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The rise of the micro-influencer: Your employees

Dr. Shilpa Tiwari of Citizen Relations, left, hosted a panel on diversity during Advertising Week with Procter & Gamble’s Freddy Bharucha, Carta’s Mita Mallick and Citizen’s Brittany Bright, founder of the Influencer League.
Dr. Shilpa Tiwari of Citizen Relations, left, hosted a panel on diversity during Advertising Week with Procter & Gamble’s Freddy Bharucha, Carta’s Mita Mallick and Citizen’s Brittany Bright, founder of the Influencer League.

Brands need to do more than simply mark Black history month each year. This is their opportunity to create change — and change starts from within.

To create brand trust with ethnically diverse audiences, companies must first have trust within their marketing and advertising teams.

This was the conclusion made by industry experts during a panel I recently hosted during Advertising Week. The discussion marked the end of comprehensive research by my agency, Citizen Relations. The Citizen Inclusive Influencer Index: A Study on Authentic Inclusive Influencer Marketing was released at the end of November.

The study provides a better sense of how different ethnic communities are connecting — or disconnecting — with brands. The research surveyed close to 2,500 people across Canada and the U.S.

Our panelists included Freddy Bharucha, senior EVP, North America and global, personal beauty care at Procter & Gamble; Mita Mallick, head of inclusion, equity & impact at Carta; and Brittany Bright, founder of The Influencer League and associate director of influence at Citizen. 

Mallick started us off by saying that when she sees racist, sexist and homophobic content in the marketplace, she wonders if there was trust on the team. In some cases, no one feels comfortable enough to stand up against messaging or a product before it’s released — worse, sometimes there’s not enough diversity at the table to offer a variety of points of view, and no one has the courage to say that out loud.

“I always say listen to the whispers, they’re the loudest,” Mallick said about the creative process. 

There’s still a lot of diversity-washing happening since the murder of George Floyd, she continued. But brands have an opportunity to adapt. 

Mallick calls this the rise of the micro influencer: your own employees. For example, if you’re going to do a huge event for Black History Month, it’s essential to talk to your Black employees about your proposed approach.

Bringing diversity to influencer marketing is Bright’s raison d’etre at Citizen Relations. Bright knows that a variety of voices and perspectives doesn’t just reflect a broad customer range — it makes business sense.

“African Americans have $1 trillion in buying power, but BIPOC influencers aren’t getting the attention,” she said. Despite this, there is a 35% pay gap between white and Black influencers.

An early goal for Bright was putting more Black and brown influencers onto campaigns, bringing a level of authenticity to discourse. Bright aims to create content that has reach, relevance and resonance.

“You need to look at the content you’re sharing. You want that engagement, so that it can resonate with this audience. I work to empower creators to speak up for themselves. The audience needs to see that authenticity,” Bright explained.

Bharucha knows what it’s like to be the only person of color in a room, and he looks for diversity in his own team.

“When I have everyone talk, look and think like me, I might as well have just made the decision myself. Diversification brings different views,” Bharucha said.

Bharucha said change takes courageous and action-oriented leadership. At P&G, he worked to create a balanced leadership team — 55% of his leadership team are women, 55% of the team is multicultural. “We decided that we needed to really start working on how to create products designed to win with multicultural consumers from the start.”

Recognizing where you need to make progress isn’t easy, but open discussions are key. Bright summed it up perfectly:

“We need more honest, uncomfortable and transparent conversations that are more reflective of the world we’re living in.”

Dr. Shilpa Tiwari is the global EVP of social impact and sustainability at Citizen Relations. She has extensive experience in building sustainability, social impact and EDI strategies and embedding them into a brand's larger business strategy. She worked and lived in North America, Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe across a range of industries from mining, financial services to CPG. She is also the founder of Her Climb, an organization that aims to increase the number of women of color in executive and senior roles in corporations and organizations across North America.

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