With its diverse and global workforce, Viacom places a special emphasis on Black History Month, hosting a series of events for black employees and their colleagues invested in diversity in our rapidly changing industry. In the heart of this month-long focus, we hosted TV personality Emil Wilbekin to moderate a panel of popular bloggers and BET executives. These experts discussed black cultural contributions to media and how bloggers can maximize digital content to create a unique voice and permanently impact their field.
The diverse panelists discussed the challenges facing African-Americans in the media industry. “The thing with digital [content] is,” said Wilbekin, “It’s changing constantly. It’s like the Wild West.”
Ava L. Hall, vice president of Programming and Brand Advancement at Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) told the crowd that her biggest influence at BET International is her audience. She spoke of the challenges faced by her department to integrate diverse culture from France to Ghana into the network.
Despite dealing with an eclectic population of viewers in Africa—where each country has its own language and local cultural influences—Hall said her job of providing viewers with original content is made easier by social media.
“That’s the beauty of social media,” said Hall. “We are able to test our voice and our content.”
Hall uses local cultural experts as well as an innate sense for black culture to keep the brand voice consistent. “It is a delicate balance,” Hall said, “To stay true to the core pillars of BET and have a local voice.” Hall said it becomes a battle between promoting each country’s unique values and keeping BET’s brand intact.
Panelist Claire Sulmers began blogging to fill a void she found in traditional fashion media. As an African-American fashion writer for publications like Italian and French Vogue, she saw a consistent lack of diversity on the runways and magazine covers. She created Fashion Bomb Daily, a website that fills these gaps left by traditional media.
“We’re overlooked, we’re undervalued, and it’s that goal and mission that inspires me every day,” said Sulmers. Her blog does not strictly feature African-American style. She considers it a cultural melting pot. “We feature everyone who is young, hot and sassy,” said Sulmers.
Luvvie Ajayi is a blogger most influenced by her audience. “People will say my comment section is the safest place to be on the interwebz,” she said. Her site AwesomelyLuvvie.com is comedic, but has also produced a strong sentimental reaction from readers. One fan told her that reading Ajayi’s blog in the hospital waiting room while her mother received chemotherapy was what kept her from tears.
Ajayi says she did not always have a strategic plan for developing her blog. As a 13-year blogging veteran, she says she just started writing. Now, she says, she writes how she speaks. Her voice has developed into a successful brand, and she writes like she is talking to thousands of her best friends.
“It’s the same voice,” said Ajayi, “Whether I am tackling race or writing about how yellow Starbursts are the worst.”
For Maureen Carter, vice president of Design and UX for BET Digital, her passion for art drives her career in the media. “I had my first art show when I was five,” said Carter, “So I knew I wanted a career in design.”
Carter uses her innate creative vision at Viacom to enhance the content for her brand and help her co-workers evolve. “I inspire my team, and they inspire me,” said Carter.
She uses this inspiration to help keep BET Digital current. This means working to invigorate Black History Month. “It’s no longer just about Martin Luther King Jr.,” Carter said. “It’s about when the first Air Jordans came out, and when Kanye makes a statement that everyone remembers.”
Bringing culturally relevant, authentic content to BET’s millennial audience is vital for the brand’s vision and success. Social media is essential. “We talk to our users, we are in the marketplace,” said Carter. “The evolution is here.”