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.