Influencers

It’s time to retire the term ‘whitelisting,’ some influencer marketers argue

Some companies, like Instagram, have abandoned the term.
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Francis Scialabba

· 4 min read

In July, Qianna Smith Bruneteau was at an influencer-marketing conference when the following question came up: Is the word “whitelisting” an inclusive term in 2022?

“The overall sentiment was that the term is fairly outdated,” Smith Bruneteau, the founder and executive director of the American Influencer Council, told Marketing Brew.

If you haven’t heard the term before, whitelisting is when an influencer lets a brand run ads from their account, meaning that the influencer’s handle—rather than the brand’s—is used for the ad. It’s a tactic brands use to make the most of their influencer marketing partnerships.

Widely considered to be noninclusive, the term is being reconsidered across other industries as well. As Lola Bakare, CMO advisor and inclusive marketing strategist at her brand be/co, told us, “everything’s connected.” A term like whitelisting, she said, can perpetuate unconfronted bias. “We need to confront the idea that anything that uses the word ‘white’ to describe [something] is somehow good,” Bakare said.

Influencer marketers and DE&I experts we spoke with think it’s time to retire the term “whitelisting” and opt for not only a more inclusive word, but also perhaps one that’s more indicative of what the term actually means.

Goodbye, word!

Annelise Campbell, CEO and founder of influencer marketing agency Campbell Francis Group, told us that while her company doesn’t use the term whitelisting anymore, a lot of brands still do. “It’s not a term that I feel has gone away,” she told us.

In conversations with brands, her agency opts for different words to describe the practice—like "boosting"—even if the brand still describes it as whitelisting. “It doesn’t really impact conversation and our ability to get the deal done in any way, shape, or form,” Campbell said.

But Kimberley John-Morgan, a DE&I content writer and educator, noted that a brand asking a Black influencer to “whitelist” content probably “hits very differently” than a brand asking a white person to do it.

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“The Black Lives Matter movement serves as a reminder that words matter,” Smith Brunteau explained. “Some marketing terms deserve to become obsolete to foster structures of inclusion.”

Some companies, like Instagram, have abandoned the term. Instagram spokesperson Paige Cohen confirmed to Marketing Brew via email that while it used to refer to the term as whitelisting, it started calling it “allow listing” in 2020 both internally and in its communication with creators and brands.

Cohen noted that the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) and other groups recommend against using terms like “whitelist” to describe something that’s considered positive and “blacklist” to describe something that’s considered negative.

Twitter recently decided to stop using the term as well due to its “negative connotation,” opting for “allowlisting” instead.

Looking ahead

Bakare argued that all it will take to do away with “whitelisting” is for a new word to “catch fire.”

There’s also a solid argument for ditching the word that has nothing to do with the nature of the term itself: it’s not exactly descriptive.

Campbell, for instance, told us she stopped using the word “whitelisting” for reasons beyond its social implications. She said that it’s not the clearest term for the process, saying that she opts for “boosting” or “paid usage” instead, as they can more clearly define the strategy.

Similarly, Smith Bruneteau suggested using either the term “ad collaboration” or “branded-partner ad listing” instead.

“If not for a racial perspective, just from a practical perspective, it makes more sense to change the terminology just to make it clear as to what the list is actually for,” John-Morgan said.

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