Diversity in the Blogosphere | Lack of Representation for Influencers of Color

Five years ago (in March 2013), I decided to dedicate my time to a blog -- a place where I could express myself and share all the things I loved. Before the extravagant brand trips, parties, and money really became a thing, most of us started our platforms as a result of pure passion.

After my first year, I got my first paid opportunity to co-host an in-store event for The Limited. It was extremely exciting, but I'd never thought about about monetizing my blog on that scale nor had I ever been asked for my rates. Since my blog was growing, I'd decided to apply to a platform called rewardStyle to begin incorporating ads and affiliate links at my one-year mark. In April 2014, I was accepted to the platform and began utilizing the ads and affiliate links on my blog. By December 2014, my account was frozen because I had "not managed to make a sale for 3 months". 

When I reached out to my account manager to see what I could do and inquire about other strategies I could use in order to do well, I was told to reapply in another 2-3 months after working to grow and engage my audience more. Okay cool, no biggie -- I worked hard to do just that. After another 3 months in March 2015 (my two year blogiversary), I reapplied for rewardStyle and was declined.

I wasn't upset or anything. Despite this, my blog continued to grow organically. By December 2015, I was accepted into the Mode Media's blogger network and secured several brand partnerships, including a major social media commercial opportunity with Target in 2016. Needless to say, my journey did not end nor was it greatly affected by being dropped or declined by rewardStyle. I'm still out here kickin' it.

Exclusive Blogger Conferences

I remember when rewardStyle hosted their very first blogger conference here in Dallas (their company is based here) in 2013. I don't think I thought anything of it for the first few years -- I realized that it was pretty exclusive, but after the first couple of conferences, I noticed something and it raised some questions. One being:

Where the hell are the bloggers of color?!

Because we damn sure exist. Each year, those attending the conference looked the same and it led me to wonder why no bloggers of color were ever invited. At the first conference, it was reported that 100 top bloggers from the platform were invited. By the second conference, that number had been upped to approximately 200 of their top bloggers and has remained since. Over the years, I've frequently noticed and questioned the same thing with other panels, conferences and workshops. No representation. It truly boggled my mind.

If you want to say that no bloggers of color are in the top [whatever number you come up with], then aight I guess -- but I see a lack in other areas as well. So what's that about? We notice.

A Problematic Lack of Diversity

While I am speaking about racial diversity in this instance, ALL of this also applies to many other areas as well -- style, body type, gender/sexual orientation, age, etc. The list goes on! I'm definitely tired of seeing the same types of influencers represented in this space -- PERIOD. And please understand that when I say "bloggers of color", I am not only speaking of black bloggers!

One of the most problematic parts of this is that brands, marketing and PR agencies who partner with or use any of these other non-diverse platforms or half-assed "Top Influencer" lists use them to aid in their outreach...leading to non-diverse campaigns, panels, etc. Lack of diversity in these spaces bleed and trickle down leaving consumers to question what is going wrong at the top. Bloggers/influencers of colors do exist and they are out here killing the game.

In my five years as a blogger, I've watched the community evolve...so why haven't these spaces? What's the real tea, sis?

But the MOST problematic part, in my opinion, is that some-freaking-how, no one in these settings (brands and bloggers alike) seem to find any issue with the lack of diversity. Like, it never rings in their minds at all. Or if it does, they're too afraid to speak out -- which leads me to my next point...

Speaking Out from the Inside

Bloggers of color have used their voices to talk about this for years and, while those over these companies are certainly aware by now, nothing has changed. So what does it take? And let me make this clear -- rewardStyle is not the only platform like this, but recent conversations regarding their yearly conference have sparked dialogue within the community and amongst creators of color.

When people of color bring up an issue, we're told that we are "complaining" or our points are trivialized. Or we're told that we're making "harsh claims" as I read in the comments of one post. Yeah, aight.  *rolls eyes*

It's interesting to me that while their "peers" speak up for inclusion and diversity, the ones who benefit the most don't EVER have anything to say, are too afraid to say something and/or genuinely don't see anything wrong occurring here. It's wild, really. 

Some of the same bloggers who "kiki" with us at events don't have a damn thing to say or bring to the conversation. I don't expect it, but it's just interesting to see exactly who gets quiet when these topics arise. Simply an observation. *shrug* 

But shoutout to the allies who have realized these things and spoken up. Can't forget about y'all.

I Don't Want Another Bullshit Explanation

I'm not here for a bullshit explanation about why bloggers of color aren't thought of or included. Keep it. Do better.

To be completely honest, I've been exhausted for at least two years now. I'm tired of having the same conversation about this same conferences each year; however, it continues to serve as an annual reminder that nothing has changed much...and it probably won't because it seems none of these people are interested in making that change within their own platforms.

While around 200 "top influencers" are invited each year to this particular conference, thousands utilize the platform...so it would seem to me that you would want more types of people to prosper. Why not extend the opportunity to learn to others rather than basically the same influencers each year? 

Even aside from these conferences where attendees are linked with brands for partnerships and given additional tools/strategies/tips for growth, bloggers of color do use the platforms but are barely represented elsewhere.

With that being said, whether you've been dropped, declined or have never been apart of this platform or others, please do understand that they're certainly not the be-all and end-all. It is okay. You can absolutely still prosper without them. However, when you barely see anyone represented who looks like you when you know damn well we exist, the frustration is all too familiar. It can be discouraging, but it's not "game over" and it's a [thin] glass ceiling that we can indeed shatter together.

What Is The Next Step?

As I stated before, I'm not looking for an explanation at this point nor a pity invitation. I don't expect change but if it happens, color me shocked. But we know why. We see...every single year. So what now? If they wanted to include and invite us to the table, they would have by now. At this point, I say we simply create our own space and continue to prosper. Collectively, WE have hella connections and skills to make anything happen. Let's get that conversation poppin' and use our energy in other ways.

I'm a Quitter | The Beginning of a New Chapter

I'm a quitter. 

Being a quitter isn't exactly a quality that people take pride in. You've probably grown up believing that quitting is bad and that you should simply "push through" the uncomfortable situations you're in. That's what I always believed, but I've learned that's not always the case. At 23 years old, I've quit several things in my life -- ballet, ice skating lessons, organizations, relationships...the list goes on. It's apart of life but, in this case, quitting is pretty bittersweet.

For months, I've contemplated the decision to quit my job and pursue blogging full-time. Not only had my plate been extremely full, but the idea of working rather than writing a blog post or filming a new video just didn't seem exciting anymore. Towards the end of each week, I'd end up swamped with work because the rest of my days were filled with my other projects. I soon began to realize that my personal brand was taking a serious backseat to everything else and it kind of bugged me. Plus, everything was difficult to balance and I was a wreck. Finishing two degrees, family life, a very long-term relationship, a growing social life and multiple jobs/projects including my blog...it was a lot.

"I'm going to quit this week, I'm going to quit this week" was something I began mumbling to myself religiously.

Stress began to take over, I never got a full night of sleep, anxiety attacks occurred often, and being on the computer literally all day took a toll on my body physically. It was a terrible feeling to have on a day-to-day basis, but fear was an even worse feeling that continuously held me back.

What if I don't have enough money saved? What if blogging full-time doesn't work out? What if I fall on my ass? Blah, blah, blah...

A few weeks prior to making my final decision, I sent an email to my manager expressing my interest in resigning, but in much more vague words. *ping* She quickly responded. Luckily, she didn't exactly understand my email and what I was saying, so I took that as an opportunity to let fear take over once again and I didn't responded any further. 

I continued working for a few more weeks when I received a concerned email from my manager about my previous work week while in New York City -- I'd worked below the required minimum hours. She was so sweet and willing to help me out in any way she could, but I decided to just go ahead make my move. I quit. Most college graduates try to find a job following graduation and here I am quitting mine. Even though it killed me to leave behind an amazing job and clients that I'd assisted for almost two years, it was something I had to do for myself.

Keyword: MYSELF. I've always worried myself wondering what people will think of me or how they will react. I try my hardest to consider others and not be selfish, but I've heard that in your 20s is the best time to be selfish.

Reading other bloggers' inspiring stories about how they quit their jobs and began blogging full-time became my favorite thing to read about, but the greatest piece of wisdom I was given was in a Facebook group I'm in for Black female bloggers. I knew there were plenty of women in the group who blogged full-time, so I felt it was the perfect place to ask and learn from others. It was something along the lines of:

If you only run your blog part-time, then you'll only know how your blog will run part-time. If you don't give yourself the opportunity to blog full-time, you may never see its full potential.

The opportunities I've been afforded through my platform as a part-time blogger have been AMAZING, so I'm eager to see where I can go now after almost 3 1/2 years in the game. From flying out of Dallas to host H&M openings to filming Target social media videos in Los Angeles, each opportunity has been mind-blowing and surreal. I'm excited to see what opportunities come along now as I focus on giving my brand my 100%.

Luckily in the months leading up to my recent decisions, I've received a great amount of support from my family and friends. My family continuously tells me how proud they are of everything I've done (which damn near makes me want to burst into tears every time) and my boyfriend of 7 years has helped me remain sane during my toughest times, but one of the people I'm most appreciative of is my last remaining best friend. 

Unfortunately with each move I've ever made, friends and support have been equally and quickly lost, so I cherish this friendship...because good, long-lasting friends are hard to come by.

Friends who still support you no matter what decisions you make, how far you go in life, even though you may be veering in different directions, and don't just drop you because you may not necessarily benefit them as much anymore are like unicorns -- the rarity is real.

But bottomline, I appreciate anyone who has been here and continues to support. I see you.

I'll admit that it's a very scary change and huge leap to make, but I'm ready to see where God takes me next on this journey. I trust Him. Whether full-time blogging is truly for me or not, I feel deep in my soul that I'm supposed to at least give it a try...so I'm taking pride in my decision.

Proudly a quitter.

Blogger Talk | You Don't Need 100K Followers To Be Successful

I've been blogging for almost 3 years now (in March) and I don't have a massive social media following. I'll admit that this used to really get to me and I'd beat myself up about it all the time.

"What can I do better?"
"Why am I not growing fast enough?"
"I'll never be able to get any big opportunities..."

Those are the questions I'd cloud my mind with quite often.

So far, blogging has been quite an amazing journey for me filled with countless unexpected opportunities and it's kept me sane during my undergrad years. I've been able to work with some of my favorite companies like H&M and Target. I even had the opportunity to fly to LA for the first time to participate in a campaign back in August which still seems so surreal to me. Each one has been a blessing and I'm grateful for everything. I've grown a lot and treating my blog (my passion) as my job at this point has taught me many life lessons that I can always carry with me if I ever decide to stop blogging. These achievements and lessons learned are how I define my success.

Define success in your own terms and follow your own path. What worked for one content creator may not necessarily work for you. I haven't followed the typical preppy style, Starbucks, and top bun -- even though I do love a good preppy outfit and a hot mocha latte (can't get this fro in a top bun though). I've stayed true to my style and try to focus on keeping my personality extremely genuine. I'm not Pinterest-perfect by any means and I sometimes share my pet peeves, flaws, and struggles in hopes that someone might be able to relate or be inspired.

I also focus on posting the best quality content possible and I'm always tweaking things to make my blog posts, videos, designs, and overall approach better...but in a way that reflects ME.

I don't say any of this to boost myself or boast about my résumé, but to say that you don't need to have 100K followers (or any high number greater or less than) to be successful in the blogging world. I've noticed that this gets a lot of bloggers and content creators down in the dumps (including myself at times), but just know that you're not alone! Of course, companies are going to have their requirements like having 50K followers on one social platform alone (not really sure when I'm going to even reach that point) or getting 100,000 views a month on your blog (I wish!), but that doesn't mean that you won't get any opportunities or that you can't be considered successful. Remember: success in your own terms. And while blogging has become so incredibly saturated, there's literally a company or brand out there for everyone to work with.

Continue to be consistent, unique, genuine, and most importantly, patient. The followers will come. Until then, keep doing you.