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Is Social Media Really Homogeneous White Milk?

 

On a regular basis, someone in the world of social media publishes a list of “power users” or “influencers.” Sometimes it is a list meant to represent a certain niche in the online world. For example, you might see a list of the “50 top marketers on Twitter.” What is highly disturbing to me is how focused these lists tend to be on white American social media practitioners.

There are two potential reasons for this consistent and disturbing oversight. The first explanation is that maybe Americans, specifically white Americans, use social media more than anybody else. That hypothesis falls apart pretty quickly, however.

Take a look at this study published on April 17th of this year regarding worldwide usage of social media platforms. The U.S. and Canada, grouped together, shows a lower percentage of usage than all other regions of the world.  Granted, the sample size in this case was small, 1,000 people. This Mashable study from January of this year offers more insight. While the U.S. shows more social media participants, other countries are growing far faster in the online world, and many of the cities where social media is used most are located well outside the boundaries of the U.S.

Clearly, even if the U.S. leads the world in social media users, there are plenty of other people from all around the world from which to choose when making lists of influential people.

Option two is far more bothersome, but it seems more probable. Despite the fact that social media has the potential to shrink the world, it seems that most people who generate lists limit their thinking to popular, powerful social media accounts that belong to white people, and especially white men. We can encounter a catch-22 here, of course. The person making the list may not think there are many non-white, non-American influencers out there because they don’t network with those accounts, and thus, they feel there aren’t any accounts worth of making a list. In order to place someone on a list, you have to take the step to know about them first.

One also wonders, though, why there isn’t more of an outcry about such things. A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine made a list of people he felt was influential and one of his European friends said, partially in jest, “Where are the European people?” The list was almost exclusively, if not completely, American users. Why are there not more efforts online to mix things up though? Why are African American, Muslim American, Asian American, and Hispanic American users not more vocal about getting the attention they deserve?

Perhaps there is an unwillingness to rock the boat, or maybe such protests are drowned out by people who don’t want to hear that bigotry may have woven its way into the online world. Maybe people just don’t want to rock the boat.

Well, I’m rocking the boat. I don’t have any answers as to what is going on in the U.S. as we network with other users and identify who is powerful and who is not. This is not a cry for lists of “Top 50 African American Twitter accounts,” either. I don’t want more segregated lists emulating the Forbes “20 Top Women” list. I want us to melt together. We have a better opportunity of making that melt happen online than we do in the offline world, don’t we?

What is stopping us? I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Article written by
Margie Clayman is the Vice President of Client Services at Clayman Marketing Communications in Akron Ohio. She blogs at www.claymanmarketingcommunications.wordpress.com and at her own personal blog, www.margieclayman.com.