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Social Media Owes Its Cultural Compass to Black Women Online

By Feminista Jones

Photo credit: NeShea Jenifer

Social media wouldn’t be what it is without Black women, so make sure to thank them. Some of the best-loved devices of our shared social media language are a result of Black women’s innovations, from well-known movement-building hashtags (#BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, and #BlackGirlMagic) to the now ubiquitous use of threaded tweets as a marketing and storytelling tool. Even the beef between rappers Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion stands out as an example of how Black women start movements and steer pop culture discourse and fandom while building their platforms as celebrities, influencers, and experts. In this excerpt from Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets, Feminista Jones shows how it’s done.


Over the years, I have been approached by several brands, retailers, and television networks and film companies to support their marketing efforts. I may be asked to curate a live-tweet chat or event to build viewership for a television show or film, or to promote a product or service of some sort. My experience is not unique, by far, but it is interesting in the sense that I did not start out as, nor did I ever aspire to be, an “influencer” in this sense. Several of my peers have made an entire career out of these types of opportunities, and in recent years we have seen more focus paid to Black women with large followings whose influence can have direct impact on the purchasing and consumption decisions of their fans.

According to Influencer Marketing Hub, an online resource for all things related to influencer marketing, an influencer has the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of their authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with their audience. Influencers who focus on a particular niche are seen as go-to people in this area of expertise. The most likely influencers are celebrities and athletes, but there is a growing need for bloggers and content creators—people who have long focused on specific issues and have amassed followings based on their expertise, insider access, and knowledge. Influencer marketing has exploded as agencies realize not only that it costs less to have a social media persona promote their product or service as virtual spokespersons, but they’re able to reach demographics underserved by traditional marketing, often due to bias and shortsightedness on behalf of marketing executives. As is the case with Black women, marketing agencies have discovered the powerful influence we have in social media spaces and know they would be severely remiss in ignoring the growth potential in our market and with our audiences.

I began doing influencer advertisements when I was on the staff of, a site geared toward female bloggers and content creators that officially merged with in 2015. As the “Love & Sex” section editor, I grew my own personal following immensely in the three years I worked for the site; it was a treasure trove of subscribers looking for advice on how to find a man, keep a man, and knock his socks off in bed. My popularity as a sex-positive feminist blogger had attracted the site’s senior editors to me, and when they offered me the opportunity to join the team, I jumped on it. There was an influencer program that allowed participants to sign up for various ad campaigns by brands like Walmart, Dove, and Coca-Cola, and we were paid based on the content we created to promote those products and services. We might be asked to share a set number of tweets or Facebook posts in a specific period of time, or attend focus group events and compose sponsored blog posts to share our experiences and promote products. For someone trying to make her way in the blogosphere, this was a pretty sweet deal, and I was happy to participate in what seemed like minimal work for a strong reward.

Though the appeal was strong, I did not accept every offer made to me, and I remain committed to upholding my own personal values in my endorsements of companies and services. I opted out of a lucrative opportunity to do promotion for Walmart because I took issue with what I believed to be Walmart’s exploitative hold on American labor, wages, and overall health. Then, I did a campaign with Dove before realizing that it, too, as a subsidiary of Unilever, has been linked to practices I do not support. And when I realized that Unilever owned almost every product in my house, I started becoming more aware of how often we compromise our values for consumption habits, and I made a commitment to at least be mindful of this in evaluating my promotional opportunities and what products and services I was willing to endorse using my name and brand.

I knew that I was valuable as a Black woman in that space. BlogHer and SheKnows weren’t known for being culturally diverse as far as writers were concerned. In fact, they were known mostly as hubs for White mommy bloggers whose lifestyle blogs showcased their bratty kids, inconsiderate husbands, and flavorless recipes. Women of color were there, of course, and I joined the editorial team with the hope of helping these outlets reach a broader, more diverse audience, not just culturally but with regard to religion and sexual identity and orientation as well. As I engaged more of the women sharing content with and producing content for these sites, either virtually or at annual conferences, I realized that not only were their casual lifestyle blogs lucrative but that some of these women were making thousands of dollars a month for product reviews and advertising—thousands. Every now and then, I’d encounter a unique blog that had a different angle with a niche audience, but for the most part, I did not find much of interest in the content they were producing, so I wondered how they’d been able to get these types of sponsors. And I wanted to know how I could get more Black women involved in this hustle—we deserved some of that money too!

BlogHer/SheKnows helped launch and further the careers of a number of Black women, though, and it is important to make note of this. Luvvie Ajayi, author and social commentator; Kathryn Finney, founder of digitalundivided; Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx; A. V. Perkins, popular DIY blogger; and several others found immense support for and promotion of their work in this community, and they’ve each gone on to establish themselves as widely recognized experts and voices in various spaces. For a while, the best, if not only, way that a Black woman could earn money for her blog content, be it on traditional blogs or via microblogging on Twitter and Facebook, was through larger White-owned and operated networks like BlogHer/SheKnows, because those were the companies that attracted the brands willing to spend money on influencer marketing. By tapping into this market, Black women found themselves gaining exposure to markets and opportunities beyond communities like Black Twitter or their own blog subscribers (read: White people with White money). Not only could we get paid to promote products and services, we were being asked to do speaking engagements, sit on panels, do TEDx- or TED-style talks, write and produce content for major publications with household names, and more.

Ebony magazine is one such household name. . . . In 2012, relaunched with new management at the helm. Kierna Mayo, an award-winning journalist and cofounder of Honey magazine with roots deep in hip-hop culture journalism, came on as editor in chief and vice president of digital content. Jamilah Lemieux, a longtime blogger and content creator widely recognized as a modern Black feminist thought leader, also joined the team, eventually becoming the senior digital editor before she moved to the print magazine in 2015. Lemieux had a large following long before she began to work with, and it was that following and reach that helped propel to becoming the premier site for content catering to Black interests. Offering freelance opportunities to up-and-coming and established writers,, led by these dynamic Black feminist women, created space for bloggers, tweeters, content creators, and burgeoning journalists alike to be published with a reputable periodical and have their work shared with a large audience. Writing for made you “official” and served as a great résumé booster for anyone trying to make a mark as a social or political commentator, a reporter or journalist, or as a purveyor of pop culture.

It wasn’t simply that the opportunities expanded for writers of color, it was that Mayo and Lemieux were especially committed to centering Black women’s stories, amplifying their voices, celebrating their work, and honoring their beauty in ways that we had not previously seen in digital spaces. The duo reenergized the legacy of Ebony magazine by using digital space to reach a new audience. Their team pushed boundaries and challenged readers to think beyond the status quo. While they did feature pieces on pop culture, fashion, and other “clicky” content, they also delved into important, serious issues affecting the Black community and engaged people whose voices and stories would have otherwise gone unheard.

It was at that I wrote my very first column for a major publication. It was a sex column called #TalkLikeSex, named after a graphic rap song by the hip-hop artist Kool G Rap. I was definitely conflicted over the use of the song’s title, because Kool G Rap was not only known for his blueprint lyricism; he was also accused of being an abuser of women. Famed author of Confessions of a Video Vixen, Karrine Steffans, alleged in the book that the rapper had physically and sexually abused her. Though she later confessed to fabricating some of her stories, the allegations of abuse lingered. The rapper’s song was one that was not only graphic, but degrading in many ways, so for me, using the song title as the title for my column was a way of subverting his “talk” about sex—and other degrading depictions of sex and sexual abuse and disregard of women in hip-hop music—and changing the way we, Black women, particularly those raised on hip-hop culture, talk about sex. Working with editor Miles Marshall Lewis, a partnership made possible by Lemieux herself, I produced weekly content that addressed everything from polyamory to BDSM to “enthusiastic consent.” Much of the content was influenced by and drawn from topics I’d written about on my blog or on Facebook and Twitter—only this time I was being paid for my content and it was exposed to a larger audience. The column helped me expand my reach and grow my audience, while helping a lot of people understand feminism, specifically sex-positive feminism, in a new way.


During this same period of growth, other outlets like, an NBC affiliate, HuffPost Black Voices,,,,, and emerged and rose in popularity for social media users looking for the latest information related to popular Black culture, politics, social justice, and enterprise. Well-established magazines like Black Enterprise also began to capitalize on the accessibility of an online audience. Many of these publications not only featured Black women as writers and editors, but were helmed by Black women. As social media has made our global Black Community feel smaller and more closely-knit, career opportunities for those of us who only dreamed about being published and read around the world increased. Several of the editors and contributors to these publications were talented Black women, a number of whom, like me, never had any formal journalism training; we simply had stories to tell, opinions to share, and a desire to help other Black women get “put on.”


Another prominent Black magazine, Essence, also began to establish its online presence and expanded its reach by attracting many of the same writers who were once loyal to When Chrissy Coleman, former senior culture and entertainment editor of Essence, approached me to write an article about the former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, based on a Twitter thread I wrote about famous Black athletes who had faced racial discrimination, I jumped on it. What I, and others, began to realize is that so many editors and content curators began following those of us with high tweet engagement and some even began using our tweets as source material. Either they were taking the tweets and using them in their “articles,” or they were taking the ideas and sometimes original theories and expanding on them for their own paid pieces. I remember seeing one article that had, no lie, four original lines of text; the rest was a well-curated stream of tweets from me and others. Mainstream publications found a gold mine when they began following Black women with high follower counts who were well-versed not only in popular culture current events, but were also strong writers who were proficient in social media-based discourse. As more Black publications began to establish their online presence and bring their websites into the future, Black writers and thinkers, many of whom are Black feminist women, began to find homes for their art and their wisdom—paid work showcased in our spaces.


About the Author 

Feminista Jones is a Philadelphia-based social worker, feminist writer, public speaker, and community activist. She is an award-winning blogger and the author of the novel Push the Button, the poetry collection The Secret of Sugar Water., and Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets. She was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Philadelphia and one of the Top 100 Black Social Influencers by The Root. Her writing has been featured in the New York TimesWashington Post, and TimeEssence, and Ebony magazines. Follow her on Twitter at @FeministaJones and visit her website.