The ideal future of inclusive online communities with A. Walton Smith
Brad Grossman, Founder and CEO of ZEITGUIDE, talks with A. Walton Smith We Are Rosie’s very own Head of Content & Community Engagement as well as Founder of Black Woman Owned, a community giving #BlackWomanOwned businesses visibility through social media as a means to increase their revenue. The two talk about social media’s role in community building and what the ideal future of inclusive and prosperous online communities look like.
Brad: Hi. I’m Brad Grossman. I am the founder and CEO of the ZEITGUIDE, and ZEITGUIDE means guide to the zeitgeist. And if you didn’t know, zeitgeists is a German word that means spirit of the times. And last week if you tuned into Pass The Mic, the very special The Rosie Report podcast, you would have heard me get interviewed by Jinny Oh, and she wanted to find out for me about the zeitgeist and what is shaping culture and where’s culture leading to.
And now I’m here to pass the mic or I just caught the mic. And now I’m going to interview Walton Smith, who is We Are Rosie’s very own head of content and community engagement, as well as founder of Black Woman Owned.
Wow. I am honored to be in the same podcast with you Walton. Tell me what you do. It seems like you have two, which is great because one of the concepts of We Are Rosie is that you can have a fractional learning or be part of a fractional learning culture, which I want to get to, but you’re both working for We Are Rosie is the head of content and community engagement and you also are the founder of Black Woman Owned. So tell me about what you do for each of them.
Walton: So at We Are Rosie. I am the voice behind our social media. So our Twitter, our Instagram, our Facebook, I’m that person who is engaging and then working with our marketing team of course to create strategies, to engage with our audience via social media. I also help build our community online. That’s our Facebook group, which we are moving onto a different platform, really excited about that.
So I nurture-
Brad: What’s the platform? What’s the platform?
Walton: So we actually have our own. It’s on a data platform called Hive Right but we are moving from Facebook to our own AI I guess you want to call it where our Rosie’s can create a profile and they have their own place outside of a social media network to interact with one another while also still interacting with our team members, especially our talent team.
Brad: Community. Basically you’re creating a community based platform.
Walton: We have been working towards getting our Rosie’s on our own platform for a while. And it’s something that they’ve been asking for. They want to create their profiles. They want to communicate with us on a deeper level. So it’s something we’ve been working on for a long time. I want to say since I’ve been here, we’ve been trying to figure out which way, which direction we’re going to go in and we’ve finally found it.
Brad: I would love to talk about the philosophy of social media. You are part of the zeitgeist in the sense that you’re creating a platform of your own that is creating a community that is adjacent to the social media platforms. So that’s number one. Number two, social media is getting a huge backlash in every way, shape or form. Even pre-COVID, there was this tech lash and Gen Zs teens had their highest suicide rates ever.
Instagram was used mainly to put a fabricated image of reality. And now you have to TikTok all over the place. And the other thing I’ve been learning about in terms of bubbling trends is this whole notion of voice social media, which is all about creating communities. So what is your observation of the zeitgeist of social media community, where things are going, what has to be done? And maybe you don’t know yet, but I don’t know. This is something I’m always thinking about.
Walton: Wow. You say expert. I also consider myself a student always just because this landscape is, we move so fast, but as far as what we need to do-
Brad: You know more than most people because you’re engaged, but I agree.
Walton: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Brad: Yeah. We’re all lifelong learners if we’re going to be at what we do,
Walton: But as far as what we need to do, I think when we’re talking about, in terms of moving forward, there has to be safety precautions. We just have to figure that out. We have to understand how we’re going to have all these people in these different spaces and still protect them from harmful dire information that can explode. So that also means does that mean censorship?
I don’t really know what that next step is, but I do know that it has to include safety. Otherwise it’s going to snowball. It’s going to be out of control. And that’s not something that these platforms are made to do. They’re made to express ourselves, but they weren’t made to harm people. And we are finding more and more, like you’re saying, they’re becoming more harmful than they are helpful.
And people are building community to stay safe and not to be harmed by messages and visuals and re-traumatized. So I like clubhouse. I like where that’s going. I do think also it’s in beta right now. And it’s an interesting place because you have a place where everyone can gather. I’ve literally been in a clubhouse room where there was someone in the room who was an attendant who had harmed someone else.
Brad: Really? Oh, yeah.
Walton: And whether that was emotionally, physically, the fact that there was harm there and that person was still able to be in the same room and perhaps even so on Clubhouse, you have a stage, a virtual stage. So that’s where the people are talking.
And then you have audience members. And those are people who are not talking, but they’re just listening. But in that moment, there was somebody who was able to come up on the stage with a person they had harmed. That’s not okay. We have to figure out how we can keep things like that from happening.
Brad: Right. But you as a social media learner and actualizer, do you think these type of platforms is where social media is going in terms of building these specific communities?
Walton: No. I don’t.
Brad: Yeah. So you think like the Twitters and the Facebooks and the Instagrams, that’s just going to continue to be things.
Walton: Yeah. They’re going to continue. There are different versions. People are trying to make their own versions of these spaces, but I don’t see it being strictly voice. It is a great way to have more intimate conversations, but I don’t see it being something that’s there forever that we only use. This is our main social media platform voice. I don’t see that.
Brad: And I could understand where social media could help brands connect with consumers. But do you think that with so many more people going on social media, it’s like a fire hose, is it continuing? We’re talking about these specific platforms are going to continue to be relevant and helpful to individuals and brands and et cetera.
Walton: I do. I definitely think that they’re going to be. TikTok especially Pinterest and like you’re saying Pinterest doesn’t necessarily do a lot of marketing, but Pinterest is great for people who are selling products, it’s great for people who are blogging. It’s great for people go there for information. You just don’t hear about it as much, but the revenue that they bring to the table when you’re marketing on Pinterest is out of this world.
So I definitely see Pinterest staying. I even see TikTok staying and Twitter. I see Instagram having … They’re building new ways to use it. And I don’t think-
Brad: Like reels and stories.
Walton: Yeah. Reels. Now this is in beta, but you can shop during your live. So someone, you can be on live with someone and actually click a link and buy from them as they are on their live. So I see them implementing new ways to get people on the platform. So I don’t think that they’re going anywhere anytime soon. I think that they are main stakeholders in the social media platforms.
Brad: And would you all do what We Are Rosie, which is a business to business company, not a consumer facing, but we all are B2B to C, do you have one social media platform that you think is most relevant to what you do or you feel like you just have to do them all and see?
Walton: No, I have two favorites. My favorites are LinkedIn and Twitter because we are business to business. LinkedIn is great to fortify those relationships with other CMOs, people in the marketing industry. But Twitter is where we really get to engage and have other conversations as well. LinkedIn is kind of like the validity of the business process. But Twitter is more we-
Brad: Yeah. I like Twitter. If there’s one that I really like, it’s Twitter. And my audience is growing. Anyway. I’m ZEITGUIDE Brad, if anybody cares, but Stephanie is doing a great job.
Walton: Rock star. Truly. She does Twitter so well.
Brad: Yeah. She really does.
Walton: It’s great and she spills over into our Twitter too. So my favorites I’m going to say are Twitter and LinkedIn, when it comes to socializing our information and creating relationships with other CMOs or people in marketing and advertising in general.
Brad: Yeah. I think of Twitter as a utility, like, energy or water or it’s like a pipeline. And so I agree. So, okay. Let’s move over to the other part of your job which is community engagement. And I did it in terms of being zeitgeisty, that is the title, anybody in terms of marketing and connectivity and content should be thinking about.
But I think especially in a COVID world, whatever you want call the state that we’re in right now, community is more important than ever. And I just wanted to hear your perspective of how do you think about community? What is community today and where in your vision do you think community, how the concept of community should evolve in the most optimal way?
Walton: I do community at We Are Rosie and I do community at Black Woman Owned. And while they’re two different spaces, the baseline is the same. For me personally and professionally, community is a place where you can walk in and feel safe, feel heard, feel seen, and not just feel heard and feel seen. You know what you are saying is being internalized by the other members of that group. And either if you’re not on one accord, that’s okay, but you still feel freely to speak in that space and you don’t feel small or belittled in that space.
You feel safe. Personally for me and that’s a big reason why I even started Black Woman Owned because I needed to see a space for black women business owners to be safe and to interact with one another and know that we exist. So a lot of the time for me community is like, oh, okay. Well, we have something in common. Let’s continue to build off that. Let’s grow together. Let’s work together. Let’s see what we can do together because we have this common interest.
Brad: The word that really stuck out for me is safe. And now we really have to figure that out digitally. And you just actually said again that it’s really hard to keep that alive. What is the barrier to entry? So that you know if somebody isn’t safe and how do you, I guess, digitally speaking, it’s easier to just cancel them.
But yeah, I think safety is probably like the heartbeat community is. And then I would say the next thing is really about participation in the good, in a vision. So what are you trying to create in terms of the We Are Rosie community?
We want our consultants to, we obviously are working with them to get them projects, but we honor humanity at We Are Rosie. So it’s not only always going to be about work. So in our community, we want to assist you yes, with your projects, but on a personal level too. Because then we’re serving you as the full person and not just what you can do for our clients. I don’t believe that we’re going to create a marketing community and all we talk about is marketing, upskilling, leveling up.
Those are great things that we do need that. But when we can have a side conversation about a book that you just read. We have so many Rosies that do so many things. They plant. They’re musicians. They have been traveling the world and we need to recognize that and honor those things within those people. So our community is marketing plus you as a person. What can we do to help you professionally?
And maybe there’s something we can do to help you personally. Maybe we need to have a yoga session. Maybe we need to have a meditation. We’re going to have workshops. We’re going to help you professionally. We’re going to make sure that your resume is in top shape. We’re going to do those things, but we’re going to speak to you as a person as well. As a full person.
Brad: We are very connected and this is why Jesse and I bonded is because my whole job is to help people understand the context of themselves as both a business leader and a citizen of the world within the context of the wider world. Because it’s changing so quickly. And therefore you have to be, I call it relevant resilience or I haven’t figured it out. Maybe you marketing experts going to help me figure it out, but it’s like resilient relevance.
And so my whole thesis is that you have to be relevant to what you do and the world around you, but you also have to be resilient because the world is changing so quickly. So, yeah. So I think you are talking about is so important. I had spoke about this before COVID because you or anybody as an employee is also a consumer and I gave a talk on the consumerization of the workplace.
If you could get something by click of a button on your phone and within seconds, and it takes a year to negotiate a deal, your organization is inconsistent with the world around you. That’s just one example. So I think that creating a community in work has to be about the wider issues because that shapes your consumers. It shapes your customers, it shapes your employees and it just shapes what your forward vision and strategies should be like. So we are on the same page on that. So let’s shift through. Now, when did you start Black Woman Owned?
Walton: Black Woman Owned was started in 2018. So my son was born and he was a few months old and I was on maternity leave. And it turned out that I got laid off on maternity leave. But you know what? I wasn’t even bummed. I was like, “Okay, fine. I’m just going to be on a little longer. That’s great.” So I was reading and I saw something about black women business owners, there being over 2 million of us. And I was just so intrigued by that.
And I did a little bit more digging and I came upon information that said although there’s over 2 million black women owned businesses, we lack capital and we lack consistent revenue. So I was a person who had worked with several black women, as I climbed the ladder in my career. And I just thought about it. I said, “I do social media. I work with black women. I’m a black woman. Why can I just assist in some way?” So I created an Instagram page and a Twitter eventually to promote these women and their services and products.
Brad: I’m finding you on Instagram right now.
Walton: Okay. I wanted to promote for free also. This is just a big component. I wanted to promote their services and their products because I feel like also a lot of the time black women are pigeonholed into a certain type of business. And the fact is we do it all. And I wanted to make sure that the audience that I was speaking to understood that black women in business are doing everything and there’s a black woman somewhere doing something that can make your life easier or whatever.
So I decided to create that. And so our tagline is nobody got us like we got us. Because at the end of the day, I know that I can depend on myself if there’s no one else in the room. And I just took that philosophy and I feel that way about black women. We have been having to pull ourselves up just because we had to. We didn’t have the support. Why do we lack the capital? Why do we lack the revenue? It makes no sense. So I just wanted to do my part in that. And so our whole goal is to provide visibility through social media to increase revenue. It’s really simple. It doesn’t take a lot of time.
Brad: How would visibility to more money?
Walton: Yes. So for me as a social media professional, I know how social media works. When you go viral, if you’re in the right position, you can sell out of your product. And that was for me the easiest way to do that. So I’ve literally posted women and their products and people have come back in our DMs and said, “Hey, I bought this. This was amazing.” We’ve had business owners say, “Thank you for posting us. We haven’t even launched yet, but we have several subscriptions to our email newsletter now. Thank you.”
So I already knew that that was going to happen because we are yearning to find black women who create product, create services. So that’s where the revenue comes in. I’ve literally seen people who have bought from off our pages, people who have built their business a little bit further because of our pages.
I’ve had a few viral tweets and it’s been really great to see women just understand that there is something out there for them created by a black woman. And just people in general. We’ve had random, just anybody’s like, “Oh my gosh, I love this page. I bought this.” That’s what the heartwarming thing is for me when people buy and then I buy myself.
Brad: Do you reach out in terms of the social media strategy to black women who own businesses to have them come be part of your community so that you can use the social media from? Is that a tactic?
Walton: So we actually have a form. We created a form in our bio where if you would like to be featured, you just sign up on our form and I’ll put you on the calendar. It’s something that it doesn’t really take a lot of time for me. And I wanted it to be simple. I didn’t want to overthink it. And so that’s what we do.
And I stumble across a million black woman owned business every day. So I’m just creating a directory just for my personal use as of now to put on the page. But we are looking to grow in different directions in the future, but right now it’s just social media. That’s how women find us and they fill out the form or I find them.
Brad: Right. So I had in my culture classes, as I guess, like I said, every week, and one of the people I had was Lindsay Day. I don’t know if you know her. She’s the founder of CRWN Magazine, C-R-W-N.
Brad: Yes. Yeah. She calls it a hair and lifestyle magazine for black women. And she created it with her husband and the heartbeat for me of the conversation was really about black women and men, one of the reasons why they become entrepreneurs and create their own business is because the corporate environment that they started out in was inaccessible and inconsistent with their values.
And it was just a place that a community let’s just say that wasn’t safe for them and didn’t include them and they might’ve been hired because of diversity inclusion mandates, but that didn’t really mean that they had a voice or if they were treated properly.
And I just found it interesting that that is one of the main reasons why there are so many black women owned businesses, but me as an entrepreneur as well, and you as well, it’s not easy being an entrepreneur, especially now. And some people are going to be forced to because there’s going to be in our business too massive layoffs, which is a good segue into my next question about We Are Rosie.
By the way, congratulations. That seems like an amazing organization you created that’s really more than ever essential than ever before. But in terms of We Are Rosie, it seems like yes, there has been an issue, especially with women who have had to put or many of them decided for their own choice to put their careers on hold. And it was because there wasn’t, with Jesse gave me the term, fractional opportunities. Before Jesse, people use the word flexibility.
Now we are seeing that we could actually work in a fractional flexible way. And We Are Rosie seems to have been on the rising emerging zeitgeists curve of that. And I’m sure there’s many people who, and you have with your community have talked about the purpose and what We Are Rosie does. But how do you think in terms of not only as a woman, what a black woman, who a caretaker for kids, how do you think that We Are Rosie is going to continue to help people, like I just said, and what does that mean in terms of the context of this COVID, work from home work from anywhere, WFA, that’s the new trend culture that we’re living in? A collective hope that this mission will evolve in the future.
Walton: So we’ve promoted, flexible work since we were created. And I think that helping people goes two ways. We help people who are independent contractors and/or full-time and people who need other projects that allowed them to work flexibly, but also with our clients, we work with also letting them know how to be more flexible. And to be quite honest, flexible work is inclusive work.
So we’re hitting multiple points with just being flexible and having flexible opportunities for potential projects. So for us, it almost is limitless because we’re helping you yes, get a project, but just recently, one of our Rosie’s who has a full-time job, we just helped them get a part-time project so they can help fund some treatment for their illness. That’s just-
Brad: For their what? Treatment for?
Walton: For an illness.
Brad: Oh, wow.
Walton: They had an entire full time job, but still needed something else to supplement experimental treatment so they can be a whole person. That’s just one way having flexible projects for our consultant helps people. To me, it’s limitless. I’m able to take my son to daycare with my husband in the morning. That’s a big deal. So by the time this episode airs, the allyship in action conference or summit will be over, but we have a workshop about bias. We are helping in several ways just by shining a light on the different biases that come with not allowing flexible work and just in general.
Brad: Well, that’s interesting to me because it’s not just about enabling people who want to have flexible work to be paid and survive and actually have jobs, but if you’re hired as a flexible worker, you’re hired for a specific project. And therefore you can’t be part of that project if you’re not included in the creation of the project. They’re actually hiring you to do the project.
So, it’s like being an entrepreneur and having your own thing, but it’s like now you could be an entrepreneur outside the corporate system or community that might marginalize your work or your opinion. And now you’re being hired actually for your work and opinion. So it seems like that is a great way to get people to be more respected and inclusive in the workplace.
Interesting, interesting. Wow. You’re so inspiring. on everything. All right. Because I could talk forever, I’m in the talking business. Used to be in the writing business, but nobody reads anymore. So we’re in the talking business. So I understand your mission. I’m just looking at all this kind of stuff. Let’s just finish with two questions. What does the ideal future of inclusive and prosperous online communities look like? I guess it’s very utopian. What do you hope?
Walton: So, yeah, I can tell you what I hope. The future, I see marginalized people with voices to actually make change. And I see those who are not marginalized still making the effort to make that change as well within their own communities because we have so many biases that are unconscious. So for me, it’s marginalized people having a voice to actually make change in my dream community and not being tapped to make a change for a moment, but to make a change for it to last for generations to come.
And then being able to express. So I know that we all are not going to agree. That’s okay. I’m not a person that says we all have to feel the same way. I don’t believe in that, but I do think it’s important for communities to have that space and that freedom to have disagreements without it becoming harmful or disrespectful. And sometimes there will be an opinion that is harmful and/or disrespectful, having a set of guidelines for that person to know that that sort of opinion is not welcome.
Brad: Okay. So I love the philosophy of it. So after millions of people listen to this podcast, and connect with or learn about a very inspirational person like you, and I’m so grateful that We Are Rosie connected us. What is one thing that after we all listen to this podcast that we can do immediately to help concretize your vision?
Walton: It’s interesting because my target audience would be the builders of community for this specific question. And it’s honestly to get out of the way. You have to allow the change to occur. When we start to feel defensive about changes, because we feel a certain type of way, we already shut down the change.
So for me, for the audience out there who are the community builders, sometimes you have to get out of the way so that the community can help build itself. The community has to be a part of the community building. We can’t build communities for people without the people. So my first step would be to get out of the way so that the people in the community who need the safety, who need to be heard, who need to be seen can do those things and can voice what they need.
Brad: That’s beautiful. All right. Wow. Okay. Well, we have to wrap it up. But I’d love to learn more about social media and I want to be a Rosie.
Walton: Listen. Just fill out the Typeform. Come on with it.
Brad: Yes. Yes. The answer is yes. So, Walton, thank you so much for talking with me about your journey and where can people find you online?
Walton: You can find me on Twitter. My Twitter name is @goesbywalton or on LinkedIn. I am A. Walton Smith and that’s the full name. And then of course you can follow @BlackWomanOwned on Instagram and Twitter. B-L-A-C-K W-O-M-A-N owned on Twitter and Instagram. I am on all those places. And of course We Are Rosie.
Brad: All right. Well, that’s it for this week’s episode of Pass The Mic by The Rosie Report. Tune in next week when Walton talks to Henry Childs II, founder and CEO of the Minority Wealth Commission, and until then subscribe to The Rosie Report podcasts on Spotify and Anchor and be sure to check out more stories on building a future of work for everyone by everyone therosiereport.com.