When you were little, did you ever see someone on TV that looked or sounded like you? How did it make you feel? Proud? Excited? Encouraged?
Studies have found that it’s vitally important for us to see others like ourselves—in positions of authority, on TV, in advertisements, and so on. We know that representation matters, but just how powerful is it?
Let’s consider a recent news item. A study published in the journal Science found that girls as young as age 6 believe that women can’t be smart. They believe that men are smarter and more successful than women, and that discourages girls from participating in certain activities that they deem “smart.”
That belief doesn’t start at birth, researchers found. It’s actually ingrained into girls as they get older. And one way that the stereotype is likely taught to them? Through media that doesn’t commonly portray enough strong, smart, sharp females.
Of course, this is not an issue that’s relevant to gender alone. Actually, the lack of representation is far more common among people of color and other minorities. Many children don’t see people who look or speak like them on mainstream TV or in online advertisements.
So why is representation in social media so important? Let’s take a look.
Representation Matters Because It Offers Role Models and Encourages Dreams
The inauguration of President Barack Obama provided many kids with their first true opportunity to view someone who looked like them in a position of power. Who can forget the image of the little boy who asked to touch the president’s hair in the Oval Office? He wanted to see if the president was just like him. And he was.
Photo Credit: Pete Souza, The White House
That photo went viral on social media and reached households across the country.
Now millions of children like that little boy know that they have the opportunity to reach bigger dreams than they’d ever imagined before. They, too, can grow up to be president.
This is one key way that being conscious of representation in imaging and messaging on social media is so vitally important. It encourages children to think bigger than ever.
But representation doesn’t just impact children in this way. Adults also see people like themselves in powerful positions, from world leaders to athletes, and believe they, too, can do great things.
This past summer, a group of African-American athletes representing the United States took the games by storm, racking up tons of medals in a variety of sports. In many cases, they weren’t just African-American athletes—they were women of color.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Through their presence and their success, these athletes provided adults with role models for achievement and success. By seeing others like themselves demonstrating #BlackGirlMagic, women were encouraged to be active and strong.
Incorporating stories like these—and the role models involved—into your social media marketing can make a true impact for your brand and your community.
Representation Matters Because It Helps Overcome Stereotypes
Let’s return to the Olympic athletes. Do you remember Simone Manuel? She won two gold and two silver medals, becoming the first African-American woman to win a gold in swimming.
So why is that so important? It’s important because it’s long been a stereotype that people of color don’t swim. She blasted through the stereotype and proved that not only can we swim—we set the gold medal pace.
Photo Credit: Rob Schumacher, USA TODAY Sports
Another example can be found in the success of the movie Hidden Figures. The movie is based on the true story of African-American female mathematicians who played an integral role in sending the United States into space. This movie proves representation matters in two ways—by telling the true story of impactful, smart women and by disproving the stereotype that African-American women can’t carry a movie in theaters.
The strong cast, which includes Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer, recently won the SAG Award for Best Cast, proving they can indeed carry a movie to success.
Photo Credit: Mike Blake, Reuters
Seeing an image of themselves in art and media, including social media, can help people see beyond traditional stereotypes for what they can and can’t do. Which helps set us all—and our future—up for success.
Is representation in social media part of your brand’s strategy? We can help you find the strategy that works best for your goals. Get started today by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org