On brand

How can we be better for our community?

June 09, 2020 · 8 min read

On Brand is a new interview series with creative professionals working in Brand Experience, from content production to art direction and everything in-between.

Our first interview is with Milena Toro, copywriter and Community Manager at VaynerMedia. She's crafted the voice for some of your favorite brands on Twitter and has built communities all over the internet. In our conversation, we discuss how her role changes during times of crisis, how non-BIPOC can be better allies in the workplace, and her thoughts on brand responsibility, specifically around movements like Black Lives Matter.

Milena is also a member of Air's new Slack community, BX Camp. This group is dedicated to facilitating conversations around marketing, branding, and creative work. Wanna join BX Camp? It's free and easy to sign up, learn more →

Tell us about yourself!

I'm Milena Toro, friends call me Milena or "Millie." I was previously at BET (Black Entertainment Television) in Digital Promotion as an Interactive Producer for a couple years. I'm currently a copywriter and Community Manager for various brands at VaynerMedia. I work mostly with liquor brands, but also have experience with other household brands like Olay, Kraft Heinz, Pepsi Global, Kiwi Botanicals, and Speedo.

Can you give us a typical day-in-the-life at work?

There's a ton of ground to cover. I'm managing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more than one brand, so the creative part of my job is writing tweets and coming up with trending Instagram and Facebook social ads, posts, and captions as they relate to the brand. Then on the strategy side, I'm analyzing those social media metrics and building cases for future ideas.

I also manage social calendars and content that the team has created for specific days that fall under "National Trending Holidays" or "Trending Topics." Since COVID started, I've pivoted to User Generated Campaigns (UGC) and sweepstakes, tracking submissions via hashtags and DM's to pick winners for collaborations, fundraisers, or partnerships with other brands.

A lot of my time as a Community Manager is spent looking into hashtags and tagged posts. I respond to comments, keep an eye on what influencers and celebrities are doing, and try to find places where people are talking about the brand online. In a nutshell, I join in on on conversations on behalf of the brand and help build up a social presence.

What does community management mean to you? What is the most important element to authentic community building?

My primary focus for building community is social media. It's a great way to better understand what people are into, what makes them tick, and then you can build hypotheses off of those insights. In a way, I'm also a social strategist, finding ways to execute data-informed ideas in creative ways. In some cases I'll work with an Art Director to bring those ideas to life, other times I might simply write a tweet with a CTA or create a poll or IG story to learn more about the followers. Sometimes less is more.

As the voice of these brands on social media, it's important for me to have a deep understanding of their unique perspectives and tone, show love to followers, and create a consumer connection. Generally, people love it when brands respond to them, they feel seen, and that deepens the relationship, you know what I mean? Small things like calling people by their names when responding to a comment makes such a huge difference and lets fans know that we're listening to them. It also proves that an actual person is responding to their questions, comments, and concerns -- not a robot.

The world has taken to the streets in protest after George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's death over the past week and a half. Many people have been using social media solely for antiracist content in hopes of amplifying Black stories and resources. What role do you think brands play in this?

Well, first I'd like to say that George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were unfortunately just two of SO many Black people on that list, and it has been absolutely gut-wrenching to watch this happen year after year. My heart has been heavy about this topic long before the protests.

As for brands, I think they have an obligation to amplify the message and stand with Black Lives Matter. That said, they also need to learn. The other day, I saw a small brand put their white CEO on screen for a video. It was clear to me that she was reading from a script. Because it felt like someone had written this for her, none of it felt genuine. It was also clear to me that they had little to no POC on their team, and to be completely honest, that's where the problem starts.

On the opposite end, brands like Nike and Netflix have a history of inclusivity and continue to consciously include people of color in their ads and content. I also love what UberEats is doing with removing delivery fees for Black-owned businesses.

What are your expectations of businesses moving forward?

There isn't only one "right" way brands can approach this situation, but if the sole purpose of your #BLM post is for perception or safety from backlash, then you need to re-evaluate what you stand for. It's easy to mock up a graphic in Photoshop, but what are these brands actually doing to stand by and support that message long-term. Are they donating? Are they protesting? Are they coming up with initiatives that give back? Are they hiring Black c-suite level executives? Do they have a diverse staff? Are they raising awareness and creating a safe space for their current employees? All of these things are so important. Start doing.

How can non-POC be better allies in the workplace?

This is a layered question, but the easiest way I can describe it is: do more. Donate to Black Lives Matter causes, raise awareness within your company, be proactive in educating yourself (here's a list of resources), hire more Black people (and POC), support your CRG/ERG events at work, the list goes on and on. TBH, learn more about the African Diaspora too. But there are two things that have been top of mind for me this week:

1) Be Empathetic: Your Black co-workers are going through a tough time. They look at these innocent victims and see people that look like their loved ones getting killed. If your co-workers can't join a call with the camera on, and can only do audio today, allow it. If they don't have a huge smile on their face for tomorrow's morning call, be gentle. If they need some time off to reset, spend time with family, cry, or simply think, grant it. Change may come, but being a POC (specifically Black in America) is not something everyone will be able to understand, but if you care you can start with empathy.

2) Stop Tokenism: Your Black (and POC) co-workers are worthy of the projects and meetings you leave them out of. Don't ask them to join a Black History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month Campaign brainstorm if they're not invited to a more general company campaign brainstorm. Just because we have an understanding of what it means to be POC, doesn't mean we don't have just as much knowledge on something more general. Yes, we'd absolutely prefer you come to us for advice on how to write or promote something about POC, but please keep the same energy when it comes to everything else.

How can non-POC community managers, content creators, and SMMs be better for their communities?

Listen to your POC co-workers when they give you honest criticism. If your content feels racist, tone-deaf, or inauthentic, use our feedback as an opportunity to learn. Rather than writing us off, ask why. Allow that to be a teaching moment so that you can be more conscious and inclusive in your content moving forward. You will mess up. Nobody is perfect. How you respond to that feedback will be telling for a lot of people moving forward though.

Furthermore, if you (a non-POC) see this happening at work and your manager doesn't agree, stand with your POC co-worker. There is power in numbers.

This advice isn't comprehensive, but in my experience, these are a few easy places to start. They're also great examples of why inclusivity at the workplace is so important.

Do you have any resources for Community Managers or Content Marketers you'd like to share?

Anti Racism resource list of movies, books, articles, orgs to follow, and podcasts here. Also:

Who should we be following on Instagram?

So many accounts, but here's a few to get you started:

A photo of Megan King.
Megan King

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