By Stephanie Stahl published June 9, 2020 Est Read Time: 8 min

Content Can Perpetuate Racism and Inequity. It’s Time to Do Better

Events of the past weeks – the tragic deaths, the vocal outcry, the peaceful protests, the riots, the looting – should have every one of us questioning how we can make things better.

I wanted to say something to acknowledge the systemic racism that’s brought us all to this moment – and to speak out against it. And I did on my own social media channels.

As the general manager of the Content Marketing Institute, I wanted to say something beyond just a statement on our social media channels. But what?

I used the two-question process we outlined in a March CMI article, Should the News Disrupt Your Content Calendar? Here’s How to Decide:

  • On a scale of 0 to 10, how much does this news relate to our company? Our mission is to educate marketers about content marketing. While the triggering events and subsequent protests aren’t directly about content marketing, racism and unconscious bias are systemic. They seep into content unless we proactively work to identify and eliminate their presence. (Score: 10)
  • On a scale of 0 to 10, how much does this news affect our audience? A lot. (Score: 10)

Once I determined that the topic is relevant to our purpose and to our audience, I decided to write this post.

We as content marketers need to do better. We must ensure that our content authentically reflects the diverse voices and experiences of our audiences and avoids unconscious bias. If we don’t, we are contributing to the problem.

We’ve shared advice about how content marketers can assess and adjust content plans during the COVID-19 crisis. Some of the advice we would give content marketers now is similar. But the pandemic had a general start date and will, ultimately, have an end date (even if we don’t know it yet).

Racism did not just pop up. It’s a disease that has wreaked havoc on communities, created unnecessary divisions, caused talented people and innovative ideas to be overlooked, and worst of all, destroyed families and ended lives. The need to stand against racism and to work for diversity, inclusion, and equity has no end date.

The need to stand against racism has no end date, says @EditorStahl via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

With those thoughts in mind, here’s a two-part approach to help you assess the actions you’ll take:

What should you do with your editorial calendar?

In the last 10 days or so, many organizations have posted messages reinforcing that black lives matter and voicing their intolerance for racism and inequality. Some took immediate action. Here’s one example:

Midday Saturday, May 30, Steven Shattuck, chief engagement officer of Bloomerang, got the OK from the company’s CEO to switch up its content. “I couldn’t enter into this week with our normal publishing schedule,” he wrote in a series of tweets. “I have cleared our editorial calendar.”

Instead, the donor-management software company opened its megaphone to #BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) working in the nonprofit sector. “You have an open invite to write for our blog (PAID!) and elevate your voice … BIPOC working in the nonprofit sector have something to say and we want to give them a platform,” Steven tweeted.

Bloomerang also curated a living library of resources (bloomerang.co/dei) to further diversity, equity, and inclusion in the nonprofit sector and invited contributions. The list includes dozens of people of color whom Bloomerang has welcomed as guests on webinars and events, as well as others who have interacted with the company.

No matter what you determine about whether to change your content plan to address recent headlines, ALL brands should review their editorial calendars to check for appropriateness. Look at headlines, word choices, and topics ready for publication as well as those in the works.

ALL brands must review their editorial calendars to check on appropriateness, says @EditorStahl via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

For example, if we had an article about laughter in content on the schedule, we would not publish this headline, “How to Create Riotous Laughter in Your Content,” today. Would we ever publish the article? Eventually, we would (with a different headline). But we wouldn’t have posted it last week or this week. Instead, we’d continue to evaluate its appropriateness as events unfold.

What should content marketers do in the short and long term to address the ongoing challenges around racism?

Do not just respond in the context of recent events. Use recent events only as the catalyst to tackle the overarching issue of racism in your professional environment. This requires an honest and objective review of everything your content marketing team is doing and not doing. The questions will challenge you. The answers may surprise and upset you.

Use recent events as the catalyst to tackle the overarching issue of racism in your professional environment, says @EditorStahl via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

In an article we published earlier this year (and re-ran last week given its relevance), Ann Gynn wrote that truly valuing diversity requires a demonstration that goes far beyond having people of color represented in stock imagery:

Truly diverse and inclusive content – the kind that resonates consciously and subconsciously with your audience – requires far more than an image. It requires thinking more deeply, from your audience research to your team structure, from your style guide to your user experience.

I offer a few thoughts on how to get started:

  1. Look at your content marketing team and your company. Do the professionals charged with creating your brand messages represent the diversity of your audience? How do the experiences of each team member influence your content marketing? (On your next hires, work to expand the racial diversity of your team. Promote your job openings where diverse audiences congregate. For example, if you want to hire a journalistically trained writer, promote the job through the National Association of Black Journalists.) Hire consultants or agencies with deep knowledge and experience in these areas to help you determine whether your content is missing the mark or leaving out an important angle. Whatever you do, don’t make assumptions.
  2. Provide training on multicultural marketing. Specific and prescriptive training can help shift the team’s mindset to make them more aware of their own unconscious biases and how to eliminate them from their content.
  3. Add layers to your content audit – right now. Add categories to your content audit to understand how well you execute your diversity and inclusion commitment. If you haven’t done an audit recently (or if you haven’t included diversity and inclusion in your audit), update it now.
  4. Look at your content development. Where do you get your ideas? Are you talking with (and listening to) your customers as part of your content planning? If not, start now. If so, make sure to choose customers that reflect the diversity of your audience. What sources do you quote in your content? Are they diverse? What about the speakers at your webinars and live events? Consider adding an editorial advisory board with varied representatives to suggest ideas and offer fresh sources and speakers to help your content be more inclusive.

You may think you support the value of diversity and inclusion, but these steps will reveal if you’re actively working toward it. It requires us all to recognize our individual and team biases, particularly the unconscious, unappreciated, or unrealized things you do or don’t do.

Say something when you have something to share

Many well-meaning brands are denouncing recent events around hatred and proclaiming their support of and commitment to diversity and inclusion. Truly committed content marketers will talk with underrepresented audience members, apply what they learn to their content, and work toward creating content that’s meaningfully inclusive.

Committed content marketers will talk with underrepresented audience members, apply what they learn, and work toward creating content that’s inclusive, says @EditorStahl via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

You don’t need to make a big announcement about what you’re going to do. Start doing it, then explain what you’re doing and why. (Stay tuned to this blog for a future update on what CMI is doing.) Report back regularly to your community. After all, a commitment to diversity and inclusion never has an ending point.

Have you taken any of these steps to date? Do you have other ideas? Let’s share throughout our community. Let us know in the comments.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Stephanie Stahl

As General Manager of CMI, Stephanie leads the brand’s event, digital, print, and e-learning operations. Previously, Stephanie served as VP of Content Marketing for UBM’s Technology portfolio, providing strategic guidance on content development, content optimization, audience engagement, and go-to-market platforms for technology clients. Stephanie also spent many years as Editor in Chief of InformationWeek. Find Stephanie on Twitter @editorstahl and LinkedIn.

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