I’ve written two introductory sections for this resource, pick the one that you most resonate with.
|Your target audience likely includes a lot of diverse people. To succeed in any competitive industry, you need to appeal to as much of the audience as possible.
Enriching your business blog or company publication with content from diverse experts will help you better resonate with more people. In turn, that may translate to greater revenue and positive exposure.
And if you don’t, you’ll leave a gap for your competitors to reach those audiences first and grow their market share, instead.
|Diversifying your publication to reflect and celebrate the world we live in is the right thing to do.
Maintaining a publication that perpetuates an echo chamber and false narrative that diverse voices don’t exist is the wrong thing to do.
If either of my “sales pitches” above reached you, then let’s move on to discuss how to get started with publication diversity (which is what I will be referring to this process as throughout this guide).
Diversity supports performance and perception
“A diverse team can represent the diverse audiences that the publication serves. When readers see themselves and their ideas represented, they are more likely to trust and engage with the publication. This, in turn, enhances the publication’s reputation and credibility.”
— Veruska Anconitano, International and Multilingual SEO Consultant
Branding can be an incredibly potent business driver, and how your business is perceived is central to all your branding efforts. If your “About Us” or “Authors” page is completely homogeneous, then you may only be appealing to members of one sliver of your target audience.
For most businesses, the potential consequences of treating your audience as a monolith include:
- Alienating potential customers of diverse backgrounds
- Limited opportunities for collaboration with other brands
- Foregoing all the associated revenue that could come with these efforts
Now that I’ve briefly touched on the risks associated with ignoring diversity in your publication and brand messaging, Iets focus on how incorporating diversity supports your business.
The impact of diversity on brand perception
If you do something well, you generally want people to know about it. The same should be true for your diversity efforts within your marketing campaigns, whether that means authors on a traditional company blog or featuring people of diverse backgrounds within your imagery and messaging.
Earn industry coverage
While brand perception is a somewhat intangible aspect of marketing, one of the concrete benefits is mentions from reputable sources.
For my publication, the Wix SEO Learning Hub, diversity was non-negotiable from the outset (I’m a person of color and so is our publication’s chief SEO, Crystal Carter). Though the main objective was never industry coverage, our results were highlighted in The Freelance Coalition for Developing Countries’ Race Gap in SEO Authorship report for publishing the most BIPOC authors, as well as in SEO Consultant Lidia Infante’s Gender Gap in SEO Publishing analysis for a near 1:1 ratio of female to male authors. We aren’t the only brand making positive change here, and we couldn’t be more grateful that our peers share our passion.
“When thinking of company interactions with the Women in Tech SEO community; the top 3 listed in [the Gender Gap in SEO Publishing analysis] are the most engaged.
Moz has active members in our community that share opportunities with us before they are public. OnCrawl always sponsors our initiatives and invites our members to speak in their podcast. Wix finds writers within our community and they always amplify their pieces, mostly through Crystal Carter, their head of SEO Communications.
The companies at the top of this list are the ones that engage with diverse communities and share opportunities directly with them. It truly makes a difference.”
—Areej AbuAli, Founder of Women in Tech SEO
Audiences and communities share industry narratives widely. If you’re mentioned favorably, you can generate a lot of good will for your brand—and more diverse professionals will be attracted to that.
If your diversity efforts lag behind your peers, you can expect to be known for that as well, which can add to the inertia that holds you back from reaching your goals.
Attract new audiences and collaborators
An engaged readership is the dream for just about any publication. But, creating a community from scratch can take a very long time.
Through publication diversity, you can reach members of various communities that may never have otherwise paid attention to your content:
- When you invest the time to develop and publish experts from underrepresented groups, those professionals are generally happy to be your brand ambassador within their community (or even speak up against detractors).
- Your experts’ colleagues and followers will see their contribution to your publication and become familiar with your brand, making it more likely that they’ll visit your publication again in the future.
- If you do a good job, your contributors may refer more experts to you, which can help you further your diversity and build stronger ties with professional communities (more on this later).
Additionally, members of underrepresented communities are looking to make the most out of opportunities that come their way. In the SEO industry, publishing an article is typically seen as part of the path to more publication and conference speakership opportunities. These professionals often have the talent or experience, and are simply looking for a platform. If that platform is yours, you could be making foundational connections with future thought leaders.
“When I host programs like The SEO Story Series or The FCDC Expert Series, having diverse guests is a strategic move that brings fresh, innovative ideas to our audience.
In the same way, when you have a diverse team, you escape the echo chamber of recycled strategies and tap into a wellspring of creativity that’s good for business and the community.”
— Chima Mmeje, Founder of The Freelance Coalition for Developing Countries
The impact of diversity on performance
The advantages of diverse teams have been well documented. According to an article published on the Harvard Business Review, diverse teams:
- Are more likely to constantly reexamine facts and remain objective
- May outperform homogenous teams in decision making because they process information more carefully
- Allow you to dodge the costly pitfalls of conformity, which discourages innovative thinking
But, these realities haven’t moved the needle for many, many businesses—namely all the ones you can see that have no diversity in their campaigns.
Instead of asking you to imagine these positive outcomes (which will manifest differently for every business), I’ll discuss the performance gains associated with the perception benefits I spoke of in the section above.
Build relevant links
If you’re just starting to focus on diversity, partnering with communities and their leaders helps you distribute your content and build links to it. Your contributors should link back to your content on domains they control (like the community’s official website or their individual portfolio site).
As your contributors continue to publish on industry publications, they’ll link back to relevant content they’ve created for your domain. This bolsters their authority as an author, and your brand will get the backlink.
As your diversity initiative becomes a permanent part of your content workflow, you might also start attracting industry coverage (as mentioned above). This, too, should result in more backlinks, which can bring in traffic and help you rank better.
“It is literally impossible to address confirmation bias without diversity. There’s a need for unique voices and experiences in order to have a full understanding of any topic.”
— Petra Kis-Herczegh, SEO Consultant
Different audiences may view your product/services/industry from entirely different perspectives, and a homogeneous team is unlikely to understand (let alone address) those needs.
Homogeneous teams won’t even know the value of the perspectives they’re missing out on due to their own shared biases or perhaps simply because of a homogeneous upbringing (for example, as a child who was fortunate to grow up with two parents, I have no idea how to address the needs of an audience of adoptees).
From an even more “common sense” angle, businesses in high-competition niches need every advantage, and that certainly includes comprehensive content.
“The world is diverse and not monolithic. Diversity has value for its own sake, as a moral value, but also as a mechanism to ensure a broader range of ideas, experiences, and perspectives are taken into account and reflected.”
— Greg Sterling, Co-founder of Near Media
What you’ll need to get started
At first, publication diversity might seem straightforward, but think about how many of your competitors have actually done a good job. To lift perception and/or performance, you need to sustain that diversity over the long run and enact a plan that produces content as well as brand advocacy.
There are countless potential ways to do that, but I’m going to focus on the core elements that will help you get started and make diversity sustainable for your publication. You will need to:
- Understand why most publications aren’t diverse, as well as the nuances of working with diverse experts
- Secure buy-in from stakeholders
- Partner with diverse experts
- Obtain a budget (optional but ideal)
A fundamental understanding of why most publications aren’t diverse
Onboarding diverse expert writers to work on a publication led by a homogeneous editorial team may introduce power dynamics and communication issues. Freelancers may feel uncomfortable expressing feedback that could improve your publication because of:
- How it might be received
- The opportunity to get a byline on your publication
- Losing out on compensation for their work and/or future opportunities
Your internal team(s) need to get the best out of your freelancers, which is especially true if those external experts are going to represent your brand in some capacity. This means the editors that communicate with your experts need to not only be advocates for diversity, they must also be educated (or have experience with) the issues that diverse professionals deal with.
Fortunately, there are many resources available online to help you educate yourself on these issues. If you’ve got a budget to work with, then you could (and should) also increase your in-house editorial team’s diversity.
But, know that without education or experience on these issues, your initiative is still likely to fail over the long run as schisms form due to disparate motivations across all parties involved.
Buy-in from stakeholders
Stakeholder buy-in is absolutely essential. They don’t need to be champions of diversity, but they do need to support your diversity initiative with understanding, patience, and hopefully, budget.
If your managers and C-suite don’t recognize the value here, then they will likely redirect you to a more “business-critical” task the instant they have to decide between diversity and… well, unfortunately, most other things.
If your business tends to focus on short-term goals, then you have more moving targets that will divide your time (and team). Publication diversity is already a moving target—and, like SEO, it’s not necessarily the right choice if you need to showcase wins to your stakeholders in the immediate future.
On the flip side, a strong advocate in your leadership (and resources) will empower you to publish at the highest levels of your industry, without sacrificing quality in favor of diversity—a fallacy that many marketing decision makers use as a crutch when speed takes precedence over values. Unfortunately for those businesses, publications, and their audiences, when speed takes precedence, quality also generally takes a backseat.
Most SEOs, editors, and content marketers either work in-house for a brand or agency side with multiple clients. This distinction influences whether your publication should rely on freelancers or in-house writers, which in turn influences how you approach diverse experts to partner with and the dynamics of the relationship.
A highly regulated industry, like finance, would likely be easier to cover with in-house writers because you can continuously educate them on compliance. A consumer technology blog, on the other hand, could more easily choose between in-house or freelance authors.
In either case, I highly recommend partnering with engaged communities within your industry to identify diverse talent for your publication. Word-of-mouth referrals can prove very fruitful, but that depends on the strength of your existing network. And, while networks like LinkedIn can give you access to experts worldwide, I’ve experienced very mixed results.
Partner with diverse professional communities to:
- Discover potential guest authors and contributors. Community leaders will know what their members’ strengths are, which can help you save time if you’re looking for someone to cover very niche topics, for example.
- Showcase topical knowledge through content, quotes, and links. Traditional blog posts are just the beginning. A reciprocal partnership should enable you to access a wide pool of experience, which you can quote in relevant content. The experts you feature are typically happy to link back to your content, or even potentially from the community’s website.
- Promote collaborations with the community. Communities can help promote your content, creating familiarity with your brand across its members and their networks.
If you’re diversifying your in-house team, you’re working with business and diversity requirements that should guide your recruiting process. Since these factors can vary, I’ll leave you with one basic piece of advice on where to start: it can be incredibly helpful if your writers resonate with your audience (or the audience you aspire to reach).
Don’t limit your thinking to just ethnicity and gender—learn more about your audience to understand their circumstances to find the best fit. It could be that your audience includes a large proportion of single parents, or live in a multi-generational household, for example. This type of diversity can be incredibly important for certain businesses and their audiences.
To be clear, you don’t need a generous budget to run a successful, diverse publication—and no amount of budget is going to make a publication magically diverse. But, if you understand and embrace the need for diversity and have stakeholder buy-in, then a decent budget can open a lot of doors and dramatically speed up your progress.
I’ve worked to diversify publications with and without a budget.
|When you have a budget, you can more easily…
|If you don’t have a budget, you may need to…
|Access and retain experts of all levels.
The most authoritative experts are used to being compensated for their time and effort. Sometimes that means getting paid; other times that means an exchange of services or cross-promotion.
Even when your experts aren’t household names (most aren’t), you should still offer compensation, as some professionals need to spend their time either making money for their families or taking care of their families firsthand. Equitable compensation can enable a parent, for example, to build their professional cache and pay for childcare while they’re adding expertise and diversity to your publication.
|Offer a different form of compensation: for most business publications, that means exposure.
Smaller businesses may not be able to offer exposure at the same levels. In that case, I recommend exploring an exchange of services, or simply getting a quote from a diverse expert to feature in a piece of content.
|Generate goodwill amongst your target audience and potential collaborators by supporting/sponsoring diverse communities and other industry initiatives.
|Showcase more of your commitment: as a person of color, I am always mindful of whether a business or industry publication has a good track record in terms of diversity.
Ultimately, you need to prove that your initiative is sincere and here to stay—not just a response to the newscycle.
|Turn experts into brand advocates: industry thought leaders generally write for many publications. Paying your writers and using ad spend to promote their content will showcase your commitment to the partnership and make your business/publication more memorable—a recipe for long term brand advocacy.
How to sustain your diversity initiative
Notice that I’ve chosen the word “sustain”—not “maintain.” You’ll need to continuously invest energy and resources if you want diversity to help generate business outcomes and differentiate your brand.
Measure your progress
I’m not suggesting that you approach experts according to rigid diversity criteria (the kind you have to tick off on the government census or standardized testing). But, even if you’re not monitoring your progress, other players in your industry likely are. As I’ve already mentioned, this is already the case in the SEO industry.
Companies with plentiful resources (like Salesforce) are able to study and publish their equality data, which enables it to:
- Showcase their annual progress
- Plan for the future by understanding where the business needs to increase representation
The vast majority of businesses don’t need to publish equality reports (but mature industry leaders should). Nevertheless, every diversity initiative benefits from an understanding of where you’re starting and how you want to improve.
As a first step, confer with your team to agree on what diversity means for your publication. Then, benchmark your publication to understand where you’re starting from (avoid benchmarking first, as that may heavily influence the goals you set and ultimately lead to results that don’t move the needle).
If industry benchmarks for diversity are available, seek them out and evaluate your publication against that standard. This can help you understand whether you’re currently lagging behind your industry or helping to lead it.
The system you develop to measure and ensure your progress can take many forms. It could be a spreadsheet that contains data about what your authors identify as. Or, it could be as simple as “every other article needs to be written by an expert from a member of an underrepresented group in our industry.” It all depends on your goals and, to an extent, what you’re comfortable with.
Here are some criteria that are commonly used by publishers to understand and improve publication diversity:
- Author gender
- Whether an author is BIPOC
- Whether an author identifies as LGBTQ+
- Whether an author is a member of another underrepresented group
It’s helpful to figure out the ratio of content written by members of these groups—a common KPI for diversity initiatives.
From another perspective, measuring progress also helps you take stock of the good work you’ve already done to diversify your business blog. For example, I once received critical feedback via social media for appearing on a webinar with two other males—in a vacuum, that homogeneity doesn’t look good. However, over half of the articles on the Wix SEO Learning Hub were written by women (which industry coverage substantiated), so we were able to take that context into account when receiving that feedback.
Give back to diverse communities
Unlike the communities I referred to previously, these don’t have to be professional groups (although they certainly can be).
If you want diverse experts or audiences to support your brand, you need to show them that your commitment goes beyond optics. While sponsorships and compensation certainly help, it’s too easy for profitable businesses to throw cash at the problems they play a part in creating, instead of taking accountability for the good that they could be doing.
Examples of ways to express your commitment include (but obviously are not limited to):
- Exclusive internship or mentorship opportunities
- Free or discounted access to your products/services
- Implementing diverse hiring practices
- Free training sessions/education led by your expert employees
The best strategy depends on what your business does, your budget, and the needs of the communities you’re serving.
A word of warning: It’s often better to do nothing than to do something disingenuously. The more noteworthy your brand is, the more scrutiny you’ll likely face. For example, creating an industry diversity award, promoting it, and announcing a winner is a lot of fanfare, but people remember if you never collaborate with that diversity award winner again.
These kinds of attempts seem surface-level because they are, and the more diverse experts see these vanity initiatives coming from your business, the more cynical they will be about supporting you. Instead of hastily slapping together diversity campaigns, prepare until you’re sure resources and buy-in are aligned for a better, longer-lasting partnership.
Diversity work is never “done” because the world is an inequitable place
You may feel like the header above this sentence is a blunt statement. I’ve written it that way so that it evokes an emotion in you, the reader. Explore that emotion—if you resent the statement, ask yourself whether that’s because “diversity work” doesn’t benefit you, or because you disagree with the sentiment that the world is unfair.
For the diverse communities at the center of your initiatives and in your target audiences, these are simply the truths of our lives. Only once you accept that can you begin to understand the ocean of identity, emotions, and humanity that you’re actually attempting to tap into with your diversity initiative. Execute it well and you can begin to appeal to some of those human elements—or, botch it and alienate your brand from swaths of the population entirely.