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JUNE 26, 2019 //     

Communicating with the LGBTQ+ community in the digital age

By: Gina Mossey

As part of our agency’s celebrations for Pride Month, we hosted a panel event in the London office in collaboration with Out in Tech, a global not-for-profit for the LGBTQ+ community in tech, to discuss how the internet has changed the way brands can and should communicate with the LGBTQ+ community.

Chaired in style by our very own Account Director Andrew Rogers, guest speakers who imparted their words of wisdom included:

  • Polly Shute, Director of Partnerships at Parallel Lifestyle
  • Alex Wood, Europe Editor at Forbes
  • Matt Risley, Digital Director at MTV UK
  • Saski, Pride Host and LGBTQ+ Educator

A thought-provoking and lively conversation left us all with a lot of food for thought. Here are the key takeaways.

Start with your staff

We’ve seen a lot of companies support Pride because other companies do – we all know brands are fast followers. But the most effective brands support LGBTQ+ communities year-round and get input and feedback from their employees to make sure they get it right.

Consistent communication with employees is the crucial piece of the puzzle between brands getting it right or wrong. The more they can be involved in the process, the better-informed senior teams will be. This will help you avoid falling into the pink washing trap, and instead show your company really listens to the challenges faced by real people.

LGBTQ+ is more than just one category

This umbrella community contains many subgroups, and brands can ignore this at their peril. Each subgroup needs to be marketed to in a different way, as each have their own pain points about their personal, historical and cultural experiences. Language is a key component here, as a positive term for one subgroup can be quite the opposite for another. However, empathy, consideration and kindness will speak across the community. Within any content, we need to make sure everyone is represented.

Getting the language right again brings us back to the workplace. For society to get used to modern usage, we need more training on what is positive and negative to whom. For example, “queer” is something of a reclaimed term for younger people, while older generations can find it offensive. The more educated society becomes on this, the more intelligent our ways of using these terms socially will be.

Digital targeting for LGBTQ+ groups is still in its infancy

Building on the discussion around language, the group showed digital targeting for the community isn’t as sophisticated as it needs to be. Differences in connotations between different parts of the LGBTQ+ community means positive and negative keywords are tough to define and is a bigger conversation for the global tech community to have.

The panel also advised brands to beware of “The City Bubble.” LGBTQ+ initiatives and messaging are more advanced in major cities. But brands looking to truly get their comms strategies right need to make sure those who live in less urban areas are also represented.

They also highlighted the struggle with internet users known as “lurkers.” These people view and consume content, but they do not comment or share, making it hard to ensure their views are taken into account. We need to make sure we reach and engage the people who don’t feel they have a voice. Putting efforts into physical focus groups and research will help brands navigate this.

Be wary of only using technology to communicate

The group agreed the explosion in digital platforms has been positive in terms of visibility for LGBTQ+ issues. But it’s important it complements, and does not replace, face-to-face interaction with the community. One-to-one level comms are important for any strategy.

Brands can tap into this by keeping events and meet-ups a key part of their strategy, such as hosting talks from key influencers in their sectors who have links to the LGBTQ+ community, putting emphasis on current topics and issues that have relevance to the subgroups.

Making mistakes is part of the journey

A key point the panel wanted brands to take away from the event is that it isn’t the end of the road if you make a mistake. It’s likely brands will get it wrong sometimes, and they shouldn’t take it personally. They advised that rather than pulling out all the stops to defend yourselves, listen to the community and put yourself in their shoes. Taking a step back and listening to the voices that matter will help you work out where to go from there.

The event’s open and honest discussion around these issues, thanks to our fantastic panel and the questions from our brilliant audience, is a perfect example of the collaborative conversations that need to happen to drive change on a bigger scale for the LGBTQ+ community. Brands that keep this at the core of their activity will be the ones that truly lead the way.

Gina Mossey is an account director in Allison+Partners London office.

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