Why Black creators say relationships with platforms remain strained
By the time Tiffany La’Ryn graduated from Meta’s Black creator program, We The Culture, in 2021, her content engagement was growing, she had a Meta coach to mentor her and she’d received a stipend from the social media platform’s $25 million investment into Black creators.
But looking back, the content creator, who goes by @tiffany_laryn on Instagram, said something was lacking, causing her to question Meta’s dedication to marginalized creators. For La’Ryn, the program helped to boost her audience engagement numbers, but didn’t offer business sustaining tools like audience insights and engagement measurement tools. And once the program finished, that direct connection to Meta staff fizzled out, she said.
“It was more so just a learning experience,” said the content creator, who currently has 95,000 Instagram followers, 242,000 Facebook followers and 395,000 YouTube subscribers. “Across the board, a lot of creators don’t understand the importance of their data. That’s really more important than the content [creation].”
La’Ryn isn’t alone in her critique of such programs. In fact, Black creators have long since reported a strenuous relationship between themselves and social media platforms like Meta, TikTok and YouTube, citing suppressed content, lagging diversity in executive leadership teams and an overall lack of support in comparison to their white counterparts.
“When these programs were created, I don’t necessarily feel that they were for the betterment of the Black community,” La’Ryn said. “I can’t necessarily say it was just only for the benefit of our culture.”
Neither Meta nor TikTok responded to a request for comment in time for publication. A spokesperson for YouTube pointed to YouTube’s official blog announcing this year’s YouTube Black Voices class.
It’s no secret that content creators are in high demand right now. In the first quarter of 2022, 69% of agency professionals told Digiday that their clients spent at least a very small portion of their marketing budgets on influencers. That figure increased to 79% by Q3 of 2022, according to Digiday+ Research. In fact, influencer marketing will command $6.16 billion of the nation’s ad spend this year, as predicted by Insider Intelligence.
The creator economy has been building up for the last few years, propelled by the pandemic, as social media platforms rolled out everything from digital tip jars to creator programs to court creators. Marginalized creators have often been at the helm of that growth, creating dance trends, viral sound bites and other popular content.
After the murder of George Floyd, several social media sites upped the ante on their commitment to Black and brown creators with multi-year programs, incubator projects and payouts. Two years later, creators say that’s just the beginning of what could be done to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion on social media.
“Black creators often set the standard and the trend on any app. A lot of apps either one, fail to recognize that or two, they recognize it and don’t want to give Black creators recognition,” said Cheyenne Wilder, who goes by @chynaminks on TikTok and has 52,000 followers. “We’re as important to them as they are [to] us.”
Out of the 10 content creators Digiday spoke to for this story, four never applied to any Black content creator programs, pointing to unresolved algorithmic racial bias and murky participation requirements as reasons for abstaining.
“When it comes to metrics, when it comes to eligibility, that just discredits and that disqualifies a bunch of people who are just as deserving as those with larger platforms to get the support and the compensation that they need,” said Cheyenne M. Davis, a part-time content creator who goes by @cheymodee on Instagram and has 10,000 followers.
To be completely transparent, Titilola Sogunro, known as @titispassion on Instagram with more than 105,000 followers, said she never even considered applying. In an email to Digiday, Sogurno said, “I think it’s great that these programs exist but what I would prefer [is] if these platforms do a better job having algorithms that favor our content.”
That’s not to say the platforms’ efforts are a wash. It’s a love-hate relationship, in which every day, creators of color have a platform and opportunity to connect with community, Sogunro said.
Having less than 10,000 subscribers on YouTube in 2021, Reni Odetoyinbo took a chance and applied for #YouTubeBlack, the video platform’s Black creator program. It changed a lot for the full-time creator, who goes by @xoReni and now has more than 23,000 YouTube subscribers.
Prior to joining the program, the Toronto-based content creator said she was making a few thousand dollars per month. Since participating in the program, she’s been able to scale her income, making a total of $44,000 last month.
As racial disparities, especially wage gaps, plague Black and brown communities, creator programs that have funding can be career-defining opportunities for creators, Odetoyinbo said. In a 2021 study, the pay gap between white influencers and BIPOC influencers was 29%. More specifically, the pay difference between white and Black influencers is 35%, according to research from PR company MSL U.S., in partnership with digital platform The Influencer League.
“This just allows us to be on that equal playing field,” Odetoyinbo said. “It allows us to focus on our craft even more and take the risks that maybe other people are able to take up because they’d have the money.”
#YouTubeBlack, YouTube’s global, multi-year commitment to Black creators, is in its third year. Meta’s We The Culture, part of its $25 million commitment to Black creators, has expanded to include The Network, “an ongoing exclusive group that has been created to reach more creators within the Black community,” according to the program’s submission page. Although, it’s unclear if The Network includes funding for creators. It’s also unclear if TikTok has maintained the Black Creatives incubator program it launched in 2021. The platform did, however, roll out Visionary Voices, recognizing a handful of Black creators on the app for Black History Month.
Meanwhile, Pinterest has expanded its Creator Inclusion Fund for underrepresented groups, which is in its third year, beyond the U.S. to include Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France. Over the last three years of the program, the commitment in funding has been over $2.3 million, going toward cash payments to creators and ad credits to promote their content or businesses on the platform.
“It is a commitment for us to continue to invest in this program and also invest in underrepresented communities,” said Zeny Shifferaw, global creator inclusion lead at Pinterest. “This work is necessary and mission critical, and that’s why we’re doing it again for the third year.”
There’s still a lot of work to be done to mend relationships between Black creators and the social media platforms on which their content lives, especially when it comes to algorithms and potential racial bias, according to creators. But seemingly, every little bit helps.
“Influencers heavily impact how these platforms work,” Sogunro said. “Social media will keep changing and evolving which is a good thing. I am excited about the future of it all.”
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