Influencer marketing can help you reach new audiences, but it has limited impact if all of your influencers look and sound like you. Discover the benefits and challenges of diversifying your influencer marketing.
With the help of LaToya Shambo of Black Girl Digital, Inc, we’ll look at insightful ways marketers and businesses can audit themselves first to better embrace DEI, so they can then project more inclusive advertising and images to ALL of their consumers
Rich: My guest today has always had a passion for business and her interest has always been the black female audience. The alignment of her purpose, both personally and professionally, allowed her to birth Black Girl Digital, Inc. and iLINKR, where the mission is to be a solution to equity wage disparities for black and multicultural women in the influencer marketing industry.
She has worked in corporate America for over 14 years, from agencies, ad networks, to brand direct. And while she’s gained a vast amount of experience and knowledge, nothing has brought her more satisfaction than building her own successful multicultural agency that services the black female community.
She is on the rise as a thought leader in the influencer marketing space on diversity and inclusion. She’s also been on Bloomberg TV, Yahoo Finance, and has been featured in Forbes Culture, Adweek, Fox, Soul Sheen Magazine, Apple News, and the LA Times. Today we’re going to be looking at diversifying your influencer marketing with Latoya Shambo. Latoya, welcome to the podcast.
LaToya: Thank you so much for having me. Wow, you did such a great job of catching me up on my bio. I appreciate it.
Rich: Sometimes when we have it read back to us we’re like, wow, I actually have accomplished a lot. And you certainly have. So how did you get started in all this? What’s your origin story?
LaToya: So actually, you know what’s interesting, I thought I was going to be in A&R. When I graduated high school, I was like, I’m coming to New York to be in the music business and discover talent. And ironically, I still discover talent, just not from a musical perspective. But I ended up on the agency side, and as I was moving through the trajectory of my career, it really hit me. I got it. I understood it and I’m varying out, well, how can I then connect my community to my experience and make it all happen and still live within my purpose. So that’s really the short end of how I came into Black Girl Digital.
But honestly, I was at Complex for seven years. Complex is a cultural ad network, a media publisher space. And what we were building at that time was so revolutionary. And I was like, well, who’s doing this for black girls. Who’s creating brand partnerships and brand opportunities for black female bloggers, because it was bloggers at the time. And then it was no one. So then I created Black Girl Digital to really support that side of the community. And then the next year changed everything. It went from bloggers to influencers instantaneously and pivoted into the influencer space, and haven’t looked back since.
Rich: Was it one specific incident that made you say, you know what, I think I’m going to be able to better serve this community if I’m running the show myself? Or was it just a series of small, little things where you’re like, you know what, I think entrepreneurship is for me and I’m just going to take this show on the road and do it myself?
LaToya: That’s a good question. You know, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit before the word was ‘entrepreneurs’. Like, you know, business owner and business woman, and I always had a little something inside of me. It was just really figuring out what that looked like. So over the course of time I’ve had multiple businesses, and nothing penetrated my soul, nothing stuck. And so I was still trying to figure it out. And that’s why I never really left corporate America a hundred percent. But when Black Girl Digital kind of came around. It really was a ‘aha’. I felt more fulfilled in what I was doing. It really felt right, it felt comfortable. And I just got it. It truly just was a real connection to my soul every single day. And when I say that, even on the bad days on the worst of worst days, like I cashed in my 401k, I paid everyone before paid myself. And that’s love, that is the true sense of this is what I’m meant to do and I’m not looking back.
Rich: Well, your passion definitely comes through. I mentioned two companies in your bio, Black Girl Digital and iLINKR. What are the similarities and differences between the two?
LaToya: Yeah, it’s a good question. So with Black Girl Digital, it’s more of the service. iLINKR is more of the platform, the tool that helps us drive the metrics behind the service. So right now there are tons of influencer marketing platforms where brands or agencies can connect and find talent, find influencers, manage their influencer programs. But with Black Girl Digital and iLINKR, we provide that service for the agency and for the brands. Because the hardest or the most challenging part of the business is the discovery. You know, finding the most appropriate influencer and creator for your program can be a very daunting process. And what we do is we provide that service at scale. So we book multiple, there’s some campaigns we run where there’s 13, 15, 20, 35 creators you’re paying at a time. And imagine an agency that’s not where their billable hours need to be spent. So we jump n and provide that service.
Rich: So is iLINKR more like a marketplace for finding black, female influencers, or is it also, or instead, more of the metrics to find out how campaigns worked out for us?
LaToya: It’s both. So it is, we have the discovery part, which we use internally, where we have a network in there of about 600 creators, black and brown creators, and then it’s the campaign management side. So once the campaign goes live, the brands they’re able to review and approve influencers and their content in real time, they’re able to see the campaign go live in real time. And then it’s more about having all of your campaigns in one dashboard. So you’re not shuffling through a million emails to see where you are in the process or if the campaign is delivering. So it really alleviates some of that stress.
Rich: Okay. So for the person who’s listening out there, maybe they’ve invested in some influencer marketing, but maybe this is brand new to them. What would you say the value of diversifying the influencers they’re working with? What’s the benefit to them?
LaToya: Yeah. You know, the benefit of diversifying your influencer strategy is really exposing your brand to new audiences. It is also building deeper relationships with diverse audiences so no one can call you out for not being a diverse enough brand. With all of the inequities and diversity inclusion conversations going on, it’s important to have a diversity strategy as it relates to your influencer marketing campaign, especially if you have a brand or product or service that lends itself to all audiences. Why not connect with different demos to help them authentically elaborate on your brand message to their audience.
Rich: All right. So let’s say that we have a product that works for everybody, regardless of your race, your gender whatever it may be. What exactly would I get from working with you? I want to make sure that I’m not just checking off a box so when people come to you and they ask that, how do you respond to that concern they may have?
LaToya: That’s a very good question. You know, we really work with the brands on messaging, on campaign strategy, the holistic approach. So it’s not just, here’s one black, female influencer, and we’re going to have her post your product. It’s what do we want the audience to receive? How is this message going to be received? What are we going to have these creators do? And that is really the benefit of working with multiple creators, so it does not look like you are just checking off one box and having only one token black or brown creator on your campaign. It’s now, you’re working with multiple diverse creators and the messaging strategy is cohesive for your campaign. It’s not, let me hire a million different creators and hopefully the campaign will stick. No, it’s let’s create the messaging strategy and be super thoughtful and intentional with how we’re communicating in different audience segments.
Rich: So we want to develop a strategy and objectives that are for a wide variety of people, the influencers themselves. That’s almost more of the tactics compared to the strategy of developing a better brand for. Okay. You and I had a conversation earlier where you talked about the fact that you do brand audits for some of your clients, a lot of different businesses do some sort of brand audit. What kind of things are you looking at when you’re looking at a brand and what they should be doing or not doing anymore?
LaToya: Yeah. So we first start with your homepage. We go to your website and we’re taking a deep dive into your content and what your core values are, what you stand for. And from there, we make an assessment of are you actually speaking about diversity, or do you need to speak more to diversity and be more inclusive as it relates to your communication strategy across all of your platforms. And then we take that audit to your social spaces and assess whether or not you either lack diversity, And if you do have diversity, what is the communication strategy behind the diversity that you are showing across platforms.
Because when you go to hire an influencer, especially a diverse influencer, they’re going to go to your Instagram, your whatever social platforms you have, and check to see if you are just trying to check a box or you are about this life, you are about being an inclusive space and want to showcase more diversity on your platform. Yes, it’s just about getting started and you may just have one, but it’s how are you communicating that and showing that on your website, Saying, “Hey, you know what? I want to be more inclusive. We want to showcase more diversity and here’s how we’re going to go about doing that.” Because now when you’re going to go and work with these creators and they do their due diligence, they’re going to feel a little bit more connected. They’re going to see that you’re being authentic in you wanting to work with more diverse creators.
Rich: So if we’re just getting started with this DEI – diversity, equity and inclusion – for those people who may not be familiar with the acronym, if we’re just getting started with our DEI work, are you saying that it’s more important for brands and companies to be on the journey for this rather than they’ve already got some experience? Because we all have to start somewhere.
LaToya: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that as long as you’re communicating to whomever comes to your platform, this is what we strive to do, and this is how we’re going to get started. You know, it’s not going to happen overnight because they’re internal measures, internal things that we need to put in place. It is what it is. You just have to start, and you have to communicate that you’re starting, and be comfortable that is today is just the first day. If today is just the first day, it’s just the first day, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Isn’t that the saying?
Rich: They say that all the time. So as we go on this journey and we’re trying to be more diverse, more equitable, how do we make sure that our message stays honest and authentic both to the audience we feel we’ve always served, as well as to this new audience that we are trying to serve?
LaToya: Yeah. So that was a really good question. And I would suggest, you know, assessing your internal first. What does your internal teams look like so that you are diversifying the voices within your organization, so that everyone can come together and help you craft what this communication strategy is going to look like outward? And then it’s communicating outwardly to your current audience. “Hey, you know what? We’re evolving. We’re growing up. This is what’s taking place. We’re not abandoning you. We just want to include more people. We want to build more authentic relationships, et cetera.” Again, it’s all about communicating, but how you’re communicating to your different routes. But starting internally and then working externally in those communication strategies so that everyone is on board.
And it is a rolling process. It’s not a boom, boom, boom. And it’s all right. Let’s take our time. Let’s be super strategic and thoughtful, leading with intent, and communicating our intent throughout the year, not just during Black History month.
Rich: Yes. The shortest month of the year. Okay. So let’s say that, you know, I’m sure there’s a lot of listeners out there who have felt that they’ve never done anything wrong, but obviously there’s all this conversation going on about how we can be doing things better. We’ve never purposefully tried to exclude anybody from our business. And for many people they’re like, hey, I’d sell to anybody and everybody, that’s never been my issue. But I’m getting the impression that there’s more to that than just that saying, like, ‘we’ll sell to anybody’.
Can you give us some concrete examples of – and you don’t have to mention any company, organization names – but some concrete examples of how you’ve worked with brands in the past to maybe diversify their message either through influencers or maybe just by taking a look at what they’re already doing and providing them insight on how to improve?
LaToya: Yeah. I think that a good example would be the tourism business, because I can keep it super general. The tourism industry, their social spaces are filled with beautiful imagery, landscape imagery, food imagery. And when they do sprinkle in people, it is usually white people. And it’s not that they’re doing it intentionally. That is who is probably in the area, probably who they cast in it. Again, it might not be done intentionally, but there’s no intent behind the thought that black people might travel here too, that Asian people might travel here too, that we should actually be promoting the wheelchair ramps at these local spaces so that we’re being inclusive. There’s no intent behind the thought of inclusivity, it is just disregarded.
Again, it might not be maliciously done, but there’s just no intent behind thinking of other races and disabilities. So I think that is where some of the biggest challenges and conversations come up and why brands aren’t being inclusive if they’re not thinking that we deserve to be in these spaces, that we actually travel, that we are in wheelchairs and need to know if it’s wheelchair accessible. Does that make sense?
Rich: It absolutely does. I think we just tend to think that people are like ourselves, and so we’re not always cognizant of this. And there are some people who may be on the malicious end of the spectrum, and some people who are on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, but they just haven’t been paying attention. And now suddenly this is starting to bubble up and they’re trying to do the right thing. And so that’s what we’re shooting for now.
So one of the other things is, influencer marketing to me is always about a relationship, relationship with the brand and the influencer. So how can we do a better job with the diverse influencers we’re talking about today to make sure that they feel good about being out there and representing our brand?
LaToya: You know, that’s a tough question because the influencer space, especially the diverse influencer space, is growing so fast. There are so many amazing content creators, so it’s almost impossible to like every creator, be in front of every creator. It’s almost impossible. However, if you do find that creators are tagging you and participating in your brand and they’re showing your brand authentically to their audience, start building relationships from there. It’s like, “Hey, thank you, we appreciate it. May I repost?” And then pay attention to the engagement from the current audience on the platform, and if it’s picking up or if that is more of the content you want to promote and post on your platform, then do it. Communicate with the influencers, and now you’re building a relationship. Then evolve into a paid relationship, pulling them into helping you create more content, diverse content, or promoting your brand. There can be steps and layers. It doesn’t have to be out of the gate, “Hey, I’m going to hire you to do this.” It might seem a little inauthentic. It might come off a little weird, it might not. But you won’t know unless you shoot your shot and put yourself out there. But you have to just have a strategy behind how you’re going to roll out diversifying or working with diverse creators.
Rich: All right. We teased this question a little bit when you were talking about iLINKR earlier, the platform you’ve created, but how can we measure the success of any influencer marketing campaign, but especially one with your agency? You mentioned that you’ve got some metrics in there, but what kind of metrics am I looking for as the company owner or as the director?
LaToya: Yeah, that’s a really good question. You know, we’ve sat through a million discovery calls and the biggest thing, the key takeaway, in all of the calls, a lot of the calls. Let’s say 40% of the calls. Most don’t have a KPI. And I think regardless of you’re using iLINKR or any other platform, the most important thing to know and put forth in all of your strategies is understanding what success looks like for you.
So if you’re going to approach influencer marketing, understand most influencer marketing is at the top of the funnel, right? It’s a brand awareness. So if your KPIs a conversion, if you are looking for actual conversion, then it might behoove you to really pay attention to the kind of influencer that you want to work with. How high is their engagement rate? What do people come to this influencer for? Are they just here to be inspired by a pretty image, or are they actually saying, “What hair product did you use? Because I am trying to get this particular curl and I can’t seem to figure it out. Can you recommend something for me?” So that tells you from that engagement, that this influencer can actually sell a product. Her audience is here to actually buy a product. They’re looking for advice, they’re looking for guidance and recommendations.
So once you understand what it is that you want from your advertising strategy, is it brand awareness, do you want more follows? If you want more follows you got to make sure that you probably could go for reach, a bigger influencer and the call to action is going to be, “Hey, go follow this brand”. That is an easy ‘to do’. That is a simple ‘to do’ for the audience. But if you want someone to sell something and your KPI is a CPA of $4, then it’s like, all right, you need to find an influencer that has an average engagement of 5% – 10%, because they’re more likely to convert their audience to click and sell something.
So for us, our metrics, we measure the basic stuff, impressions of views, likes, things of that nature. But when it comes to the conversion campaigns, we have to get crafty and use tracking links to track if there was an actual sale. So we’ll use a Bitly, or if the brand has an affiliate link or something like that. So it really depends on the level of the campaign that we’re working on. But most importantly, understand what you want to achieve in your campaign. What is your success metric?
Rich: Absolutely. How about sentiment? Do you measure sentiment at all? Because this is obviously something, you know, people don’t want to hear that, you got a thousand mentions, but they’re all negative, right? So is that something we can track?
LaToya: Yes. There are programs that you can track sentiments on. What we do a lot is we read a lot of comments. So we worked on a Staples campaign, and one of the major feedbacks that we gave the brand was in this audience that they’re very familiar with Staples, but the campaign was about back to school. And in reading the comments and understanding the sentiment and the consumer, they don’t look to Staples for their back to school buying habits. So what that says to us is you need to spend more time at the top of the funnel building brand awareness around back to school supplies in this audience set. And what does that look like? It doesn’t look like just only marketing back to school during back to school season. It’s really figuring out what that communication strategy is going to be a couple months before back to school.
So again, it’s paying attention to what the consumer is saying across social, and then taking that data and putting some meaning behind it so you can now create a better campaign. That’s a lot of what we do within our audience, within our campaign building.
Rich: Awesome. Latoya, this has been great. Absolutely eye-opening. If people want to connect with you, where can we send them online?
LaToya: Yeah, absolutely. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow us on Instagram at Black Girl Digital would be great.
Rich: Awesome. We’ll have those links in the show notes. Latoya, absolute pleasure today. Thank you so much for stopping by.
LaToya: Thank you so much for having me. I am very excited to have shared all of my knowledge, and hopefully I can come back soon.
Rich: Sounds good.
LaToya Shambo and her team at Black Girl Digital, are leading the charge in the digital marketing and influencer space by helping to even the playing field for minorities in marketing and as influencers. Follow her team on Instagram for influencer marketing tips.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.