Supporting Black Lives Matter: What Brands, Influencers And Followers Can Do Better

The damage goes beyond the black tile controversy.

As Black Lives Matter protests continue across the world in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the US, many are showing their support to Black and Indigenous communities through social media.

However, not everyone has got it right. From brands appearing to capitalise on a ‘trend’, to influencers coming across as insensitive, the damage goes beyond the black tile controversy.

“Wielding influence is more than just posting pictures or videos and having a lot of followers and likes,” Shanygne Maurice, a beauty YouTuber and inclusivity activist, told HuffPost.

An influencer, Maurice said, is “someone who uses her voice to consistently advocate for the betterment of others, the environment and the world in general”.

Celebrities And Companies Cop Backlash

Critics recently accused actress Emma Watson of jumping on a trend by posting a trio of black squares on her Instagram account as part of the “Blackout Tuesday” campaign.

The posts attracted thousands of comments on both Instagram and Twitter, with some arguing that Watson, with a platform of more than 57 million Instagram followers, could have done more to amplify Black voices, especially considering her role as a UN Women’s goodwill ambassador.

Other commentators highlighted Watson’s stylistic choice of bordering each black square in white, arguing that she had focused on maintaining the aesthetic of her Instagram feed instead of communicating a message of solidarity.

Brands have also come under fire. Luxury French brand Celine copped backlash after it posted an Instagram message that it “stands against all forms of discrimination, oppression and racism”. The company was called out for not dressing black celebrities in the past.

Makeup brand L’Oréal has also been called out by model Munroe Bergdorf, who said her L’Oréal contract was cancelled in 2017 after she spoke out about racism in the wake of a neo-Nazi rally.

How Do Brands And Influencers Authentically Support Black Lives Matter

Brands capitalising on this moment and using the Black Lives Movement to market goods will not be tolerated, said Bobby Akinboro, an influencer, DJ and Microsoft employee who spreads his message across Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

“My biggest call to action was for people to stop all marketing campaigns trying to capitalise on the issues at hand,” a move that cost him 200 Instagram followers. “It’s okay,” he said. “It is what it is. I don’t need people to follow me that don’t see the issue.”

When HuffPost US spoke to Black influencers about what they want from brands, social media strategist and blogger Jennifer Jean-Pierre said the intent behind sharing a message is important. One tweet isn’t going to cut it.

“While it is understandable that people do not have the ‘right’ words to say, silence is never the answer,” she said. “The posts are needed but they must be followed with action. I would like to see brands donating towards Black Lives Matter, Color of Change, the Minnesota Freedom Fund and helping start funds for Black businesses.”

Brands need to be “authentic” because “a black square really means nothing” and customers will see through it, said Swinburne University media and communications expert, Dr Diana Bossio.

“While it is true that younger demographics especially are much more interested in brands that have good social credentials, particularly around politics and the environment, they are also very aware of what is authentic,” Bossio told HuffPost Australia.

“It is very easy to post a black square or hashtag on social media platforms - but it is just as easy for online users to see and publicly call out those who have used that hashtag but have not put their money where their mouth is.

“If a brand hasn’t actually changed their policies, hiring practices and done the work, then a black square really means nothing.”

Swinburne University marketing expert, Dr Julian Vieceli, said: “Australian brands in particular need to make sure that they have supported Indigenous issues and not just that they have made a donation to the cause.

“Also, overlooking the issues in Australia and only concentrating on the overseas issues is going to look poor for Australian brands.”

Do Influencers Continue To Promote Brands?

“If you are an influencer you will have some brand associations, and these all contribute to your brand image and how people perceive you,” Swinburne University marketing expert, said Vieceli.

“Brands, after all, are just how people perceive you and can change instantly.”

When it comes to interacting with brands, Jean-Pierre urged influencers to be explicit with language. Now is not the time for rhetoric. “Ask questions instead of accusing,” she said.

“[The influencer] Chasing Denisse created templates for influencers to use to explain why they may not be able to fulfill any contractual obligations as well as templates to email companies and brands regarding their silence.”

What Black And Indigenous Influencers Want From Their Followers

Now is the time to be uncomfortable,” said sports journalist and model Arielle Chambers. Which means, don’t expect filtered content. “The general public loves Black culture, so they should show up for Black people.”

More importantly, she wants her followers to connect on a human level. “Don’t look at my social media and think I’m some fictional character. Don’t look at me and ‘not see colour.’ I’m real. I’m Black. I’ve been Black and I wouldn’t want to be anything else.”

Megan Milan, a model and humanitarian, encouraged viewers to “be more understanding. Please do not make us scapegoats,” she implored.

Television host and DJ Lillian Ahenkan (aka Flex Mami) recently addressed criticism suggesting she hadn’t spoken up enough about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Ghanaian-Australian told her over 74,000 Instagram followers “I don’t just talk about race when it’s trendy” and that “if you ‘need’ me to post links so you’re aware of the problem, you are the problem”.

Highlighting “what’s happening is NOT NEW”, she said she “constantly” speaks about race issues, especially on her Bobo and Flex podcast and “not just when it’s trendy”.

Lillian asked her followers to “assess and quantify what you’re doing on an individual level to dismantle racism” and not “let footage of extreme racial acts desensitise you from your own complacency”.