How to Build an Inclusive Brand on Social Media Insights from Rakia Reynolds
January 19, 2023
One of the most sought-after minds in strategic communications, Rakia Reynolds is a thought leader, tastemaker, and branding expert who advises name brands on creative strategy.

Her guiding principles as an intriguing storyteller focus on distilling equity in messaging, and her ability to navigate the ever-increasing complex cultural and social media landscapes are only some of the reasons Rakia has successfully created her own distinct brand of authenticity and expertise for over 15 years. Rakia has been named by Inc. Magazine as one of the 27 Business Leaders Aiming to Change the World, was listed as one of the 25 Most Socially Influential Tastemakers on Dell’s “Inspire 100” list, and recently was also profiled by Forbes on their “Next 1000” list.Rakia serves as Founder and Executive Officer of Skai Blue Media (SBM), a non-traditional communications agency that proudly hosts an eclectic group of storytellers, brand experts, and strategists. Rakia continues to be a key influencer in the creative business industry as she works with her team to launch, brand, re-brand, and revitalize lifestyle, technology, non-profit and entrepreneurial clients. This list includes Airbnb, Comcast, Dell, Serena Williams, Morgan Stanley, Jill Scott, and more. Rakia’s portfolio includes #FanofYourBrand(tactical business tools), clothing brand EVRYDAY Jane, and an ethical intelligence platform set to launch in 2022.As a thought leader and proven authority in marketing, creative strategy and business development

Start With Your Values.

When building an authentic brand, it really is centered around your values, your purpose, your integrity, your spirit, your ideologies, and the things that you've written down as a person or as a brand that harkens back to what your mission statement is, who you are, what do you stand for, what are your beliefs, what do you not stand for. All of those things need to be cataloged and written down.

I like when I get to go into an office and people have on their whiteboard, it says who they are, what they do, what they stand for, even if it's one thing where it says, work hard, be nice to people, and that's your core value. So then, when it's time for you to do something online or say something, you know what you shouldn't be saying. And you know what you should be saying.

I'll give you some insight there, but right now, you all know this, we are in a very interesting time, and that's the only word that I can utilize to sum up what we're currently living in in terms of online and brand reputation. I know a lot of folks like to talk about cancel culture and things like that. But it is really about living this life in terms of brand’s work and personally and professionally about living and carrying out your values in an authentic way that is centered around your integrity. But a lot of brands need to evolve and we know this.

There are practices that need to just be thrown out. At the onset of the pandemic, it was that the media consumption went completely up. Obviously, we couldn't do anything else but be immersed in the world of media. But we got to these interesting places where folks just didn't know how to community together or talk to one another or utilize the right lexicon. We have so many resources here. We have Google, you can look things up. What does this mean? How is this going to make people feel? What I'm saying, what feelings will this evoke?

There are practices that need to just be thrown out. At the onset of the pandemic, it was that the media consumption went completely up. Obviously, we couldn't do anything else but be immersed in the world of media. But we got to these interesting places where folks just didn't know how to community together or talk to one another or utilize the right lexicon. We have so many resources here. We have Google, you can look things up. What does this mean? How is this going to make people feel? What I'm saying, what feelings will this evoke?

At Skai Blue Media over the past 10 years, we've developed a formula based off of our research and implementation and working with brands like the Ashley Grahams, and the Serenas, and the Revlons, and the Morgan Stanleys, and the Soft Banks, Opportunity Funds, and the host of folks that we get to work with, the Glennon Doyle's. I mean, we also learned from our clients, we did a quite a bit of work with a civil rights attorney who works for the National Association of the Deaf, and she is the person that selects all of the signers for Super Bowl and the NBAs. And we get to be at these interesting places where we get to learn from our clients and understand what the best practices are to show up in an authentic and interesting way. And I'm happy to share those things.

So here's what we've outlined as a sustainable brand model through these building blocks.

There's the verbal aspects: What are you saying? What are the economy of words that you utilize in order to convey who you are, what you do, how you do it, why you do it, how you show up? What are the nonverbal ways that you do that? Is it through colors? What is your storytelling without words? And then written? What are the actual things that show up on paper, in emails, in your email signature, in your bio, what are the words that are used that pop out that really underscore who you are, what you do, how you do it, and why you do it?

And then obviously, there's the world of social and digital and how that's played across platforms. I love Erica Diwan, who is author of a book called Digital Humanity, and she talks about how we should be having grace for ourselves and others in this world of empathy when we're showing up online. So pick up her book, snaps and claps to her. And then also your media presence, when we do a lot of work in the world of traditional media. When we get to this point about fact checking, it's are you who you really say that you are online, because for folks that are in this world of influence, if you are an influencer that's influencing the influencers, you have a duty and an obligation to live out the truth because you do influence other people. So we then say, how did that go in line or has it streamlined with making things more accessible in opening it up to all communities, and making sure that it is inclusive, and that you are possibly going the extra step to ensure that it's not just you that you're creating content for, you're showing up for from an authentic standpoint but also the community in which you are serving, because, quite honestly, it boils down to you being a person of service when you're showing up online.

You are serving others.

You are essentially, in some sort of capacity, serving other people with your words, your videos, what you're writing down, how you're showing up, if you were doing that as a public person or as a public brand. So for us just to get the basics over because we know you all know this, but brands are a feeling. It's an identity, it's your story. How does that progress? How does that evolve over time? Why do people care? There's a lot of research out there now saying that most people are making decisions on how they're shopping, or what the consumer behavior is based off on a feeling. A lot of us out there operate in a space of feeling, what does it make me feel like, why should I be doing this? Sometimes we buy things because we want to support that thing or it's a way to make us feel a certain way. And sometimes words can ruin all of that. So when you're thinking about your brand, when you're thinking about the story, how it progresses over time, what it looks like, from an evolution standpoint, we like to say it's in the media that the words are essential, and they matter.

In terms of defining a brand, I came across this trust equation from someone who used to work in my company years ago, and he talked about what is trust: Authenticity, integrity, trust, creativity, freedom of expression, artistic expression. So when folks come to work at our company, these values are practiced, they're outlined for everyone so that we know the spaces in which we're occupying. But the trust equation is something that we've utilized for a few years, and it really helps with who you are, what the promises that you're making, what is the expectation from your audience. Trust is that thing, right? And then there's credibility, reliability, authenticity, over self-orientation. So it's not just about you.

And for us, when we think about building brands, it's the research, it's the positioning, it's the communication strategy that you put so much work into. It's your messaging, it's your identity. But, you know, in thinking about how to become a better storyteller, one of the places that we start with clients and people that we work with, we always talk about a time that it was challenging to communicate what your story was, and we always take a step back. Did you identify your audience? I know a lot of folks now will go to their analytics, or Google Analytics, or they may go into one of their social platform analytics, and they see, okay, my audience is this demographic, this is the age, this is the persona, and they try to speak effectively to that audience. But we always like to say that you have to practice your brand and your messaging with people between the ages of 8 and 12. And the reason we say that is because it's sort of a scientific proven method that when you are talking to someone between the ages of 8 and 12, you intentionally try to simplify the message, you try to bring it down so that they understand exactly where you're coming from.

We work with a lot of folks in the tech space, and we always tell them, you like to use these very elaborate words and not everyone knows where you're coming from. So simplify those things and come from a space of just bringing it down and being really intentional. Practice telling your own story. What kinds of information do you like to share? And always know that your story never ends, it's always an "and then".

In the world of social and online, we always say share because your audience cares. But here's the thing. You cannot focus on all the social spaces. I know all of you want to be active on Twitter and Twitter spaces and Discord and Instagram and Facebook communities and LinkedIn and you want to do some sub conversations and Redit. But you have to focus on where your space feels the most authentic for your voice and for your brand. And that also applies for companies. We've seen way too many companies showing up on Twitter or popping into Twitter threads when they really don't have any business doing so because the conversation really doesn't apply to them.

So it's all about going back to those values. Where do you want to show up? What do you believe in? What's the purpose? What's the mission? What's the vision? And who is our community? And what does our community like? And how can we be serving our community?

Here are some of the trends that we're seeing. Another value at Skai Blue Media is equity in communications. And what that means is, we hold everyone accountable, whether it's a journalist, and it's very tough in our position because we are serving our clients in the world of communication. So if we come across a reporter who is doing things in a way that we don't feel showcases inclusivity or accessibility in the world of storytelling, we do go out of our way to educate them. It takes us a lot more work on our side, doing all this work, and social and digital and storytelling and communications and public relations, to get people to a space where they're building out accurate pieces of information. It's almost our way of doing our own fact checking. But some ways that we've seen this evolve over the past two years is that Instagram has now made it completely easy for closed captioning and image description. That process should be incorporated when you're uploading any of your content. We all know that video is on the move and on rise across platforms, and it's still reigning supreme, which is why bite size video platforms like Tiktok became the most downloaded app worldwide in 2021. And for those of you who are focusing from a consumer standpoint, social selling is what we like to say, there's their social selling, their storytelling, in this story selling. And currently, 76% of consumers have reported that they purchase items that they've seen in a brand's social media posts. So if you're in the world of influencer, pay attention, that is going to increase year over year, which is why brands are allocating more in terms of influencer marketing.

For those who are focusing on the world of Gen Zers globally and what those conversations are, Gen Z as we've found, this is research, this is data, and this just anecdotally showing up is that Gen Z really believes in mission based information. They believe in brands that are telling great stories online and they believe in honest brands. Brands that may have done things that were, I'm just gonna say out of pocket, but have come up and apologized and said we will do better. Clubhouse right now, for those of you who are still occupying that space, audio only space, we know that they're trying to make some changes to be a little more inclusive because of the numbers. Right now they have 2 million weekly active users, but it's a niche space for every interest in expertise. And then YouTube has made some tremendous milestones over the past few years by supporting its creators through more monetization and making sure that there's some inclusivity there, that it's not over-indexing on one type of influencer there. They're actually actively trying to level the playing field here

We believe that accessibility is honestly the bare minimum.

It is really about fostering an environment where people feel like they belong and people feel like they matter. If you're producing content, if you're showing up online, there are a few ways to do this. Closed captioning on all of your video content. I know you've heard this, but I'm saying it again for the people in the back. Unlike subtitles, closed captioning does provide audio cues. So the phone ringingor dog barking for the deaf and hard of hearing. Emojis are now a universal language. They're all on their own. It could also cloud an audience's understanding. Be very selective in your use and never replace words with emojis to ensure that you're not lost in translation.

I don't know if all of you saw the trend of the red flag. Across social, there was this moment for about three or four weeks where people were talking about red flags, but they were using the emoji red flag so folks that were getting it interpreted in different ways, if you were using 25 emojis to express that something was a red flag, what they were hearing was red flag, red flag, red flag, red flag, red flag, 20 times or 25 times or however much the emoji was listed out when they were interpreting the message. It doesn't give them the same experience, and we want to make sure that folks are getting the same experience online, no matter what their background is, no matter what their different abilities are.

It's about putting in the extra step to ensure that it is inclusive on time. For readability, make sure you capitalize the letter of each word and hashtags and handles. A lot of you, I've seen you using the hashtags. But in order to really come across and be efficient with your inclusivity practices online, it is very important to ensure that the first word in every letter that you're using in a hashtag is capitalized because it helps for those who are interpreting messages in different ways to really read the words.

2022 Trends

Throughout 2022, you will increasingly see that captions are more positioned like many blog posts, and this is specifically on Instagram, and that's a space that so many people occupy. So I just wanted to spend some time there. But if you think back two years ago on Instagram, 2016, people were using about an average of 142 characters. Now, in 2020, and beyond, people are using upwards of over 405 characters to really convey the storytelling, and what that means is you have the opportunity because the consumer behavior and people are starting to be conditioned to read longer captions, you have the opportunity to have a space of authenticity and integrity and also go the extra mile to be inclusive and ensure that your community is experiencing your brand the way you'd like them to. But as conversations continue online, and we all know they will because that's where we are.

We put together a toolkit that explains how to effectively communicate online and this is just important for folks that are trying to show up in spaces and not be performative or try to be a little more authentic with your inclusivity practice. Try to stay away from, I see a lot of you folks doing it, the Black History Month specialists, Black History Month and we want to say Happy Black History Month. If those practices are not being carried out internally, please don't share them externally, because that's when the performance begins. And that's when people can call you out for being performative. Because if you're not really authentically living and embracing those things internally, why would you share them externally.

And then we like to say show your work. The words that you use really should go back to the things that you were doing. We always caution brands, “if you're not really doing the thing, don't tell people about the thing.

“You don't have to participate in every conversation, it's okay, you can pause for the cause, and make sure that you reflect before you do the thing. It's works over words, we always say, stance over statement.”

I know a lot of folks were having some challenges because you didn't know whether to say during racial uprising during the pandemic, when we saw racism broadcasted on a larger stage, a lot of people were like, we didn't know this was America and racism existed like this. Well, it always has, it's just been broadcasted on a larger stage. So I think folks were trying to figure out, what should we say? How can we say it? Make sure you put more emphasis again, back to your values, your mission, your vision, your stance over your statement. And then that just goes into real service over lip service. That just summarizes the ax over the ads, the works over words, the stance over statement. And then language evolution. Language and lexicon are constantly evolving and adapting. That's a great thing about being a human being.

You can change, you can adapt, you can evolve, you can be a different person, you can show up as one person one day and evolve into a better individual the next day.



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