My first engagement with social media personally was on Facebook in 2007. I enjoyed exploring this wonderful online world that connected people randomly and reaching out to my friends.
My professional connection was when I was set up a MySpace page and went on hi5 – very briefly. But I really delved into social media with my blog The Soul Pages, launched on WordPress in 2011. I followed this up with Twitter to tell people what I was doing on a more international scale.
I’ve always written on the side. I was trying to write a novel about a woman making a transition from being a teenager to a young woman. The style was diary entries. To be disciplined in my writing, I thought that if I turned it into a blog I would finish the novel. I also wanted my blog readers to feel as if it was a real diary post and would be encouraged to subscribe to the blog.
The Soul Pages got a good response. It was posted on Mondays and was funny as well as tongue in cheek. I added a few comic strip-style images to complement each post which I self animated. I got my friends to play the other characters and altered the images in Photoshop. Alongside the blog was a social commentary focusing on world events affecting black people and media coverage. This attracted a strong following on Facebook and Twitter.
All of this online commitment was time demanding and started to conflict with my home life as I am a mother and was working full time. Meanwhile the idea of The British Blacklist – a database of British black talent, covering news and entertainment – was forming in my mind and starting to take over, making it harder for me to maintain my blog.
The initial idea for The British Blacklist started to form while I was working at Channel U (now Channel AKA on Sky). I developed the channel’s website and it was then when I began to notice that the achievements of many of the people who were featured on the channel were not listed anywhere else.
Years later another frustration emerged – the lack of a platform which housed all black films. I decided to create a database of every single black film ever made so if I wanted to buy one, or watch a particular film, I knew where to get it from. This was especially crucial in the UK as our films are rarely shown on mainstream TV or digital platforms here.
I started with American films, then moved onto genre based films and then black British films. I then began to focus on who starred in these films. I homed in on Ashley Walters as I saw him in a film yet I knew he was also a musician, producer and a writer. It hit me that many black creatives worked in this way as the industry is so small we have to be multi skilled to maintain our careers. From that perspective it all snowballed into The British Blacklist where I built a big database about black talent in film, TV, entertainment and literature. It was officially launched on 14 November 2012.
The British Blacklist has secured great support and access to industry people (such as director Amma Asante pictured above), and become embedded in people’s minds as something quite useful.
I didn’t necessarily think it would become the beast that it is today but although we have been granted access to the red carpet and to people who are successful in creative industries, mainstream organisations don’t take black media and online initiatives seriously unless we have the numbers on a grand scale and everyone is talking about us.
A classic problem is that we talk to artists, actors and directors whose careers are growing. As they become more successful there are more gatekeepers to go through to access them. These gatekeepers become more selective about whom they expose their artists to,which is why the black media gets overlooked. I understand you have to preserve your brand and have to place yourself strategically, but when I’m on the red carpet I think, The Voice newspaper should be here, for example, and I wonder why they aren’t.
When you come to The British Blacklist site you will see useful information on the entertainment industry, find out about a talent scheme, decide to see a play as a result of one of our reviews,or benefit from us promoting your screening or film. The user experience is very important to us so we are looking at becoming a multimedia platform, but to do that we need to do more research on people’s online experiences.
Social media is embedded in my psyche now. It helps spread the word of my business and to build it to a level where it will be globally understood and respected. My engagement with social media is now more business than personal. Pinterest is easy for stockpiling images. We have used Google+ hangout and Spreecast to host online conversations with industry experts. They went down well. People tweeted and asked questions, but as we are a small team they were very demanding to do.
We definitely plan to revisit these social platforms, and I’m looking to do some podcasts. Social media is an extension of what we do. Finding what works is important as to do it all is challenging.
Akua Gyamfi was interviewed by Joy Francis, co-founder of Digital Women UK.
About the interviewee
Akua Gyamfi is the founder of The British Blacklist. Also a journalist, script consultant and hair stylist, Akua has over 15 years of experience in the entertainment industry with a career that spans fashion, film, television, theatre, print and online media. Akua has styled for magazines such as Touch, Disorder and I.D. assisted at London and Paris fashion weeks for designers including Matthew Williamson, worked on on videos for various artists, including Miss Dynamite, Shystie, Tracey K and Clare Evers. She left a full time career in hairstyling to study multimedia and then journalism at the London College of Communication (formerly London College of Printing). She joined renowned underground digital satellite channel Channel AKA (formerly known as Channel U) and then worked at the BBC Performing Arts Fund and BBC Writersroom. Akua currently works at the BBC’s Internet and Future Services Team, in the Research and Development department. In 2012 Akua launched The British Blacklist, described as “the IMDB for the UK’s British African and Caribbean market”.