Read any article on influencer diversity and you’re likely to read thoughts on hiring more women of color in the fashion and beauty industry. Perhaps it’s because it’s often the part of the industry that receives the greatest optics.

But read between the lines and you’ll quickly discover that the demand for diversity isn’t about seeing more black faces on a mostly white press trip to an exotic locale. It’s about consumers seeing and relating to people that look like and represent them. Understanding what diversity really means to these consumers is what will help brands broaden their marketing initiatives to become more inclusive.

Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

How Consumers Define Diversity

Influencer diversity isn’t merely about skin color, although that can often be the most visible aspect to an audience. It’s also about ethnicity, body size and type, age, and even less visible characteristics like sexual orientation.  

Zippy Sandler, who’s been blogging for many years at Champagne Living, recently expressed her dismay at how brands continue to miss the mark when creating a campaign for Baby Boomers:

“I hate it when brands don’t get it. I just applied for an Instagram campaign. They are looking to feature baby boomers and assume that we’re not on influencer platforms. They were basically looking for Millennials to feature their grandparents about living a life with passion.

HELLO! I’m right here and YES I’m on Instagram and not only that…I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, my blog and OMG even TikTok. This is the epitome of #ageism…using a millennial to tell a baby boomer’s story.”

Zippy Sandler, Blogger

More and more, audiences and influencers are becoming vocal online and holding brands to task that continue to show the status quo. It’s time for brands to ask how they can be more representative of all perspectives.

But Our Audience is White!

A few weeks ago, an influencer agency reached out to prospective influencers to work on a home decor campaign. They presented their campaign criteria by listing the desired target audience, using descriptors like:

  • Women ages 25-54 with an HHI of $50k-$150k
  • Prominently Caucasian living in suburban areas

While the discussion surrounding this campaign led many people to believe that the internal marketing dialogue was inadvertently posted as influencer criteria, the resulting conversation got to the heart of inclusion in influencer marketing.

As influencer Kris McDonald of Little Tech Girl, who initially brought the issue to light, tweeted:

McDonald, who is African-American, actually has a predominantly white audience. But even if she didn’t, the numbers suggest that a more narrow target audience, such as this example, may be neglecting a significant portion of marketing dollars.

Forbes cites a recent Nielsen report in their article, If You Want Black Audiences, Give Them A Seat at the Table that speaks prominently to the power of minority spending: 

“The benefit of properly engaging with multicultural audiences isn’t vague or elusive: With black spending power projected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020, this demographic will be setting and influencing trends in everything from technology and media to politics and pop culture.”

A report by the University of Georgia suggests that the same holds true for other minority groups in the United States, including Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Native Americans. 

The changing face of consumerism is a reality and brands should be changing their marketing appropriately. 

Inviting People to the Table – Success Stories in Influencer Diversity

Blogger Shawanda Mason-Moore, who is African-American, posted her own take on diversity in influencer marketing by reiterating that “diversity and inclusion aren’t about everyone getting what they want. It’s about everyone getting to voice what they want.”

Hearing the right voices starts by inviting the right people to the table.

Influencer press trips are where you’ll often get a good snapshot of how brands are working with influencers. There has been a myriad of articles posted that lambast brands showcasing all white faces. Others are grateful to be included in opportunities but are painfully aware when they are the “token” influencer to fill a diversity spot. 

It’s a step in the right direction but diversity for diversity’s sake doesn’t work. At a Communications Week event last year, Darren Wesley Martin, Jr., founder and chairman of Brooklyn-based agency Streamlined Media & Communications, suggested that rather than investing in diverse influencers for brand optics, influencers and their agency representatives must “be authentic to the brand [they]’re serving.”

Both Kohl’s and REI have undertaken recent influencer initiatives that embrace diversity and they’ve done it in a way that’s authentic to their brand.

Kohl’s partnered with actress and fashion blogger, Cara Santana, for her new line of approachable fashion, Cara Santana x Apt 9, a 37 piece size-inclusive collection.  In addition to designing the collection, she was actively involved in the marketing by hand-selecting every model for the ad campaign to showcase diversity across body types, sexual orientation, ethnic backgrounds, religions, and lifestyles. 

“If we looked at ads and saw a genuine reflection of what women look like, then we wouldn’t be comparing ourselves, we’d be identifying. That’s what I wanted this collection to do.” 

Cara Santana

REI, the outdoor outfitter, is also taking bold strides both in terms of company policy, product strategy, and social media presence. With their Force of Nature initiative, they’re focusing on leveling the playing field for women of all shapes and sizes. The brand now chooses influencer diversity in terms of color, body shape, gender, ability and more.  

When brands aren’t moving fast enough in the right direction, influencers often take matters into their own hands. 

Valerie Eguavoen of the blog, On A Curve, started a movement online with her Instagram account, YouBelongNow, to help creators advocate for socio-political justice. And model/designer Candice Huffine launched her own line of size-inclusive activewear after finding that the market fell short.

Diversity and inclusivity are opportunities for both brands and influencers to innovate in this space.

Cautionary Tales for Influencer Diversity

Sometimes inclusivity can feel like a double-edged sword. Influencers want to be invited to the table but they don’t want to be invited simply to check a box. That’s why brand authenticity is so important. When the authenticity is lacking the message falls flat. 

Take Urban Outfitters, for example. In 2017, they launched an ad campaign entitled “Class of 2017” and partnered with a diverse group of influencers, including body-positive activist, Barbie Ferreira. The company came under fire for the inclusion as their clothing line did not carry a size larger than 12. Ferreira was essentially being used to sell clothes that weren’t accessible to her.

In this way, companies are using “body positivity as a useful marketing tool and the true essence of the movement appears to have become lost in attempts to simultaneously make a profit and appear to be doing social good.”

This is why brands need to think about inclusivity from the start of their campaign strategy and not just an add-on to campaign messaging.  

Why Diversity in Influencer Marketing Can Be Hard

Brands usually approach influencer campaigns with very specific influencer criteria in mind. Typically, they’re looking for a target audience that’s aligned with their market research. Depending on the type of campaign, they may also want to segment by things like gender, age, and geographic location, in addition to follower count and engagement rate.

More often than not, there’s also a goal to include a diverse pool of targets for their campaign. But finding the diverse pool that also meets their criteria can be challenging if not impossible at times.

Sometimes, you just can’t have everything. 

When applying all of the desired criteria, you may inevitably end up with a homogeneous mix of influencers. In order to actively include more diverse influencers, you may have to adjust some of the target criteria to broaden your pool.

That’s where agency expertise comes into play.

How An Agency Helps with Influencer Diversity

An agency not only has access to a detailed database of influencers that meet your criteria but they can also look beyond the database to find influencers that might not ordinarily show up on your radar. 

We’ve been working with influencers for over 10 years and have continued to build relationships and referrals to help find the right targets for a campaign. 

As in the scenario above, we’ve worked with brands that had difficulty finding a diverse pool of talent that met their target criteria. We‘ve been able to present influencer options that brought diversity to the mix while still satisfying the overall needs of the campaign. 

One of our recent campaigns, Hyundai #BetterByHyundai, we felt really captured the essence of influencer diversity. They sought to find influencers that not only fit their internal brand guidelines but were also diverse. Their photos beautifully captured the mantra Better By Hyundai. Check out the amazing content from Chelsea KauaiGarrett KingCourtney Quinn, and Laura Scott MD

#BetterByHyundai

We’re working to help the influencer marketing ecosystem be more representative of all genders, races, sexualities, and perspectives. We look to help brands work with a diverse group of people, not for the sake of being inclusive but from an understanding of why diversity matters.