I can’t recall how we first came in contact with Michell. Maybe it was a funny Instagram caption or an actionable, but sarcastic tweet. Either way, since our initial crossing, Michell has been someone we enjoy seeing on the timeline. It’s always great to interact with people who are down for the cause and about “doing it on their own terms.” Read our interview with Michell below for his thoughts on staying authentic on social media, the state of Black men and women today, and what audience building is all about. Keep up with him @michellcclark on Instagram and Twitter.
Tell us a little bit about your background: Who are you and where are you headed?
I’m a 28-year-old so-called “adult” from Woodbridge, Virginia. It’s about an hour south of DC. I’m equal parts goofy, ambitious and hardworking. I’m headed towards a deeper understanding of self as I continue to carve out my own lane as a content creator and cultural curator. In this season of my life, I’m focused on building a few consistent passive income streams so I can continue to operate on my own terms while regaining a sense of balance. You can’t think about the big picture when you’re worried about basic needs every day.
I’m also looking to build more consideration for my overall health and wellbeing into my brand, business strategy, and life. I can’t just be sitting behind a computer all day, every day. That’s not what we’re meant to do. I’m going to be making a few shifts that enable me to continue living my best all-around life while succeeding professionally.
How did you get your start in entrepreneurship, cultural curation, and content creation? Who or what inspired you?
I first got into content creation during my sophomore year at the United States Military Academy. It was 2009. I was 19 years old. I felt extremely isolated during my time at the academy and needed a creative outlet. I decided to launch a hip-hop blog after years of perusing sites like 2DopeBoyz, Complex, and Pigeons&Planes. I figured that my passion for finding under-circulated quality music would serve me well. Artistic Manifesto was my first, longest standing creative venture. I ran it from September 2009 until February 2018. It was the vehicle that I used to learn the audience building, content creation, and networking skills that I still use to this day. I decided to close the site when it felt like it no longer fit my goals, but I’ll always remember what I learned, who I met, and the impact our team made.
Between your long, yet humorous Instagram captions and mix of sarcastic yet useful tweets, your social media comes across as very real. Followers feel they’re getting you, not just a spiel you’ve been asked to say by XYZ brand. Talk to us about how you stay authentic as an influencer and why authenticity matters on social media.
I don’t look at anyone else as being the gold standard. I find the niche that entertains and engages me on every platform and put my own personality into it. I study people in and out of my industry and think about how their habits help them to build an audience, but I don’t try to be anyone else. I have my own personality, ideas, and opinions. I’m always gonna be the best me.
We spend so much time on social media absorbing pieces of other people’s lives. To try and position yourself as someone living a picture perfect life does everyone a disservice. To call yourself an “expert” if you’re not is offensive to people who have actually been doing the work. Being anything other than who you are is setting yourself up to not attract what’s meant for you. You have to be your true self in order to attract the people and opportunities you need.
You’ve been very open and honest about your entrepreneurship struggles. What are your favorite parts of being an entrepreneur and content creator? What, if any responsibility do you feel to “the culture” aka those who attend your events and believe in the various ways you represent not only yourself but your demographic to brands and other entities? What responsibility do you think influencers have to those they influence?
I started to blog and create content because of how passionate I was about hip-hop in particular. I wanted to show people how much incredible music was out there waiting for them outside of the realm of the mainstream. My interests have shifted and diversified since then, but passion is still a focal point. I want to make meaningful contributions to the culture and to the people around me. I want to amplify under-circulated, authentic perspectives with my platforms. You can’t choose a profession that involves audience building without having a degree of concern for how you affect your audience. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being an influencer. People have been getting paid for their ability to build and engage an audience long before “social media influencer” was a popular term. The thing is, you have to use your influence to create positive change within the communities that you influence.
Black men and women are in some ways in a crisis. Crises of understanding and communication as a community, in addition to all the ways racism, sexism, and sexual orientation discrimination amongst so many other axes of oppression impact our everyday lives. Talk to us about how you see and understand the state of Black men today? What’s on your mind? What issues are most pressing to you? What triumphs are you seeing? Where do Black women fit in?
It’s difficult for me to speak holistically on the state of Black men today because there are so many different voices and perspectives to consider. A lot of my perspective comes from personal interactions within my circle, and from the internet. The rest of my perspective comes from the internet, which tends to amplify extreme instances and perspectives – both positive and negative.
I think that Black men in America are continuing to search for answers in the midst of a political shift that makes it more clear than ever that racism is still acceptable to many. We’re angry, frustrated, and fatigued. We also know that on an individual level, we can spark change. I think a lot of us are just numb. We’re tweeting through it all. We’re on autopilot.
I see a lot of individual triumphs, despite the way this world is stacked against us. Success stories tend to rise to the top and get amplified. The thing is, all of our success stories shouldn’t have to be “against the odds” narratives.
Black women and Black men are all part of the same community, but it’s harder being a woman in this world, period. We’re going through it together, but Black men need to be aware of the additional obstacles that this world’s structures place on Black women. That should never be up for debate. That should never be taken lightly. We all need to continue showing up for each other.
Every day it seems like I see a tweet along the lines of “Support Black Women” “Believe Black women” “Pay Black women” or “Black women I hope you have a great day today,” and often from Black men. As great as the tweets are, I often worry that the other shoe is going to drop and/or the support/love/whatever for us is superficial. Why do Black women matter to you? What can our men be doing to uplift and encourage us in ways that aren’t just clickbait or temporary? What can Black women do to return the favor?
Black women matter to me because I come from a Black woman and because ALL Black lives matter. Historically speaking, a lot of prominent Black men who fight for their people add disclaimers. All Black lives matter, except women. Or non-heterosexuals. You get the idea. There should be no disclaimers coming after that sentiment if you’re truly about the advancement Black people.
I do my best to avoid doing anything that makes me feel like my advocacy is performative or superficial. I’m very results-focused when it comes to my advocacy and charity. I don’t need everyone to know what I do unless discussing it would further the cause. I think that the vast majority of Black men are in close proximity to a number of Black women every day. We can all start by being there for the Black women around us, the best way that we know how.
What can we expect from you moving forward? How can we be of support?
I’m releasing my first print book, ‘Keep It 100: a series of daily affirmations for millennials who are tired of being called millennials’ in the very near future. I’m also starting to hone in on video content a bit more to connect with people who get tired of reading articles by the 4th paragraph. Lol. The best way to stay in the loop on everything I have going on is to sign up for my email list, #MakeEmailGreatAgain. It’s a biweekly email newsletter with an article, a playlist, and a social media tip. For the people. Upon signing up, you’ll also get access to my free e-book, On Your Own Terms: developing a successful social media strategy without sacrificing individuality. [bit.ly/GreatEmail] And yes, that was a plug. Lol.
In the end, how do you want your story depicted? What legacy do you hope to leave behind?
I hope that the mistakes I’ve made can help someone else avoid similar pitfalls, that my actions will parallel my intentions, and that I’ll never lose track of my “why.” I want to leave a legacy of empowerment. I want everyone who hears my story to feel like they can truly win in this world without losing track of who they are and what they stand for.
Just for kicks:
- Blog or Podcast? I respect both, but personally, I’d rather read a blog so I can keep listening to whatever I’m listening to. I’m a creature of habit. I’m always reading something with music playing in the background.
- Instagram or Twitter? Depends what day of the week it is, how sassy I feel, and if I have some pictures loaded up in the chamber. In all seriousness, I like them equally while using them for different purposes. Instagram
- Favorite music streaming platform? Spotify is my current favorite. Their algorithms hold me DOWN. I’ve been researching music consistently since I launched my hip-hop blog, Artistic Manifesto, back in 2009 and Spotify *still* helps me to find new artists from all over the place. It’s incredible.
- How are influencer skills transferable to other industries or fields? I don’t even think of myself as an influencer first and foremost, anymore. It’s more of a trait or asset than a full-time career. Audience building is the skill that equips a content creator to be an influencer. Empathy is at the core of audience building – understanding what your audience will like, what they’re tired of, and what they will find useful. That thought process is transferable to every field.