It happens to all of us. You build a website that your stakeholders and clients love. Then, you ferociously create great content to build your authority.
But after a while, your web traffic becomes, well…stagnant.
Maybe your blog posts or service pages aren’t pulling as much traffic as they once did.
Maybe your web traffic plateaus. Or, even worse, pages that once ranked high on Google are slowly slipping to the “dreaded second page”!
It’s a situation that can leave a real dent in your content marketing strategy. But, unfortunately, it’s a sticky situation that marketers find themselves in.
Not only are you battling with Google’s ever-changing algorithm, but you’re also up against competitors in your market for keywords in your niche.
And with 97% of marketers making content a core feature of their overall marketing strategy, it’s a tough race to the top.
But it’s not an impossible one.
In this post, I’ve put together a list of 5 things you can do to improve your content marketing strategy and boost its overall performance to get you past the finish line.
Conduct a content audit
If you want to improve your content marketing strategy effectively, first you need to know what needs improving and what doesn’t. You can’t make informed choices about your content unless you know what’s working and what isn’t.
That’s where a content audit comes in.
It’s probably the most time-consuming task on this list. But trust me, once you’ve put all the work in, you won’t regret it!
There are quite a few enterprise platforms on the market that have the functionality to report on how your content is performing.
Moz, ahrefs and SEMRush are probably two of the most popular all-in-one search marketing tools on the market. All have the ability to analyse content and backlink performance along with in-depth reporting and export capabilities.
SEMRush, in particular, also has the ability to connect your social media accounts, providing you with another layer of data to understand how your content is performing.
But, if you’re not familiar with these platforms, you might want to try a ‘hands-on’ approach by conducting a manual content audit to improve your content marketing strategy.
With the manual process, you’ll need to grab web traffic and backlink data from Google Analytics and Search Console. Then, you’ll need a list of corresponding URLs from your website to analyse what pages are underperforming and if there are ways to optimise for search (pssst, see below)?
Optimise pages for search
So you’ve got a bunch of blog posts from your content audit that needs updating. Or maybe you’ve got a 30-page white paper or a bunch of case studies that aren’t engaging your audience.
How do you optimise them to get them noticed?
Improve your meta titles and descriptions
A great place to start is to write compelling meta descriptions and titles. Essentially, you want to tell Google exactly what your content is about but also describe your content in relation to the user’s query. This will, obviously, require some keyword research as well as a level of sophistication with your writing – especially for the title.
For example, writing titles in sentence case (rather than all lowers or capitals) is an effective way of crafting titles, especially if you include a power word to captivate your readers.
Have a look at the meta title and description for Pepsi below. Its compelling description details exactly what the website is about in relation to the user’s search query.
Notice that there are additional links below the description, to further direct the user to other pieces of content that might be relevant to them.
Now take a look at the description and titles before it was updated.
Now, which one would you click on? I’ll place my bets on the first!
Add external links to relevant pages
If you’re writing a robust piece of content on a particular topic, you should always consider adding external links. Typically, if you’re discussing facts, figures or paraphrasing a point from a piece of research, you’ll want to insert outbound links to an authoritative webpage with the relevant keyword.
By doing this you benefit from:
- Backing up your observations with other references.
- Distinguishing yourself from dodgy websites that have no external links at all
- Building influence online (website owners who you link to will notice your website)
- There’s evidence to show that external links to authoritative websites can help with SEO
Add internal links to relevant content on your site
Internal links are just as powerful as external ones. Maybe even more so. Linking to another service, product or blog page, using relevant keywords, keeps users on your site for longer.
Providing you’re answering their questions, users will typically feel inclined to click on links to other pages within the content. The longer users stay on your website, the better your SEO health!
Furthermore, internal linking is your opportunity to establish a more refined and structured website architecture. Plus you get to spread that all-important link equity (AKA link juice) throughout your website.
Start creating pillar content
Speaking of structure, if you haven’t started creating pillar content, get on to it!
It’s one of the most effective ways to add structure to the blog section of your website. Plus, it’s a God send if you’re running low on content ideas!
A content pillar is a long-form piece of content that can, essentially, be broken down into multiple pieces of content – also known as content clusters. Typically a content pillar covers a whole topic but with room for more depth.
And it’s the content clusters that provide that comprehensive information.
If you had a white paper that was split into 11 sections, you could create a landing page that discusses each section, in brief, with a CTA (top and bottom) to download the white paper.
Then you could write 11 blog posts relating to each section in depth.
Of course, you don’t want to write exactly what’s in the white paper (obvs), but it’s your chance to showcase your authority in the market with informative pieces of content that link back to a wider topic (the pillar page) that features your white paper.
If you’re going down the pillar content route, you want to make sure that the content pillar and its relevant cluster pages are linking to each other. Organising blog posts and links in this structured manner helps more pages on your site to get ranked by Google as well as helps searchers find information on your website easily.
Improve content value
The internet is saturated with content and businesses are vigorously competing with each other to increase their online visibility. Writing a small 400-word blog post or 1-page, surface-level lead magnet just won’t cut it these days.
And on top of all that, Google is continuously updating its infamous algorithm!
If you want to work with Google and win the attention of users, you need to bring some added value to the table.
After all, Google values content that’s high quality, relevant and unique.
So first, let’s focus on the user.
It’s important to understand why users are visiting your website (AKA user internet). They could be looking for answers to a question, finding a product, conducting research or searching for a website.
User intent typically falls under four categories:
- Navigational – to find a specific site or page.
- Informational – to find answers to a specific question or general information
- Commercial – to investigate brands or services
- Transactional – to complete an action or purchase
By understanding these categories you’ll be in a better position to effectively create and serve the most relevant content to users who visit your website.
For example, If you know users are visiting your website using the term “customer review platform for eCommerce”, it would be wise to optimise your product page with this long-tail keyword to help increase conversions.
Creating a blog page with the same term would be counterproductive and potentially lead to multiple pages competing for the same keywords.
A good place to start finding these types of queries is by digging into your Google Search Console data which collects organic search data linked to your website.
Using Search Console you can find the exact keywords people have searched for to get to your website. If you’ve linked GSC to Google Analytics, you can also find the data there.
Additionally, platforms like Moz and SEMrush can also identify what keywords your webpages already rank for. If you’re ranking on the 2nd page for a bunch of translational or commercial keywords, you’ll want to optimise these pages to get them to the first page!
If you’re stuck on time or internal resources, partnering with a reputable SEO copywriter can help you effectively create content based on the relevant keywords for your niche and industry.
Next, you’ll want to work on the content that you already have. That’s where that all-important content audit comes in.
If you’ve got content from your audit that’s lacking in page visits but has managed to gain one or more backlinks, it’s worth reviewing the content to add more value for the user.
When it comes to blog content, typically, users are looking for information or an answer to a question. And as an authority in the market, it’s up to you to produce comprehensive, easy-to-read content that satisfies their questions.
Additionally, the keyword research you’ve conducted in the previous section should be your guide for fleshing out more relevant content.
And when it comes to readability, pay close attention to the overuse of chunky paragraphs that can make long-form content harder to read.
A few great ways to break up content on the page are the use of images, videos, quotes and bullet points.
Embedded video is also a smart way to provide users with more insights without overloading them with more information and keeping them on the page for longer.
Diversify your distribution
So, you’ve got a ton of blog articles on your website and you push them accordingly on your social media channels. You get a flurry of engagement over a few days and then bam!… Radio silence!
The thing is, you can’t just rely on the organic reach of social media alone these days. You need to increase your distribution if you want the improve the effectiveness of your content marketing strategy.
Repurposing content is one of the easiest ways to increase the amount of content you have and diversify your assets without putting too much work into ideation to fill up your content marketing calendar.
Say, for example, you’ve got a blog post titled “7 most sustainable retail brands in the UK”.
You could turn that post into a topic to discuss on a podcast episode. Then, record the episode over Zoom (or in-person) and upload it to a YouTube channel. Finally, you can create snippets of video using content from your blog post for YouTube Shorts/Linkedin/Instagram/Twitter.
You could also highlight the 7 most sustainable retail brands as carousel posts for Instagram or Linkedin. Carousels keep the user engaged on your post for longer because there’s more content in the post to consume!
Et voila! One content idea. Three different formats. All distributed on multiple social media channels.
If you want to invest in ads, try committing ad spend on the content that’s performing best rather than blanket spending on multiple pieces of content over multiple social channels.
Got a white paper that’s just sitting on your website?
You could do something similar with it too. Typically, white papers, are densely crammed with information and are often gated on a website. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use the information in it to improve its online visibility.
Use the headings on the contents page as titles for blog posts, and then write a detailed piece for each title in relation to your business. Don’t forget to direct users and link back to that all-important white paper – using the relevant keyword for the white paper of course.
Then, you might want to build more backlinks to your white paper by asking other website owners, with good domain authority, to link back to it with the relevant keyword.
External links from high domain authority websites tell Google that your content is valuable and worth ranking higher.
While this form of link building is often handed over to third-party agencies, as a marketer or website owner it’s in your best interests to put yourself out there, develop relationships with other marketers and build links yourself.
Any content marketer that’s worth their salt knows that if ‘content is King’, then consistency is definitely the Queen! Algorithms on both search and social media platforms love fresh, regular content.
And if you want to maintain your organic reach, producing content on a regular basis not only keeps the algorithm happy but will keep also keeps your audience well informed and updated about your brand.
From an SEO perspective, the more blog posts, white papers and guides you produce, the more frequently your website gets indexed by Google.
Essentially, the more valuable content you publish on a regular basis, the more chances you have for Google to reassess your rankings. Furthermore, consistent publishing increases the opportunities your website has to build keywords in your niche. And the more relevant keywords you rank for, the better your online visibility.
Again, this requires an element of structure and regular assessment (go back to point two). You really want to keep an eye on what keywords you’re ranking for, ensure the keywords are related to your niche and optimise your content accordingly.
Finally, consistent publishing can attract some much-needed inbound links (backlinks) from other websites. These links are gold! Inbound links to a piece of content are signals of value to Google and have the potential to increase your domain authority. If your backlinks are coming from high-domain authority websites, the better!
It goes without saying that if you want to improve your content marketing strategy, it’s going to take some work to refine your processes. But remember, if you want to build a solid foundation, your content should, primarily, focus on the user. It’s up to you to know your audience, serve them the right content and solve the problems they have in relation to your niche.
As technology has made huge strides and torn down barriers, businesses are now taking the opportunity to grow differently than their traditional predecessors.
If your company finds itself not needing continuous part-time or full-time employees or that hiring employees doesn’t economically make sense in a particular area, then it’s worth considering freelancers.
In this day and age, not everything needs to be done onsite. Not every task requires oversight.
To make your business successful, especially if you’re in the midst of reopening, it may be worth uniting multiple talents to get the job done. There’s a vast array of things to consider when deciding your hiring needs. Let’s discuss a few below.
Diversify Your Team
One reason to hire freelancers is that it allows you to diversify your team in more ways than one. Hiring a full-time graphic designer to work on marketing may not fit your business’ needs or budget.
But hiring someone for a couple of promotional projects here and there may be just what you need and it will also benefit the freelancer who is looking for a regular gig but has other clients to work with.
Beyond diversifying talent, you can also ensure your business represents the community. Freelancers are diverse in race, gender and sexuality. They encompass all age groups, come from all educational backgrounds and are all differently abled.
Examine your current teams and as you look to fill some positions, keep in mind the gaps you can fill in your team to make sure you’re representing the world around you. For example, you could hire web design, accounting, or lead generation services for your business. And if you need engaging content for your website and blog, you can connect with a freelance copywriter.
Securing Your Cyber Walls
Most freelance work is done off-site and online. It’s imperative that your freelance team and employees understand there are real security threats and each person needs to be vigilant in protecting themselves and the business.
The more we work online, the easier it is for identity theft to occur, hackers have more targets to infiltrate and the safety of personal information becomes at risk.
Here are some basic steps everyone should take:
- stay current on software updates
- don’t click on unexpected links or attachments
- invest in antivirus software
- invest in webcam covers
- create strong passwords and change them often
Excellent freelancers may be living nearby. Before branching out to larger cities or other states, start your search locally. You’ll not only be building your local brand by getting your name out there in your community as a potential employer, but you’ll also be supporting your local economy by providing income to locals who need the work.
As an added benefit, your business will reflect your community, choosing from a pool of workers with different experiences and backgrounds but all with the common goal of being invested in your hometown.
Invest in Others
When you hire freelancers, you’re getting the benefit of their talent, time and flexibility. If you want to see your community and quality of work improve, it’s worth investing in your freelancers. Some of the most skilled and experienced workers in the workforce are veterans and senior citizens, yet they are commonly excluded as potential hires.
Invest in them by hiring them and providing whatever additional training they need to be brought up to speed and you’ll likely find that you have dedicated workers as part of your team.
Some other ways to invest in your freelancers include:
- establishing a smooth onboarding system and training
- making your work environment more accessible to the differently-abled
- providing equipment to make work time more productive and efficient
- implementing mentorship programs
- starting internship programs
- working as a team
Thanks to technology, your company can hire from a larger pool of talent than ever before. Hiring freelancers allows you to diversify your team, which benefits everyone involved.
Just be sure to strengthen your cybersecurity, look to hire freelancers in your area and invest in hiring and training veterans and senior citizens. And don’t be surprised if your company experiences growth like you’ve never imagined!
So, let’s talk about money. We all want it and we all need it. Our lives may not literally be dependent on having money, but the exchange of cash for goods or services is vital to everyday living. Whether it’s to pay for the roof over your head (and the bills that come with it), medical prescriptions or to enjoy the simple luxuries in life, money is a necessity. But do we really know what we’re doing with it?
“Education, education, education.” That’s how Tony Blair headlined the Labor party education manifesto during the 1997 general election. Fast forward 22 years later and there seems to be a severe lack of it – in terms of financial literacy at least.
In fact, our first steps into the murky waters of money management usually happen until enter our collegiate years where many young people finish college and go to university.
But the conversation surrounding the complexities of money management, and how the lack of financial literacy can lead to spiring debt, is hardly the top of the agenda when we discuss taking our first steps into higher education.
And when I think about the setup of our education system in general, I’m left feeling rather unsettled and always seem to come to the same conclusion.
The education system itself is set up for one thing: how to get a job. Why aren’t we ever taught about money, how it’s produced and how we can make it work for us, rather than, us, work for it?
Even the way we’re taught to navigate society to financial freedom is money-adjacent and, quite frankly, still remains rather outdated; you go to school, then to university, get a job, work up the career ladder, get married, save money (if you can), buy a house (if you can) and retire; next generation, Go!
But in 2019, it’s a path that’s not necessarily achievable by all, and for some, it’s a rather redundant way of looking at financial freedom. Furthermore, it completely omits the practicalities of saving money, day to day money management and the economic barriers faced by the most marginalised people in the country.
Data from the Joseph Roundtree Foundation indicates that white working-age people have historically had the lowest risk of poverty in the UK in the last 20 years.
People from Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds have continuously had the highest and second highest poverty rates respectively, with black, Chinese and other ethnic groups not far behind. And that’s not taking into consideration how poverty rates affect working-age people with disabilities either.
Furthermore, the annual report, which examines the nature and scale of poverty across the UK, also indicated that Black/African/Caribbean/Black British working-age people are even more at risk of poverty than they were five years ago.
Throw together these ‘shocking’ findings, along with cuts in state programmes such as Tax Credits, the marginalisation of LGBTQ people of colour and you’ll find that the current recipe for financial freedom leaves you with a rather bitter taste in your mouth.
A state of crisis
According to research by University College London and the University of Cambridge, England and Northern Ireland are facing a “crisis” in financial literacy skills. Research indicates that a third of English and Northern-Irish couldn’t work out the correct change from a shopping trip or work out simple discounts on everyday items.
When it comes to managing debt, the statistics are even more disturbing. In 2017, Citizens Advice reported a ‘34% increase in the number of under 25’s seeking help with high-cost credit in the last two years’ and claimed that failure to cope with high-cost credit, such as payday loans, was one of the main reasons for the increasing number of young people seeking advice.
We all know that financial institutions rely on financial illiteracy from the general public, but with Brexit inching closer in an uncertain economic climate, I find it rather perplexing that the government’s education policy, up until the last five years, has been void of imparting the fundamentals of basic money management.
Change is on the horizon…well, sort of
Although financial literacy within secondary education has been scarce, to say the least, efforts have been made by the government to spotlight this grey area in the education system. In 2014, financial literacy was implemented in the national curriculum for 11-16 year-olds.
As part of the citizenship programmes of study for key stages 3 and 4, the national curriculum now aims to help children to ‘manage their money on a day-to-day basis and plan for future financial needs’. This includes, ‘the functions and uses of money, the importance and practice of budgeting and managing risk’. As well as ‘income and expenditure, credit and debt, insurance, savings and pensions, financial products and services and how public money is raised and spent’.
That sounds great on paper, but there’s growing sentiment that the government’s attempts to educate children on basic financial management is failing.
A recent survey by Young Money cited that some of the biggest concerns were around money management, including university students opening store cards, their approach to store cards themselves and failure to educate young people about the complexities of credit by credit vendors.
That’s no surprise when you consider some retailers are offering students store cards with an APR as high as 29.9%, plus interest.
The Young Money survey points to the speed at which technology is advancing as another major concern, particularly by teachers. Students simply aren’t conscious of how the finance industry impacts their day-to-day lives including the growth of mobile technologies and the rise of fintech businesses. One teacher, who participated in the survey, indicated that it’s an area that educators must address.
But in a society where we reluctantly talk about our finances to our friends let alone to total strangers, is your everyday secondary school teachers really equipt with the skills to educate the students on the fundamentals of money management and the evolution of the global financial ecosystem?
Although it’s compulsory to provide secondary school children with basic financial education, the legislation doesn’t even apply to free schools or academies.
According to Russell Winnard, a former teacher who is now Head of Programmes and Services at Young Money, only 35%-45% of schools were delivering financial education in 2014 – rounding off to only 40% two years later.
If you dive into the Young Money report a little further, you get a true picture of the challenges teachers are facing when providing a well-rounded and informative guide to money management.
There’s a growing appetite from older children, who are approaching the end of school, for detailed information and guidance on financial matters. Some teachers simply don’t have the support from the school system, or even the knowledge themselves, to meet these expectations.
Understanding the difference between good and bad debt, the pressures from the media to engage in consumer culture and financial accountability are some of the many issues that are neglected in the curriculum. And teachers simply lack the necessary mix of confidence, expertise and skill to feed the refined appetites of young people today.
And we haven’t even mentioned how we talk about money management in the home or the importance of discussing how race, class, gender, disability and sexuality can impact how one accumulates wealth; a topic that the government, and people in general, seem to nonchalantly tiptoe around.
There’s also a sort of sinister irony about a government that decides to impulsively introduce financial literacy as an add-on to the curriculum in an education system where teachers are either spiralling into debt themselves or are simply struggling to make ends meet due to rising living costs.
If we really want to provide our children with the financial freedom that they deserve, we first need to understand that poverty and wealth are inherited, both in the monetary and cognitive sense.
With the disproportionate rates of poverty held against people of colour and disabled people, money worries can often become a sore topic and it’s the kind of trauma that we’re reluctant to want to pass onto our children – for obvious reasons.
However, no matter how uncomfortable we may feel talking about money or our individual financial situations to others, it’s a necessary ongoing dialogue we need to have with our children – even if we lack the confidence or knowledge. And that knowledge needs to shrouded in a positive way of thinking.
By the age of 3, children have already grasped the basic principles of money. And by the time they’re 7, money habits have already been set.
But how to do we arm our own children with the fundamentals of money management and the awareness of acquisitive institutions that will bombard them with financial products in later life?
Chimaechi Allan, Senior Digital Editor for the Money Advice Service, has put together a practical guide detailing the ways you can talk to your kids about money, including building confidence and consistency, giving pocket money responsibly as well as the importance of learning from mistakes.
There are also links within the guide that provide practical examples of how to talk about money to children in different age groups from 3 all the way to eleven-years-old.
The education system has a long way to go when it comes to meeting the evolving expectations of eleven to sixteen-year-olds. Financial literacy is currently being taught by multiple teachers from multiple departments.
And these teachers are under immense pressure to maintaining a cohesive, progressive and consistent financial literacy offering while still having to deliver exam result objectives.
While recommendations have included providing more support to teachers, making the ‘Economic’ element of PSHE focus on finance education (that just sounds like common sense to me) and splitting maths into ‘key skills’ and pure math.
We’re a far cry from relying on the government and the school system to give our children a helping hand to guide us into real financial freedom. The only thing we can actively do right now is to educate ourselves accordingly and pass on what we’ve learned down to our children.
Last month my dad told me about growing up in his childhood home in Hackney in the mid-70s. He described how much fun he had, playing with his brothers and sisters in the back garden of the shabby four bedroom house.
“It wasn’t the best looking house, but it was home. I always remember the summer mornings during the school holidays. We’d all wake up in the morning and run downstairs to the garden to play before mum cooked up breakfast.”
As it was the first time we’d discussed his childhood home, I asked him why none of the family live in the house anymore.
He explained that when the council temporarily moved them out to remove damp in some of the rooms, they were asked to provide documentation to prove that the council was indeed supposed to move them back in. As the original documents detailing the temporary relocation were misplaced during the move, they weren’t allowed back in their home.
The house is now converted into two separate flats.
It’s a common story told by many people who’ve lived in Hackney over the last 20 years. Now, you’d be hard pushed to find a four-bedroom house of it’s kind available without a massive price tag. In fact, the average house price in Hackney has risen from £307,346 in September 2010 to a whopping £530,839 in August 2018 – that’s over 9% more than the London average house price.
Inflation aside, the Labour governments campaign for urban regeneration, back in 1998, has morphed into siloed pockets of hyper-gentrified areas across inner London boroughs. Where I live, in Hackney, it’s hiked up house prices resulting in local residents being priced out of renting and buying in the area at a pace never seen before.
So much so that even millennials who’ve grown up in the Hackney and managed to save for a deposit are faced with no alternative but to move out of the borough, or even the capital, to buy a home.
In fact, millennials are leaving London in their highest numbers for more than a decade due to skyrocketing house prices according to thinktank, Centre for London.
Although the borough has had a turbulent time in the past with crime, racism and poverty (and it still does to a certain degree), it’s still home to many working-class people and has historically been a hub for Black, Asian and other ethnic communities for nearly 70 years. Furthermore, these communities have had to live with decades of neglect by the local authority and the government.
We also have to dig a little deeper and recognise the racial dynamics of how regeneration effects black, brown and other people of colour who have established close-knit communities in the area since the 1950s. These collectives still thrive to this day and its members rely on each other to cultivate, celebrate and pass down their own culture to younger generations.
The most common response to these cultural experiences is ‘well, if the area’s too expensive, move somewhere else’.
Tell that to a Jamaican family that relies on getting yam, green banana and salt fish (at an affordable price) from Ridley Road Market to make their traditional cultural dishes or a Nigerian family that’s been going to the same Nigerian church for 20 years with rest of their extended family.
For many Black and Brown families, putting a large distance between the kinship of their cultural hubs by moving to another borough or city can have a dramatic impact on their daily lives leaving some families, especially ones with older or immigrant generations, feeling culturally ostracised.
The collapse of Britain’s industrial and manufacturing economies has left inner-city boroughs like Hackney plagued with a mix of poor-quality social housing, inadequate mental health services, rising homelessness, the development of slums and poor education from the 60’s up until the early 2000s.
Fast forward to 2018 and things have changed for the better, that’s for sure. New schools have been built and the standard of education has vastly improved. Parks and other green spaces are cleaner and better maintained and recreational facilities have been redeveloped to a standard one would actually travel from a neighbouring borough to use.
But we all know the story of regeneration far too well; government spending is used to garner prime private investment in some of the most derelict parts of London to generate long-term revenue and local jobs. It usually starts with building modern, upmarket homes on derelict, or unused, property and investing in local infrastructures, such as transport.
Property owners are incentivised to refurbish their properties and increase the rent as new local businesses pop up to cater to the influx of newcomers that will eventually help drive the capital’s economy as a whole.
The 20-year-old urban regeneration campaign has indeed produced a new wave of housing developments attracting young and affluent newcomers to the borough.
But let’s keep it real. The domino effect of inflated house prices and the onslaught of new bars, restaurants, cafes and yoga studios mean only the privileged few, with the economic clout, are able to access the full suite of benefits that come with living in the borough – if they can afford to live there.
When you look at other areas such as Brixton, Peckham and Deptford, it’s clear that regeneration is merely a codeword for gentrification – and our local authorities are addicted to this oppressive redevelopment practice.
Another thing that strikes me as rather bizarre is the local authority’s appetite to gentrify more, while the government and The Metropolitan Police Service are still failing, miserably, to tackle the issues surrounding gun and knife crime in London.
Surely it would be better for the local authority to publicly serve the most vulnerable and traumatised in the borough, in tandem with its wider regeneration strategy? Where’s the logic in continuing an endless property development campaign that clearly leaves many locals feeling marginalised and unseen in a borough where young people say they’re “too scared to go out”?
What does Hackney need more in the long-run; a new hotel on Kingsland Road or better access to facilities and engaging programmes for young black boys involved in gang violence to cultivate their self-worth, enable them to truly see their full potential and make them feel less marginalised?
While I understand the need to get Hackney’s infrastructure and economy back on its feet, and part of that does involve building more attractive homes to appeal to newcomers, regeneration, at this point in time, simply benefits the have’s and marginalises have-nots – especially when it comes to housing. Where’s the balance?
Take Hackney Wick for example. Some Private houses nestled in a hodgepodge of council housing, derelict factories and disused warehouses that were once the economic powerhouses of the borough in the early 20th century.
Regarded as the forgotten part of Hackney, where some parts of the area hardly had any street lights up until the London 2012 Olympics Games, local artists took up residence in warehouse studios in the industrial area as early as the late mid-90s.
These artist safe havens have been an incubator for local artistic talent as well as a beacon for artists in surrounding areas who wanted to migrate to a growing creative collective.
Artists in the area are now faced with either increased rent prices or eviction for, that’s right, the development of pricey new homes and another bridge to connect Hackney Wick to the Olympic Park.
While a spokesperson from the Mayor of London insisted that it’s part of an ongoing development project that will create 4,500 new homes, it will be interesting to see exactly who these new homes are going to be built for.
When you consider that the recent redevelopment of the Bagel Factory is asking for £450,000 for a 1 bedroom flat in the area, it’s clearly not going to be for people who are currently living in the area.
When I was 11, my first piece of English homework at secondary school was to write a book report about what I’d read over the summer. The following week I stood in front of the class with my report in hand and gleefully talked about Lord of the Rings and why I loved fantasy novels. After reading my overly descriptive book report, the teacher announced, ‘Wow, a very impressive report from a smart young lad. Where are you from?’.
I said I was from London and was greeted with, ‘No, where are you really from?’, swiftly followed by, ‘Are you Caribbean or African?’. Embarrassed and perplexed (as any 11-year-old would be), I kindly repeated that I was born in London and awkwardly went back to my seat.
While this familiar encounter is extremely problematic for a number of reasons, what I found most unnerving at the time was not why he’d asked me where I was from, but why a location was of particular interest? And more importantly; what the hell did it have to do with my book report?
It was then that I realised that not only would my blackness be under scrutiny, but the whereabouts of my ethnic origin was also going to play a major part in navigating my identity too.
It wasn’t until starting secondary school that I’d realised the UK had witnessed immigration from both the Carribean and West African countries throughout the 20th-century and that Black British culture was a lot more complex than I’d originally thought.
‘You African booty scratcher’ and ‘you small island people don’t know your own culture’ were common lines thrown about in the playground – a place I mostly stayed away from as an openly gay teen. I often sat and wondered where this underlying animosity came from.
As a child, family gatherings would often centre around food, music and watching television. Films such as Coming to America or comedy specials featuring Mo’Nique, Eddie Murphy or Paul Mooney would always have us in fits of laughter. But it was also clear to me that there was a definite cultural difference between African Americans and Black British people.
Fast forward to 2018, these same differences can be witnessed today. In my opinion, what makes our cultures so different in the diaspora are indicators of what makes us all special, unique and beautiful. However, there still seems to be animosity festering in the underbelly of the African diaspora and the most obvious place where it can be seen is online.
Black Twitter is arguably the most popular social hub for cultural exchange online between Black people, globally. But it’s also been the battleground for the increasingly apparent ‘diaspora wars’, a term that’s peaked over the last few years as we banter amongst ourselves about our cultural differences online.
While most of these discussions are innocent in nature, some conversations go on to uncover some abhorrent and questionable rhetoric.
In 2017, when Samual J Jackson questioned Jordan Peel’s decision to use British Born actor, Daniel Kaluuya, to play the role of an African American, Black Brits swiftly came to Kaluuya’s defence. And as you can imagine, the backlash on Twitter quickly caught the attention of African American audiences.
It also raised important discussions online about who has authorship over one’s own cultural identity, the increase of Black British actors entering the American film industry and the sheer lack of knowledge about Black British culture on the part of Jackson.
While the conversation was an important one to be had, you couldn’t help but feel the cultural pull of the conversation. African Americans demanding the right to tell their own stories and questioning why Black British actors continue to take such prominent roles away from African American actors.
On the other hand, Black British actors have increasingly fewer opportunities in the film and TV industry in the UK. As a result, actors who fail to find work often look for opportunities in the Mecca of the film industry, the USA.
Heated debates on Black Twitter turned into throwing general insults across the virtual pond at one another. In short, it was a fight for the monopoly over struggle rather than a real conversation about the dynamics of the film industry at large and how it affects the African diaspora as a whole.
The same argument was reignited again just a few weeks ago when Cynthia Erivo was criticised for accepting the lead role in the long-awaited biopic of Harriet Tubman. Again, gauntlets were thrown and the to and fro of insults continued on Black Twitter to criticise or defend Erivo’s decision to take the role.
I saw similar criticism from the Caribbean collective when Drake incorporated Dancehall music on his 2016 album, Views, as well as donning a very questionable ‘Jamaican’ accent. While African American Drake fans defended the Canadian-born hip-hop rapper for giving Dancehall artists the ‘Drake co-sign’, Caribbean critics vilified him as a cultural appropriator dubbing him ‘Drake the fake’.
I’m not going to dig into the finer details of the aforementioned arguments (Google is your friend and this article isn’t the one), but what I will say is that we’re very much entitled to have these conversations about our culture, what our culture means to us and how it feels when a particular group of people from the African diaspora benefit from adopting the cultural ‘intellectual property’ of others within the collective.
But what I’m tired of seeing is the constant, unproductive slanging matches between us all in the diaspora. I’m tired of seeing the onslaught of derogatory insults we’ve kept so well hidden in our cultural linguistic arsenal. It makes Twitter an emotionally draining space.
Sure, have a bit of banter, but when I see comments depicting African Americans as ‘ghetto’, Caribbean people as backwards and West Africans and Black Britons as leaching off African American culture, I have to draw the line.
Let’s have genuine discussions to articulate the cultural nuances we have across the collective in order to educate and inform more objective opinions about the real issues at hand.
While tensions between African Americans and Black Britons seem relatively new, these same tensions have been witnessed by West Africans and Black Britons in the UK since the Windrush era. It’s also akin to the conflicts faced by African Americans and West African migrants in the US.
The acquittal of George Zimmerman, after killing Trayvon Martin in 2013, not only received outrage from African Americans, but onlookers from the African diaspora from as far as the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands took to the internet (and the streets) to show their disgust and exclaim, Black Lives Matter!
Can we not use the compassion we felt for one another then and put that same energy into having conversations about the film and music industry as a whole?
I’m not saying let’s all hold virtual hands and sing Kumbaya – the conversation and dynamics at play don’t make it that easy. But on a practical level, as members of the African diaspora, we have the ability to use Twitter (and the rest of the internet) as a means to gather a powerful fellowship to tackle racism and anti-blackness on a global scale our elders could only dream of.
When having conversations about the intercultural issues within the diaspora, are you bringing anything constructive to the conversation? Are you taking away insights that can help you manifest a more informed view of the conversation at large? Are you able to take away any actionable insights to apply to your daily lives? Because guess who’s really reaping the rewards while we argue amongst each other?
Let’s make our conversations count.