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March 12, 2019, 10:11 a.m.
Audience & Social

Refinery29’s Unbothered is made for and by black millennial women

“A lot of the time, diversifying content is tied to a financial decision. And while I do think that targeting black women is a very smart financial decision, it was also very important that we communicate that this is out of an authentic desire to fill a void.”

Diverse staff → diverse coverage → new audience members and engagement → $$$. Even when news organizations claim to believe that, they often don’t do it. But Refinery29’s Unbothered shows that if you build it right, the new audiences will come.

It was a group of female employees at Refinery29 — chief among them Ally Hickson, then the company’s social media editor and now at Apple — who came up with the concept for Unbothered about a year and a half ago. (Unbothered: unflappable, unruffled.)

“They felt like it was really important to make sure that black women had a safe space and felt seen at the brand,” said managing editor Danielle Cadet, who was previously deputy editor at ESPN’s The Undefeated. Refinery29 hired her in October to expand Unbothered. “They didn’t feel like their stories were being told, or that people who looked like them were on site regularly — whether it was articles, or images, or a specific tone that resonated with black millennial women.”

Chief content officer Amy Emmerich helped them settle on Instagram as the best format for Unbothered, and it launched there in December 2017. Now, with almost 70,000 followers, it’s Refinery29’s fastest-growing Instagram account (the company has eight). Unbothered is now expanding through real-life meetups, videos on IGTV, a newsletter, and partnerships with companies like Toyota and Giphy.

The path to monetization was deliberately slow. “We were very specific about wanting to make sure that we honed our audience and community before pursuing any brand partnerships,” Cadet said. “It was important that we let our audience know that they were the priority, and that this wasn’t about money. A lot of the time, diversifying content is tied to a financial decision. And while I do think that targeting black women is a very smart financial decision, it was also very important that we communicate that this is out of an authentic desire to fill a void. So we took the time to hone the content and engage the audience, before we got to a place where we were comfortable about opening Unbothered up” to sponsors.

There are very few brands that “target and celebrate the black millennial woman’s experience,” Cadet pointed out. Legacy publications like Essence and Ebony exist, but they’re magazine brands and not geared toward millennials. Sites like Blavity, The Root, and The Grio aren’t aimed specifically at women and tend to focus more heavily on hard news. Unbothered stands out in that it is celebratory and empowering (while realistic); it doesn’t shy away from politics or racism and violence or societal inequality, but its overall tone is largely inspiring and upbeat. The comments on the posts also tend to be supportive, and comments and DMs there are one of the main ways that readers connect with Unbothered editors.

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It’s about time. #NoMoreKnowMore

A post shared by Unbothered (@r29unbothered) on

Fifty percent of Unbothered followers are new to Refinery29, and while introducing them to content on the site is not the account’s purpose, “our swipe-up metrics are incredibly impressive,” Cadet said, referring to the Instagram feature that lets users swipe up from Stories to go to a URL or IGTV video while remaining in the app. (The feature is only available to Instagram business accounts with 10,000 or more followers.) Unbothered is seeing 200 to 300 swipes per post. “That lets us know there is an audience out there that wants to be reading this content on Refinery,” Cadet said. “It’s just bridging that gap.”

POSTED     March 12, 2019, 10:11 a.m.
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