What Cardi B. Teaches Us About Building a Brand on Social Media

I have a confession to make.

The VH-1 reality show Love and Hip Hop is one of my guilty pleasures. It plays out like a telenovela and it is delightfully ratchet…and I love every second of it. I  watch every Monday night–much to my husband’s disappointment as it overlaps with the beginning of WWE Monday Night Raw. The twists, the turns, the side chicks,  the wigs, the waist trainers…I love it all.

So when I found out that social media personality Cardi B was going to be on Love and Hip Hop New York, I just KNEW I had to watch. Cardi is one great example of someone who used social media to build her brand–and ultimately, change her life. There are some lessons to be learned here, and I’d like to share them with you in this post.

Want to make an impact? Be Authentically YOU. 

You can love or hate Cardi B. You can think she’s a national treasure, or you can think she’s just another “regular, degular, shmegular girl from da Bronx.” But you know what? Cardi B is herself on every single medium, whether she’s talking about Ayesha Curry on Twitter, or addressing people who throw shade at her, and people love it because in the end, people respond positively because they can relate to authenticity. She never tries to be anyone else, and when you’re building your brand, neither should you. We can all learn a good lesson from that.

You see, when you are inauthentic, people can see right through it. They can see when you are “faking the funk.” So why be anything or anyone other than who you are?

Cardi has always used social media and other forms of media to tell her story and control her narrative. 

Cardi B has told her story of how she started stripping to escape an abusive relationship several times, and she’s not afraid to do so. For me, it showed me that she was more than just a social media celebrity who’s good for a few laughs – she has an inspiring story, one that only adds to her authenticity. Everyone’s story is different, valid, and valuable – so what is yours? Don’t shy away from using social media to share it.

Cardi B knows her audience – and knows where to find them. 

I first learned about Cardi from an instagram video she posted that had gone viral. What struck me most? She knew exactly who she was talking to, knew what she was talking about, and how to find people who wanted to see her content and hear what she had to say.

I always say that when creating your brand and your social media strategy, equally important as your goals is who your audience is and where you can find them. Always keep your audience in mind and know who they are like the back of your hand.

Is there someone else in pop culture we can learn from when it comes to building a social media brand? Let me know in the comments. 








Social Media is an Opportunity for Media Diversity


This week I had the opportunity attend Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.’s Congressional Black Caucus forum on improving images of Black women in the media. It was a lively discussion that raised a lot of questions about not only the media images Black women are chosen–and sometimes choose–to portray but also which images we choose to consume.

The part that really stayed with me were comments from Shari Nycole Welton, who is a producer of TVOne’s News One Now. When asked about what we can do to combat negative images of Black women on TV and Movies, Shari reminded the audience that social media has created a platform for users to create their own content. If we don’t like the images we see in the media, we are only a few clicks away from creating our own content to consume. And if we choose to, we can create content that shows positive images of Black people in general and Black women in particular.

I was ready to disagree at first. Yes, people of color can and do create their own content, and social media makes that much easier than it was in the past. But then you have to take into account that production companies have the money, power, and influence to create media portrayals of Black people and make them ubiquitous. And we already know that it is extremely hard to make a video go viral.

Even with all that said, I ended up nodding my head when Shari said that. Social media gives people a great opportunity to be the change they want to see in the world, especially as it pertains to combatting negative images and stereotypes about Black women. 

I wouldn’t say that if there weren’t already countless examples of young Black content creators doing their own thing and developing new images of their people. Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl is one example of this for sure, but it doesn’t stop there.

The Whip and the Nae Nae has become a staple when we talk about Black youth culture, has it not?

And Vine and Instagram has become a testing ground for some of the funniest, most talented up-and-coming Black comedians and actors.

Social media gives us more power than we think.

If you are using social media, whether you are a manager/consultant or whether you are “just tweeting,” you have the opportunity to shift the dialogue about how people of color are portrayed in the media. So create your content wisely – and remember to have fun. 

#Trillectro2015: A Study in Audience Engagement on Social Media

My cousin Tyler and I at Trillectro this past weekend.
My cousin Tyler and I at Trillectro this past weekend.

This weekend I finally got to Trillectro, an annual music festival in Columbia that showcases up and coming artists, mostly in hip hop and R&B. Ever since I went to Made in America I’ve been hooked on the vibe of a big festival filled with music I love, so I’m really glad I had the chance to see great acts like Chance the Rapper and Cashmere Cat at a venue not far from DC.

Being the social media marketing geek I am, I left with some interesting takeaways about audience engagement that I wanted to share. While the way they curated tweets throughout the day could’ve been better (perhaps a live display of #Trillectro2015 on the jumbo screens instead of just the same 20-30 throughout the day?), I have to say that people who brought us Trillectro did a great job of engaging their audience and curating a fun experience.

Know your Audience. This seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many brands fail at this step. The Trillectro team knew what kind of acts they wanted –up-and-coming artists who are perhaps at the brink of hitting it big but already have a following–and knew the kind of people who would want to pay money to see said acts. Knowing your audience–who they are, what they like, and what kind of engagement they respond positively to–helps you to curate an authentic experience that they will not only enjoy but will support again and again.

Make your audience feel like they are a part of your vision and your goal. What I loved most about Trillectro besides the artists was the fact that I felt like I was just as much a part of the experience the festival created as the performers were. In between acts, the Mistress of Ceremonies and the Dj worked together to keep the energy levels high by playing the songs that the audience–mostly young people under 30–were going to get up and dance to.  Some of it is due to the nature of Black music –audience participation is a major characteristic of hip hop and other genres–but some of it was very intentional decisions made to ensure that audience involvement was a top priority.

Young people matter. Listen to them and take them seriously. I have encountered a lot of organizations and brands who either have no real strategy for engaging youth and young adults, or think they know everything about “what the kids are into” and are failing miserably. Neither approach is sustainable. Young people have buying power but not only that, when they feel a brand or a campaign is loyal to them and is listening to them, they will support it in whatever way they can. It can be as small as tweeting using a hashtag or as big of an investment as buying a ticket to a festival. But more often than not, companies and non-profits alike take young people for granted. One reason for that may be the assumption that young people don’t care about the brand. Sometimes, that’s correct–young people may not care about your brand. But the truth is, you won’t know until you try to engage them (that is, if it makes sense for your campaign goals). Don’t just assume young people won’t be into whatever you’re trying to do. Do your homework and find out what they like and what they respond positively to. That includes talking to them. Then, build a strategy for engaging them in an authentic way.

While you’re talking about “those lazy, entitled Millennials” and peppering your Twitter timeline with references to “bae,” young people are using technology and social media in ways you may not have even thought of. There’s more to the youth demographic than selfies and slang. It is your job as a digital strategist/marketer to find out what that “more” is. 

What My Wedding Taught Me About Social Media


Last Friday was one of the best days of my life. I got to marry my best friend and partner Neal, who I famously met on Twitter nearly 6 years ago. I have been writing for Blogher about my wedding planning journey, and I explored some of the more stressful parts of it all. Throughout this process, I dealt with pressure to make my wedding Pinterest perfect and also struggled with the possibility of being a fat bride. But when the day came, I realized I had nothing to worry about after all. The day was beautiful and perfectly imperfect. It was a wonderful time to celebrate our love surrounded by our friends and family.

Social media played a big role in our wedding planning and it goes without saying that there was a hashtag (#Carterson15) with plenty of videos, pictures, and kind words from our friends. The wedding planning at the wedding itself taught me some unexpected lessons about social media strategy. Here are a few takeaways:

Not every moment has to be tweeted…or instagrammed…or periscoped. 

 Neal and I went back and forth about whether or not we wanted people to live tweet our ceremony. We certainly wanted people to use the hashtag and eventually post pictures after the ceremony was over.  Our photographer brought up a possibility we hadn’t thought about: that people could take pictures of the ceremony and that they would potentially end up on the internet before we even got a chance to see them.

Knowing that was a possibility, we decided that it was best that there was no social media at the ceremony and that people can tweet and instagram to their heart’s content for the cocktail hour and ceremony. We did this for two reasons. The first reason was practical; we paid money for a professional photographer who understandably didn’t need the help of our guests to capture the moment. The second reason was loftier; we wanted people in attendance to be truly present and in the moment with us.

Not everything is for public consumption – whether you are tweeting from a personal account or running social for a large company. It is okay if some moments don’t make it to your twitter or Facebook feed, especially if you create a time and a place for social media coverage elsewhere.

If you create a meaningful hashtag, people will use it, even if it takes time to get there. “Carterson” is a portmanteau of our two last names: Carter and Wilson. Our dear friend @amandamichellejones came up with it soon after she met Neal for the first time. Once we got engaged, we came up with #Carterson15…and then tagged pics of us together on instagram with the hashtag every now and then. Well people we invited caught on once our save the dates went out, and soon enough #Carterson15 was a thing…pretty much everyone we followed on Twitter knew that was our wedding hashtag, and our guests used it enthusiastically!

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You may be someone who wants to create a hashtag for that exciting new project or campaign, but you’re worried no one will use it. The way to quell that worry is to make the hashtag meaningful to your audience.

No matter what anyone tries to tell you, it is never “just Twitter.”

This is actually an old lesson that I was reminded of last Friday at our wedding. Many of our friends who attended were people we met via Twitter, which isn’t a surprise since it is how Neal and I met. Twitter will never be “just Twitter” because it is made up of real people with real needs. There is a huge opportunity there to build authentic connections and relationships with folks who care about the same things you do, or who can teach you something you didn’t know about before. Take that opportunity seriously and make it work for you, no matter what.

What have you learned about social media lately? Share your thoughts in the comments.