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How social media is changing demographic perceptions for marketers

NEW YORK – A celebrity chef and image activist at the third annual Total Market Summit claimed that social media and mobile are helping showcase more accurate representations of the African-American community, therefore displaying to brands what their target markets really are.

During the “Case Study – How is Harlem Re-establishing Their Leadership Position as a Global, Cultural and Culinary Brand?” session, celebrity chef and restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson stressed the need for businesses to stay close to their roots and hire local workers as the hospitality industry becomes reshaped by technology. The need for strong social media presence from the African-American community was also addressed, as this visibility helps break down stereotypes often times seen on reality television and better demonstrates accurate representations to marketers.

“We can change the footprint of dining, and our community matters,” said Marcus Samuelsson, chef and author of memoir Yes, Chef. “What’s the whole point about being a celebrity chef and having a platform if I don’t draw something much bigger to that?”

Positioning urban voices
The two speakers affirmed that the corporate world is constantly looking to urban America, meaning that members of those communities can leverage mobile and social to make their opinions heard and better delineate their target markets.

“It comes down to positioning the authorship,” Mr. Samuelsson said.

Some marketers and brands may also derive assumptions about the African-American community from portrayals on reality television, a notion they should attempt to steer away from. However, the prevalence of social platforms is helping brands better understand target audiences.

“The rise in Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter has changed that,” said Michael Angela Davis, writer and image activist. “New black women’s voices are coming in and critiquing and creating new data.

“Selfies can be amazing because they’re showing you this is your audience, this is your market.”

Taking too many cues from reality television can be detrimental for brands seeking to drive sales among ethnic consumers. Its referral to “reality” may suggest that some of the behavior seen on programs is reflective of the entire market, which is not the case.

Driving local commerce
Hiring local workers when opening new businesses is an excellent way of driving commerce, as nearby communities will likely have a positive association with the cultural appreciation. Mr. Samuelsson’s own Harlem-based restaurant, Red Rooster, has become a cultural landmark and also served as the hosting spot for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser attended by President Obama.

“When I see 15 restaurants open [after Red Rooster’s launch], that makes me very happy,” Mr. Samuelsson said.

Harlem as a community has become a mix of post-migration and global immigration. Local businesses started by community folk are generally well-received and supported.

Additionally, technology is a great leveler between different demographics. The Red Rooster restaurant aims to be inclusive of any patron who walks in, a belief that enables its chef to continue to grow his expanding platform on digital channels as well as between local neighborhoods.

“I consider myself very privileged because my audience allows me to tell a complex, layered story,” Mr. Samuelsson said.

Final Take
Alex Samuely, staff writer on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York