Ask an Influencer: How can brands support Black creators?
On Tuesday, August 4, we hosted our very first IG Live event with content creator Tash Haynes (@itstashhaynes). Alison James, AspireIQ’s Head of Community, sat down with Tash to chat about about Tash’s journey to becoming a content creator, the challenges she has faced as a Black influencer, and ways that brands can support Black creators and spark real change in the industry.
If you missed it, watch the IGTV recording or read through the highlights from the Q&A below.
Anyone can be an influencer.
“It was preparation meeting opportunity,” said Tash. As a professional photographer, she was already creating beautiful images and telling stories as she snapped shots of her family, her clients, and important things happening around her. Tash posted content online to share her stories of motherhood, entrepreneurship, and travel, pairing the lessons she learned with funny, everyday happenings along the way. But never did she think she would turn her social media presence into a career.
Unsurprisingly, though, people started paying attention to the authentic way Tash lives her life and the exciting adventures her family takes. Brands like Old Navy started reaching out to partner with Tash on their campaigns, and that is where she says her journey in “influencing” really took off. While some gain overnight fame, Tash has seen steady growth as she continues to pursue her passions and share them with her followers. “Whether [your growth] is fast or slow, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s forward,” she encouraged.
Black creators represent the underrepresented.
“I love to talk about travel especially as a younger Black family. I feel like we see our counterparts traveling all over the world, but I don’t feel like there’s a spotlight on Black families, especially young families doing the same.” For Tash, travel is all about her kids being able to experience the world and having access to opportunities.
“We are not rich. We are very regular, every day, American people, but we have definitely shaped our lives around our values and travel is a big one. I just like to show people that things are possible and it doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from, or what you have or don’t have.”
But brands don’t seem to recognize that.
“I feel like we’re the last choice,” Tash expressed.
As a Black creator in the influencer marketing industry, especially one with dark skin, it’s tough to come by the same opportunities as those given to creators who are White, Asian, or of a lighter complexion. For example, Tash saw a campaign from a very large company all about Juneteenth — a Black holiday — yet the brand chose to work with a light-skinned Black family that included a White parent, over a family with dark skin.
Tash added, “As a Black woman, when you’re in business or doing anything where there are a ton of White women in the same field, you’re kind of used to just taking what comes to you and being grateful. I feel like that has been my attitude about influencing. It’s like, ‘I’m just lucky to be doing this, so I’ll just take what I can get.’”
Tash has also seen brands take advantage of Black creators who will accept opportunities — regardless of if they’re paid fairly or not — because they need a way to get their foot in the door. It’s clear to many Black creators when brands offer sponsorship just for the sole purpose of diversity and looking like they’re an inclusive brand. They can see what the brand has been posting, and many don’t ever see themselves represented in the content shared by the brand.
So, what can brands do now to uplift Black creators?
Relationship and ownership is the name of the game. Be honest and transparent about the work that hasn’t been done by your company, and really put in the effort to move forward. Tash has been in touch with brands that admit to their past mistakes saying, “We know we’ve missed the mark, but we value you. Why has it taken us so long? We’re not sure, but give us a chance to show you how we’re going to change.”
This type of ownership shows Black creators that the brand is trying to establish a relationship, rather than tokenize them or follow a trend. When you build a genuine relationship, it’s easier to have these tough conversations, because the conversations will be ongoing. Tash explained, “I want to be a part of what these brands are doing. I want to be a part of helping to change the narrative around their product.”
Additionally, brands need to be specific about how things are going to change and provide actionable steps for establishing those changes. Don’t think that sending out a blanket statement about racial equality or sharing a black square on Instagram will fix everything.
Don’t oblige Black creators to change their content.
Given the current climate, many creators and brands have been shifting their content to shine a light on the Black Lives Matter movement, and following more Black creators to amplify their voices. While this is a push in the right direction, it also puts a lot of pressure on Black creators to post a certain type of content, too.
But Tash explained, “I don’t feel like I’ve changed my content because these issues are very real for me. It’s not like a hashtag or a trend. This is my life. This is my reality. I’m raising two Black girls, potentially a third or a son. And I have to stay talking about these things because this is our reality.”
The only thing that has changed about Tash’s content is that she is no longer afraid to speak her mind because people are more receptive and open to have these difficult dialogues as well.
“For 37 years, I feel like I’ve been begging for someone to hear me. It’s important to me that people who are curious or unsure can come to me and ask those questions. And I want to be able to give the answer because I want to stay in control of that conversation. For so long, we haven’t been in control, as Black creators. But now, we get to say, ‘Actually, this is what we need from you. This is how you can support me.’ And that’s what makes all the difference for me.”
Build authentic long-term relationships.
When it comes to partnerships, Tash loves to work with brands that make an effort to establish long-term relationships with her. Particularly as a small business owner herself, Tash enjoys collaborating with lesser-known brands.
For example, she has worked with Minnesota-based jewelry brand Larissa Loden in several campaigns over the last year. But more importantly, the founder Larissa has constantly made an effort to build a personal relationship with Tash. Tash gushed, “[Larissa] has this beautiful component to her business where she gives back. She sent me a gift for my birthday, and she sent things for the girls. I’m invested in her — I love her as a person and what she stands for. You gotta check out her jewelry.”
Black Lives Matter.
As a society, we cannot allow these conversations to stop just because there’s less buzz on social media. Tash explained, “I feel like things have started to kind of slow down and wane down, so #BlackLivesMatter is not at the top of our conversation. But if we really want to make a change, we’ve got to keep going and we’ve got to keep amplifying — whatever that may look like for each person.”
Specifically in the influencer marketing industry, marketers need to show up for Black creators and continue to talk about these issues that matter. “We’ve got to keep having tough conversations around inclusion and diversity, as well as fair pay and opportunities for all influencers, whether they’re men, women, Black, Asian, etc. So to all the brands and influencers listening: Don’t allow these conversations to stop. There’s a role that we can all play to support one another and move the movement forward.”
For more actionable ways to support Black creators, check out Tash’s blog, “11 Ways to Support Your Favorite Content Creators and Bloggers.”