

    I think this type of post would have been better served by some actual data and not just what your eyes told you…

    • says

      Indeed it would have been a better post if it was augmented by research. But, I’m not an expert on these issues – far from it. I don’t have that research at my disposal, and if anyone has any actual data on it I’d love to see a link. I’m just raising the question. I hope I’m wrong about the lack of diversity in certain corners of the social Web. And perhaps I am.

  8. Mail4padilla says

    There is a large, Hispanic social media community. No dispute there, however, it has not received the recognition it deserves. Nothing new here for those of us involved in Hispanic marketing for decades. It would be better if all things (conferences, employees, media buys) were truly reflective of the size of the Latino market in U.S. and its economic impact. LATISM rocks, and I’m proud to say I’m a member. Jay, thanks for pointing out the need to address this issue. Some just ignore it.

  9. says

    There is a large, Hispanic social media community. No dispute there, however, it has not received the recognition it deserves. Nothing new here for those of us involved in Hispanic marketing for decades. It would be better if all things (conferences, employees, media buys) were truly reflective of the size of the Latino market in U.S. and its economic impact. LATISM rocks, and I’m proud to say I’m a member. Jay, thanks for pointing out the need to address this issue. Some just ignore it.

  10. Johnny Laird says

    It’s a fascinating post, Jay – and I’m still trying to formulate what I think about it. My gut reaction is that perhaps the pool you’re swimming in is too small.

    Can you give us a heads up about who you think are the “300 or so folks that create much of the content around social media nationally”?

    The fact that you’re pinning in down to a one-nation scenario is interesting in itself. That ignores the huge swathes of English-speaking SocMed pros and influential bloggers from across the globe, not to mention the many more who are doing their thing in every other language.

    There’s certainly a mountain of stuff out there, from stuff focussed on specific communities( the whole Blogging While Brown crew would be one example) to people exploring diversity in and of itself like James Walker of Socially Diverse

    – or uberbloggers like Carlos Whittaker AKA Ragamuffin Soul , who’s work doesn’t focus on his ethnicity or even Social Media per se, but occasionally reflects it, to a large base of followers.

    …enjoying reading the ongoing dialog…it’s a good conversation that you’ve kicked off.


  11. says

    Thanks Johnny. It’s entirely possible that my perceptions are slanted toward my own biases, and my own experiences. How could they not be? And in that way, perhaps this post is an exhortation of myself to broaden my own horizons as much as it is an exhortation of the industry at large.

  12. Anonymous says

    The Latino social media movement is strong, active, and perhaps the best one out there. The base has been generating it for the last three years. #latism is the perfect example of a place where true community flourishes.

  13. says

    Here’s one area where the “mom bloggers” may be out in front. The Blogalicious weekend conference has been growing each year, and is specifically designed to support professional development of women of color in social media. I haven’t made it there yet, but thanks to your post, I’m going to do everything I can to get in on my calendar in 2011.

  14. Parissa Behnia says

    Thanks for writing this post. I’ve been harping for a while that there is a disproportionate number of minority users of Twitter, for example, vis a vis the general population. I’m glad one of the leaders is finally bringing this to light and calling for a more comprehensive, diverse approach to what we say and how we say it.

  15. Eric Johnson says

    If it’s true that there are few nonwhites in SM, the question to ask is why? This is a new field with almost no barriers to it. The only barriers I see are: ability to communicate well to your clients, internet access, and a willingness to work. You don’t need lots of money or a college degree to label yourself as a SM whatever.

    If your point isn’t true, then it’s because you are running in different circles than they are and you just haven’t bumped into many of them yet. I suspect it’s more of this.

    Another side point is we are a multiracial country with many people of mixed heritage & appearances. My kids are 1/2 Korean, 1/2 Northern European yet my teenaged son was mistaken for being Italian when we lived in Italy! To make things even more interesting his girlfriend is full blooded Navejo.

    Several others posted similiar comments before me so we know it’s not easy defining someone these days and I don’t even bother trying.

    FYI. I’m a Realtor who follows SM and needs to put what I’ve learned into motion. So, please consider these as an outsider’s view point.

  16. says

    “let’s make sure social media practitioners look like the people with whom they are supposed to interact: our customers.”


    Ok, sign me up for the hair transplant, the langauge courses, the plastic surgery, I’ll swipe my wife’s can of fake tan and then I guess I could apply for a job in social media?

    Whilst I can understand (and applaud) the appeal for diversity, you need to be making that appeal to the university authorities who admit people to marketing / ebusiness programmes, not here.

    Understanding your customers has nothing to do with your sex, age, genetic heritage, fashion sense, morals, attitudes or even your net worth. I don’t have to own a horse to sell to horse owners, I just need to understand them, understand what motivates them, understand what their lives are like and whilst this is often easier if I am part of that community (your point), coming from outside that community often offers the client a unique and insightful perspective, insights that are not available from within…

    Now, relative to those white 30-somethings, do I need to lose or add weight?

    ;0) Just kidding…

  17. says

    This is a terrific topic that I’ve been mulling around for a while now. I’m often the only black man in the room. Although I’m used to it, I can’t help but wonder. Here are some of my core questions and thoughts:

    1. Companies shouldn’t seek to hire people of different ethnicities just because they want to “look” diverse. Diversity is a mindset. The motivation has to be guided by a sincere effort to connect with a community on a deep level.

    2. Ethnic Social Media pros have to earn their stripes too. Listen, social media is a tough business. Competition for attention is fierce. The effort to differentiate oneself is instructive and valuable. As a black person, I welcome the challenge of being valued based on my content.

    3. Beware of Automatic Authority: This is similar to point #2. Just because a person is hispanic doesn’t mean they can organize an effective social media strategy targeted at this group. Color or ethnicity doesn’t teach skill-sets. You still need to know how to write, work the tools, research, measure, and manage.

    Also, let me squash something…

    If your content sucks then you don’t deserve attention. Period. A-List bloggers don’t owe you squat. The pursuit of diversity isn’t a license to promote me-too crap. At first, I was bitter that people weren’t promoting me until I realized my stuff wasn’t all that great. I improved and the attention came. It’s simple and that’s the way it should be.

    • says

      I agree with you regarding diversity as a mindset rather than a quota.

      To companies that are reluctant to accept the diversity mindset, I would offer this point.

      Study after study shows that people from different backgrounds bring different perspectives to the table (that much is expected) and result in way more creative output vs teams that are homogenous.

      This is true of small teams as well as large cities. And we have examples of this diversity-driving-progress from Athens, Greece to Florence, Italy to present day Brooklyn, NY.

      Great topic Jay and a great point Stan.

    • says

      All the comments are great, but what struck me about the post and Stanford’s comment was that it embodied what I love most about the social web. Often important topics that are charged like this tend to be brought to light by an author with a moral high-ground point of view, and you are left with the distinct impress the author is trying to score points. However, here you have two very thoughtful people: Jay is just saying what he noticed and, and shared his musings, “Hey, did you notice this, too?” And Stanford say, “Yeah, I did, and here is my take on that.” Since this format lacks the, “You should feel and think this or that,” the reader is then forced to form his/her own opinion. I’m gong to stop gushing now, and just go about my day feeling a little more hopeful. Thanks and cheers!

      • says

        Hey Steve, thanks so much for that. It really makes me feel good that you didn’t see a motive in my post. Typically, I do have a motive. I want you to read the post. I want you to want to read my stuff every day. I want you (or others) to buy my book, hire me to speak, and retain me as a consultant. But in this case, it truly was an observation.

        I’m just honored that it was able to spark some conversation.

  18. says

    Today’s online audiences are indeed diverse. One recent event which confirms the need for diversity in outreach and strategic initiatives is the hiring of Mark Lopez over at Google. He was brought on to head their U.S. Hispanic efforts. Latinos are a driving force online causing significant shifts in how we view today’s ‘mainstream’. For an inside glimpse into the breadth of Hispanic activity online, one only needs to search for the #Latism hashtag which stands for Latinos in Social Media. As more census data comes out, the same theme holds true across various areas confirming that Latinos are driving significant growth. For us, as digital strategists and students of new media, it is important that we consider the audiences behind the activity online. The truth is that Hispanics over-index on engagement. Some studies show that they’re not as numerous as other groups but when online they lead participation. Excellent post Jay!

  19. says

    Jason, I’m glad you brought this up! It’s good to see the agreeing as well as the disagreeing in the remarks and commentary. I agree with those that #LATISM is huge. Hell it’s more than that, it’s a force, and I’m proud to participate. You may not have been aware because you’ve not been part of those conversations but you had the guts to bring it up in reflection of SXSW. I haven’t seen it from the SM mafia, so thanks for bringing it to light. This dialogue is important, you brought it up while many of the usual suspects (and very well respected SM folks/bloggers) don’t even acknowledge it.

    Also, I fully agree with, and appreciate your comment: “…we cannot fall into the same trap that the advertising business did, whereby they continue to struggle with attracting and retaining a diverse workforce 30+ years after it was first identified as a shortcoming.”

    RIGHT ON! Ad agencies are still holding on to idolizing their own images, it’s an outdated paradigm.

    Good observation and glad it provoked dialogue!


    • says

      Thanks Joe. I really appreciate your perspective on this. I feel truly bad that I wasn’t tapped in to the #LATISM phenomenon, which either proves my larger point, or makes a smaller but still disconcerting point about me personally. Either way, I hope I’ve raised some awareness.

      • says

        You should probably look into Blogging While Brown, a conference for Bloggers of Color; I’m not affiliated with it, but I think it’s in California this year.

        I am also part of Black Social Media Professionals –, an organization (open to anyone) that supports Black social media professionals and entrepreneurs.

  20. Manny Ruiz says

    Jay, your point is spot on and one of the key reasons why the Hispanic Public Relations Association and our Latino social media content platform have created Hispanicize 2011. Our event is a 3-1 national conference razor focused on Latino bloggers, social media and public relations. If you’re looking for the diverse side of social media, I would be happy to invite you to our epic event in Hollywood, CA, April 6-8.

    • says

      Awesome Manny! Very cool. I’d love to be there, but doing book tour events at that time. Could you write a guest post on event highlights after it’s over? Would love to run it here at C&C.

  21. Manny Ruiz says

    will do, Jay! Our conference will be quite visible so we will be sure to include you :-) Feel free to reach out anytime. We take our roles as leaders very seriously and are working hard to elevate the industry for the benefit of many, especially our Latina and Latino bloggers.

  22. says

    Great post Jay and terrific discussions, I want to ‘like’ so many of them but don’t want to spam. Social media events at SXSW attract a predominately white (or visibly white) crowd for other reasons as well. How about the non-English speaking SM practitioners from other continents who have huge follows in other languages? I assume the event is promoted and conducted in English, so simply not having English can be a barrier.

    All the comments so far have been in English, regardless of the contributors’ racial backgrounds.

  23. says

    Diversity is and will always be an issue. But it’s not a social media issue. It’s an issue in the workplace, period. I also think when people throw around the term diversity, they don’t include gender in that conversation. I can tell you the majority of the people I hung out with at SXSW and the majority I converse with frequently online through social media are women. As Rick pointed out, let’s not forget that component of the diversity argument.

    • says

      Excellent point, and I appreciate your perspective. I don’t personally see a huge gender inbalance in social media, but as I’ve said elsewhere in the comments, my viewpoint is of course influenced by the people I interact with day-to-day.

  24. says


    Thanks for your post. I work in the area of social media, culture, and diversity and inclusion (D&I), and can certainly agree this is a topic that is ripe for discussion. Today, on O’Reilly’s Radar blog there is a post by Sarah Milstein (who co-leads the Web 2.0 conferences in NY and SF) about how conferences need more diversity. Great minds, etc…

    As a frequent speaker and presenter on the subject, I’d like to share my thoughts:

    1. Diversity and inclusion and social technologies resonate with one another. For example, much of the rationale underlying open source technology is directed toward precluding discrimination and hierarchy from hindering the growth of technology. That’s why open source licenses require that the software is free–preventing economic discrimination, open to any field of endeavor–preventing any discrimination based on industry/line of work, and technology-neutral–preventing technological discrimination.

    2. The notion of collective intelligence, which is central to our search engines and much of our product development processes, actually removes barriers/hierarchy between developers and users and harnesses the ideas and opinions of everyone to build the best product. Isn’t this what diversity and inclusion is meant to do?

    There is so much more to be said along these lines. Here are a couple of links to presentations I’ve done on how diversity is a source of technological innovation ( and how companies can leverage social media to reach multicultural communities ( Underlying all of this is what I call Open Diversity, which is the idea that diversity and inclusion can learn from social technologies and vice versa.

    Best Regards,

  25. says

    I’m so excited about the 2010 Census findings. For the first time ever, one in three people in the U.S. is not White and this affects all aspects of business, including social media. We’re going to be hearing a lot more about diversity in the coming months (and years) and my only concern is what I call “diversity fatigue”. What I mean by that is that, sometimes, when talking with someone at a conference about diversity, they sort of roll their eyes and say “Yeah, we have diversity training all the time at my compnay. It’s part of every meeting, all the time. Sigh…” I sense that people feel “lectured” about diversity. What I want to do is open people’s eyes to the concept of diversity of values, not just skin color, gender, age, or ethnicity. We are what we value. And as marketing professionals, knowing what people value and tapping into that is what makes people open their walllet.

  26. Anonymous says

    Thank you Jay Baer for broaching this very difficult subject. As an African American male who’s been in the digital and social media space for over 10 years plus another 10 in the ad industry, I can say that diversity, specially cultural and ethnic diversity in the US market remains a challenge.

    Folks like Rick Calvert and numerous others see the value in having voices and perspectives and insights and connections that span a whole host of communities. While others seem to see the diversity push as something between so-called ‘reverse discrimination’, political correctness and ad-hoc goodwill ad-ons.

    Social media is about insights, connections, content and perspectives… And no group really has the market cornered on any of those. Coming from the ad world, I’ve seen what happens when one group spends generations upon generations acting as if all the answers and all the good ideas can only come from one group of people. Lack of cultural/ethnic diversity is one of the many things killing the ad world’s growth.

    Yet when I attend many of the various social media conferences and marketing conferences—even in 2010/2011—they see attendees, organizers and panels seem so silo’d, so navel-gazing and so whitebread that I often think, “this isn’t going to end well.”

    We’re still at a point where unless you attend a digital/social media conference that specifically targets African Americans, Women of color, then those groups are frequently left out of the more “mainstream” conferences that we can all name.

    Well, i’m starting to ramble and it’s late. Point is, this is a critical opportunity for all of us to recognize that diversity is as integral to social media’s future as the apps, handsets and hard technology is.

    Bravo on the topic and all who’ve responded. Let’s keep the dialogue going.

  27. Anonymous says

    Very good points, Jay. In some segments of the social media world, there are lots of users of color, such as Twitter, which has a higher percent of African-American users than their presence in the US population. So those on the production and management end should probably more closely represent the users. In network, broadcast, and cable media, there has been a great deal of criticism about underrepresentation of people of color in roles and management. In Silicon Valley generally, a number of studies have shown underrerepresentation in employment of African-Americans.

    • says

      I’ve seen data showing African Americans use the mobile Web at a much higher rate than average. Do you think that could be part of the Twitter usage phenomenon in that community?

  28. says

    Thanks for bringing this out Jay! This perspective of diversity is highly debatable. Especially when social media is being measured and monitored. Social media has surpassed its own reach and what one needs to know is its vitality. In general, people develop an urge to stay connected with people of other origins, thanks to growing impact of social web. If I talk from an Indian point of view, I will pay close attention to the whites and their innovative and risk taking attributes. I don’t have any ideas about other ethnicities but people want to be amongst the leading whites because they have resources, they have followers and they have their strong opinions and voices heard all across. In its entirety, however, you cannot separate the circle of social media on the base of diversity because it’s one common goal to stay connected. People from diverse backgrounds do share the common platform just to make it ‘SOCIAL’ and that’s why it’s let the power be.

    I feel people across the world are not short of ideas and skills, the only thing that adds to their lacunae is their own insecurity of being heard and recognized among the experienced groups of professionals (mostly represented by the whites).

  29. says


    Congrats on the Book I met Amber very briefly at Inbound Marketing Summit last year in Boston and I have your book on my list to read.

    Just as Louis Pagan, Manny Ruiz, Joselin Mane and a few other latinos we where at SXSW and I do agree that we do need more presence on the forum. I wrote a post on some of the people that enhanced my trip to SXSW and most of them where Latinos.

    The conference is so big that it can be a bit difficult to see diversity when everyone by nature tends to go towards the same influential players or just want to spend time with the people they know.

    On my side I have to say I saw more diversity than other conferences but I do agree we need even more diversity. It is great that people like you have decided to speak up and help towards getting that diversity.

    best regards,

  30. says

    Interesting post. I was at SXSW, and even lead the Blacks in Tech meet-up, and there was someone from O’Reilly looking for talent. It is my opinion that SXSW is getting more diverse every year. SXSW has always been very diverse when it comes to opinions and philosophies. From being on the SXSW advisory board this year I have the distinct impression that diversity is very important to the organizers, and will be highlighted more next year.

  31. says

    Great post. I made this observation a few years ago but mostly based on my experience in Phoenix. From Tweetups to Ignite and whatever else you want to classify as social media events there is definitely a lack of diversity.

  32. letstalkandchat says

    I just found a great company that builds websites for info products. To keep your costs low, they’ll mentor you on how to create your site, design a marketing funnel (one of the guys works in Hollywood and makes really slick videos), and the other guy programmed Myspace. If you’re looking to have professional web design for your small business and not waste any time or money then check their site out. Check them out:

  33. says

    Hi all, funny that this is 2 years old and SXSW 2013 refocused again – at least in its social media ‘thread’ – in this subject of diversity (or lack of…) . So I think Stanford @ pushingSocial’s points are still valid. But since my target is very different – I work with teachers – I agree with most of what you say until you get to your tough comment on the content that sucks.:) Social media area driven by algorithms besides content. These algorithms have sort of a ‘self-congratulatory’ formula that is far from helping in this lack of diversity scenario.

    I would love to know how much of this algorithmic nature of rewarding content is actually hurting the scenario of ‘more diversity in social media’ that we all here seem to want.

  34. Mari D. González says

    Among Latinos, we know who the social media leaders are. Just to name a few, Giovanni Rodriguez, Social Media Strategist and a frequent contributor to Forbes; Elainne Ramos and Ana Roca, Founders of LATISM; Ana Flores, Co-founder of SpanglishBaby blog, Julio Ricardo Varela, now with U.S. Aljaseera, and Lance Rios, founder of BeingLatino. Just because they are associated with a niche -U.S. Latinos- it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. And, I’m sure, they show up at SXSW.

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