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The Shaderoom and Balleralert are two popular news outlets who use social media as their main source of publication including blog style websites, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. My focus was on how these sites specifically target black audiences through their use of language, slang, and material. I hypothesized that the site who used more African American Vernacular English and slang would be more successful in attracting black audiences because it would be seen as more relatable and exclusive. I used Instagram as a platform for my research because it made it easier to monitor the traffic of each site through follows, likes, comments, and hashtags.
The Shade Room which was created by a recent Nigerian-American college graduate in March 2014 has a current following of about 4.5 million. Baller Alert which is an older concept was created by blogger who refers to herself as Robinski in 2013 and has a current following of about 1.8 million followers.
With both of these sites posting almost the exact same material and targeting the same audience, why is one twice as successful?
I believe that The Shade Room’s (TSR) success is largely due to it’s use of AAVE in its posts and its connections to its followers affectionately known as “roommates” in TSR. Roommates feel as if the news they are receiving is custom made for their consumption. Each follower must already have an understanding of AAVE and black culture in order to fully understand each post, which gives a sense of exclusivity. The shade room also relies heavily on slang in it’s posts. Throwing shade and reading are two examples of the type of slang being used; non-mainstream but common amongst black youth and young adults. The informal tone throughout also puts the followers on equal footing with the bloggers and encourages more dialogue on posts
Baller Alert on the other hand uses straight English in the majority of its posts with the exception of its advice posts which feature small pieces of forced slang and AAVE. While followers are getting the exact information that they would from TSR, the method of delivery is much more impersonal. Posts from Baller Alert could easily be understood by someone with no prior knowledge of AAVE or slang meaning that they rely more heavily on material rather than language to attract its target audiences.
Looks like we thought right!
I concluded that my original hypothesis was correct based on the large disparities in page traffic. The shade room’s success lies largely in their ability to connect with their followers. Baller Alert’s traditional reporting styles have had difficulties attracting the same numbers as TSR despite the fact that they share the same types of material. Both of these pages have massive followings amongst black millennials with some relying solely on these pages for their news consumption. By understanding what attracts followers to these type of pages we can better create news sites and pages that cater to the need of this generation.
How this connects to what we’ve learned:
“Ramsey: Now, a lot of the interest around Black Twitter is focused on the hashtags and trending topics it creates. You’ve written that those tagged conversations can require a certain level of black cultural competency. What do you mean by that?
Clark: In order to understand the conversation, you have to have what one researcher, [James C.] Scott, has called “a hidden transcript.” You have to have the cultural background to understand the conversation as it’s playing out. There’s use of metaphor, there’s use of culturally resonant language. I told someone last night, “We don’t believe you, you need more people.” And it’s directly from the Jay Z song, but if you don’t know Jay Z and if you don’t know that that’s a rap lyric, you’re going to miss it. And the person I was talking to did. He didn’t get it at all.
So those hashtags in so many ways are indicators of a certain degree of cultural competency. To understand some of them, and I stress “some,” you have to understand African-American vernacular English. To understand others, you need to have historical perspective on the issue. And so a lot of that rises out of a common experience of living as a black person, and specifically to living as a black person in the United States.”
– The Atlantic (The Truth About Black Twitter
Complex, influential, and far more meaningful than the sum of its social justice-driven hashtags)
This quote from an interview of Meridith Clark done by Donovan X. Ramsey, Clark expounds on the use AAVE and background understanding in Black Twitter. The assumption that all readers have that Black Cultural competency as she describes it is what I argue draws in black audiences more to sites such as TSR. The idea that some people just won’t get it because it was not made for them gives black readers a sense of exclusivity along with the idea of being a “roommate”. TSR has created a relationship with its followers that Baller Alert has yet to figure out how to do. The combination of slang and AAVE use is beneficial to sites seeking to attract young black audiences and should be further examined in effort to cater to the information needs of that demographic.
– Imani Kamel Parker