AfroTech, the Bay Area-based brand that brings us conferences, metaverse events, education, and visibility around Black leaders, entrepreneurs, and culture in the tech industry, recently delivered another gem— an insightful roundtable that focused on the idea of “authentic collaboration.” The roundtable, which was the second in a series of conversations delivered to AfroTech partners, showcased how brands can show up as authentically as possible. The discourse brought together strategic minds from Blavity, Google, and Instagram and showcased a wide range of ideologies on what makes a truly authentic brand stand apart from the rest. Hosted by Associate Director of Partnerships at Blavity Inc., Joy Victoria Clarke, the “Authentic Collaboration” roundtable was packed with real world examples and key takeaways from Director of Blavity Originals at Blavity Inc. Fabienne Roc, Instagram Marketing Manager Joy Ofodu, and Head of Marketing, Belonging at Google Miles Johnson.
Now, we’ve mentioned this idea of brands behaving “authentically,” and leaders showing up as their “authentic selves,” but what does that really look like? For starters, there is no picking and choosing of the right moment to be authentic, real, or “woke.” For a brand to underscore certain principles at one moment because it seems advantageous is the opposite of showing up authentically. Even if there may be good intentions behind it, this can easily be seen as capitalizing on a situation, person, event, etc. If you really want to highlight a value that the brand or company stands behind, then this value needs to be worked into the core of the company’s actions and implemented year-round.
For example, if a brand is thinking about what to do for Pride month during the month of Pride then it’s already too late. Showing up authentically as a company that supports the LGBTQIA+ community and stands as a claimed ally means that the work and support doesn’t stop after 3-4 weeks of activity and promotions. The work, education, and support should be just as strong 6 months down the line as it was during the month of the event. This goes not only for things like Pride month, but other celebrations around events, cultural holidays, etc.
Authenticity isn’t always as cut and dry as one may think, and sometimes there are good intentions behind some not-so-great ideas. A well-intentioned idea can sometimes fall short or miss the mark, coming off as inauthentic. While this is an unideal situation, it also doesn’t have to be an end all, be all. How can a brand shift if they’ve recognized that they did something wrong? It starts with education. Simply put, sit back and research. Learn from the communities and the tools that are already around you. Look at who is already included in the space and who is doing it right (or wrong). This is a chance to unpack and perhaps even shine the spotlight on someone else— creators and innovators who are already doing what they do and know how to do it. In doing so, your brand is able to take this as an opportunity to give them the platform that they may already deserve and amplify work that may have needed that boost. Acknowledging that even though a smaller brand or creator may not be as well-polished, but still has the know-how and ideas that are invaluable to the space and community can have a larger impact than you would expect.
Additionally, it’s key that these brand values not only show up consistently throughout the year, but also in front of all audiences evenly. If these brand values are as crucial as they’re being displayed to be then there can’t be any fear in making some people upset. It’s a common understanding that it’s nearly impossible to make everyone happy, but in standing firm in your principles means standing by the core beliefs of the company that keeps the culture running and is important for consumers to see. Flip-flopping and never taking a solid stance only decreases the chances of someone wanting to be loyal to your brand. The biggest takeaway here is this: Be intentional with everything you do.
It’s up to all of us as brand builders and advocates to think holistically, looking at every part of the business— the work we do, the workspace we cultivate, the people we hire, our leadership teams, partners— and ask if they are all truly reflective of the values that we want to represent. In doing so, it can set your brand up to be proactive in its authenticity, as opposed to reactionary and behind the curve.
For us at Hotwire, attending this roundtable was extremely impactful in how we think about our future approach to marketing and external efforts as a whole. While we have been working with clients on aspects of authenticity for years, it’s still crucial to learn new facets, practices, and key actions that we may be able to improve on ourselves as this is an area that is always evolving. We as a brand are always striving to show up standing firm in our core company values and it was it was a fantastic opportunity to learn from a varying set of leaders in the tech space on what that may look like in different instances.
When it comes to AfroTech, the learning and excitement doesn’t end! We’re also looking forward to a powerful partnership with the AfroTech Conference, coming this November 14 – 17. This conference will be host to Black tech leaders, entrepreneurs, engineers, culture enthusiasts and so much more. It will be a time to connect, grow, immerse ourselves in all things tech and most importantly, show up authentically. We couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come!