Robert Chappell has two simple rules for succeeding at marketing, social media and new journalism: Be authentic and be relevant. And, he added, to make that complete connection with your community, your customers or your audience, embrace diversity.
Robert, who spoke at the September Social Media Breakfast Madison event, helped create and now operates the non-profit Madison 365 online magazine and media platform, which advocates for – and covers news from the perspective of – people of color throughout Dane County.
“The reason we have been successful is we saw a need and filled it,” he said. “That’s pretty much everyone’s business model.”
Robert said people of color make up about 20 percent of the population in Dane County but less than 5 percent of the media. Newsroom staff at the Wisconsin State Journal and Capital Times are all white, he said.
“We can tell stories that aren’t being told in the mainstream press. We tell stories of people of color who are doing wonderful things and aren’t being recognized for it. We also tell stories people are telling but we tell it from a different perspective.”
Because Madison 365 is closely tied to the communities of people of color, he said, it is connected in ways other media are not and has developed a loyal following, Robert said, noting that the Facebook page reached 420,000 people this month and has a very high engagement rate.
The Madison 365 platform is built around the model of “new journalism,” which Robert said is really just a fancy term for community journalism.
New Journalism, he said, is community focused, either local or specific to a community within the community, and views itself as a public good. It is fair in its coverage but not necessarily objective.” We approach things fairly and without a conclusion in mind, but we approach it with a perspective. And that’s OK.”
New journalism recognizes that people today are getting their content on their Facebook news feeds, “next to what Uncle Bob had for breakfast.” Some old school journalists, he said, are upset about this but that’s just the way it is.
The community that Madison 365 serves via its new journalism model is made up of the people of color throughout Dane County, a community that is highly engaged – and also making a big impact on the overall economy. “There’s a lot of money to left on table if you’re not reaching them,” Robert said.
He said there are three things that people assume about people of color that are wrong:
- They are not online. Wrong. “They are on their phones, and they are on their computers.”
- They only care about racial issues. Wrong. This is a problem with mainstream press that coverage of race is separate but equal.
- Equity means equivalence. Wrong. Equity is what we’re all working for. You can be equal, you can be equitable and still be different, Robert said. The community is not a melting pot; it is a salad bowl. “We all need to keep our identity while all coming together to make something great.”
Robert emphasized that to succeed in new journalism you must be authentic and you must be relevant. Whether you are primarily serving the minority community, as Madison 365 is, or the community as a whole, you must have involvement from people of color or you won’t be either.
“It’s going to be hard for you if your marketing team is all white,” he said. “It is critical that this not be normal for you.”
“Having a person of color in the room will do several things, one of which is it will just kind of help change the conversation. The conversation will be different, with a slightly different lens.”
However, he said, “If you do manage to bring a person of color into your marketing team, don’t make that person write the ads for people of color. … You can’t be like, ‘Help us speak to your people.’ Don’t do that.”
Make diversity normal around you, Robert said.
“If your marketing team is all white you’re not going to notice necessarily when you’re missing on your message. When you surround yourself with people of color – a little bit – then you start to notice diversity will look a little more normal, and you’ll be able to look at the world through that lens a little bit more, and you’ll be able to see normal differently. You’ll be able to reach people. You’ll be able to be authentic, and you’ll be relevant.”
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