Is The Social Media Marketing Niche Racist?

Get new articles sent to you. 

During Social Media Marketing World, a friend reminded me that I was one of the few black people presenting at the conference.  They asked if that concerned me.  I didn’t know at the time. I’m not one to draw quick conclusions but I did tuck the observation away for a time of reflection.

I guess I can’t duck this question forever.

I’ve been working in advertising field for 18 years. During that time, I was always the most senior black person in the office where I worked.  I’ve sat in thousands of meetings but only once sat in a meeting with a black person who was my peer or superior.

Is this evidence of racism?

I’m routinely asked why there aren’t “more people like me in social media.”  I say, “handsome, brilliant, and modest?”  I always get a nervous laugh.

Is this evidence of racism?

A year ago, I put my photo on my website.  I wasn’t hiding that I was black.  But I was concerned with the implications of letting my audience know that they could at some point be giving thousands of dollars to a black guy. I’ve never let some of the unfortunate realities of being black temper my ambition so I went ahead.

My leads and sales dropped by almost 45%.

Is this evidence of racism or that I’m not as handsome or brilliant as my momma says? (Hint: there isn’t a right or polite answer.)

Why Aren’t Their More Black People In the Upper Echelon of Social Media Marketing Leadership?

I believe there is a mix of factors that have conspired to keep black people out of the limelight.

The Advertising Industry’s Past

Many social media influencers earned their stripes in advertising agencies or corporate marketing departments.  The common path is a person learning the fundamentals and compiling a resume at an agency.  They then use this experience to start their own agency.  Running their own business pushes them to position themselves as an authority.

The marketing community has always lacked diversity.  This weakness has resulted in few highly experienced and pedigreed blacks making the transition to the social media stage.  I suspect that this won’t be the case for long but it is a factor now.


I’ll speak for myself since it’s irresponsible to represent the thinking of the entire black community.

The social media authority gig is a risky economic move.  I for one have a finely honed sense of return on investment.  Writing 5 blog posts, producing 2 podcasts, and interacting with people on 3 social platforms every week doesn’t pay the bills.  For years, I weighed the economic impact of doing Pushing Social and staying in my relatively safe agency job.

I suspect other savvy and pragmatic black people are wrestling with the same calculus.  I hope my example shows that it can be done.  But I’ll be the first to say that it isn’t easy no matter what the headlines say.

I believe that there a number of black leaders thinking about taking the risk.  I hope they do because we can all learn from my community’s perspective and voice.

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

The social media A-Listers are a tough group of fighters, survivors, and risk takers.  They have earned every single penny in their bank accounts.  They rightfully enjoy the attention and influence their work has accumulated.

They will not hesitate to help a person who shows that they share their values and outlook. They also ferociously guard their trust, time, and platforms.  I was turned down multiple times for work, guest posting, and speaking gigs until I finally cleared a hurdle that demonstrated that I was the real deal.

Here are the hurdles:

Demonstrated Mastery: I worked hard to be a distinctive voice in the blog creation, promotion, and strategy niche.  My mastery gave me currency, something I could offer, to the movers and shakers.

A Book: Mark Schaefer gave me the opportunity to co-author Born to Blog.  This book hasn’t made me rich but it does show that I have cleared an important hurdle – I’m published.  Many influencers in the social media industry use “publishing” as a litmus test for acceptance.

Business Acumen: I learned early on that the best way to get someone’s attention is to offer them something they want.  That can be pageviews, sales, or simple moral support.  I believe that business acumen is understanding how to build a business relationships with scarce resources.  I have something to offer.  I constantly look for how I can help.  This means a lot.

Persistence:  The top influencers rely on “gatekeepers” both virtual and physical. By necessity they’ve shielded themselves from people who want to “pick their brain”, “get their advice”, or plead for 100% of their time for 10% of the usual fee”.  Only the persistent with fair offers find their way on to these folks’ dance card.

All of this sucks.  It’s hard and it seems that a disproportionate share of black people may be affected.  Is this racist?  Nope.  It’s just how it is.

What Should Be Done?

Nothing.  My God, please do nothing.

Black people don’t want professional charity.  Our past has prepared us well to strive with great success in any area we set our minds to.  We welcome the challenge.

In fact, favor based on our skin color or guilt is insulting.  Keep your standards.  Keep them high. Just make sure that everyone must clear the same bar.

Only take action when you see racism and sexism slip in the back door on the coat tails of ignorance – do your best to shine a light on it and slit its throat for your sake – not mine.

Is the absence of black people a racist conspiracy?  No.

Are social media influencers racist? They are hard charging, principled, brilliant, complicated, and tough – but racist…no.

About Stan

Stan Smith is the Managing Director of Pushing Social a content marketing consultancy for aggressive, results-focused organizations.

22 thoughts on “Is The Social Media Marketing Niche Racist?

  1. Andrew J. Coate

    I love when someone breaks down a complex & often contentious issue with the grace you have here. I’ve long enjoyed your insights Stan, and once again have here. Thanks for writing.

  2. LaDonna Farrow

    A 45% drop…WOW! While I can’t rule out racism, I do
    believe this is a strong reflection of the results of general consumer
    advertising and marketing practices. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard
    in a social media training by prominent social media experts that images of
    smiling, white women get the best click through rates so if you can tie that to
    your product or service do so for better results. This visual concept is
    inculcated deeply into the buying conscience of all consumers making it hard
    for black, non-celebrity, small business owners to brand their personal
    likeness to their business in the electronic social environment.

    I wrestled with using my photo versus company logo when
    starting my business for this very reason. I was worried about the business I
    would lose because I’m black. Reality, I am the brand. And, white or black you
    won’t get all the clients willing and able to purchase your service. So, I use
    my picture while focusing on accomplishing the “checklist” you mentioned and I
    service the clients I do get with pleasure, gratitude, and excellence.

    Stan, like Annabella, I too started following you because you were black but it is
    your knowledge and expertise that keeps me coming back. You flat out know what
    you’re talking about. You are well-niched in a crowded “The Ones” market and
    it’s definitely not because you are black; it’s because you deliver. Thanks for
    being willing to potentially take one for the team by addressing this
    topic…very courageous.

  3. Stanford Smith

    Thanks for weighing in Mike. I failed to mention that you and everyone in your organization holds to the 4-Step path. It was nice to see this reinforced in person when I met your team in San Diego.

  4. Michael A. Stelzner

    Hey Stan – We are always looking for thought leaders in our space who are not male and who are not just white. It just happens to be a highly white male dominated space. And if we knew of them we would help prop them up for sure. You and LaSandra Brill (and a few more other folks working at brands) are the few social media focused folks who are working real hard to establish themselves as an expert in our world.

    Here is the path we go down: (1) is this person an excellent communicator (2) does he/she have a deep domain knowledge in our space (3) have they written a book (this means she/he can teach usually) and (4) is this person known to our audience (least important factor). We like 3 or more when we make decisions about our events. Thanks for all you do Stan!

  5. Stanford Smith

    I appreciate your support Keeley. One reason for writing this post that I didn’t mention is that I wanted to help other people of color understand that it wasn’t a “racism” thing happening in the social industry. The current situation is due to many other factors that seem to disproportionately impact people of color.

  6. Bill

    Stan, you touched the hot potato. Even mentioning the word “racism” creates a reaction in most of us, if for no other reason than we hear about it *all* the time.Obviously, you are black. Racism isn’t noticing that fact, but in attributing inferiority or superiority to it. If there one thing that is clear from your blog posts, it’s that there is nothing inferior about them. The content of your character, the competency with which you do your work, and the likeable personality you exude is “the” story at Pushing Social. Thanks for sharing your thoughts; it gives me a little more insight into your world.

  7. Keeley Powell

    Wow, this is brave! I like your blog and I find it refreshing to see a fellow person of color on the social media scene. I can learn from people of all backgrounds, but it makes me especially proud to see another black person leading in this field.

  8. Annabella SkinScrubs

    I’m not ashamed to admit that one the reasons I started following your blog and receiving your updates is because you are black. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw your photo because most social media and blogging experts come from similar/same backgrounds. To get a balanced view of the world you need to step inside someone else’s shoes.

  9. Pingback: Marketing Day: Eat24 Happy Off Facebook, Google Buys Adometry, Facebook Aims For Small Biz |

  10. Melanie Deardorff

    I continue to be a fan of your blog, your podcasts and your ability to keep it real — like you did with this post. Thanks for working with me earlier in the year. Your coaching got me focused and gave me a great start to where I want to go. Hope to meet you f2f someday, Stan!

  11. Melissa G Wilson

    Stan you are the man! With your help I know I’m on the path to a new level of effectiveness. Also love the video and its simple yet powerful teachings.

  12. Koos

    Well Stan, respect, this is the bravest article I read from you and it made me silent and thinking.

    Respect is all I can say because everything else would do your words wrong.

  13. Pingback: Marketing Day: Eat24 Happy Off Facebook, Google Buys Adometry, Facebook Aims For Small Biz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes