Carm Lyman is President of Lyman Agency . Getty We live in a digital world that em...Read More
Hands hovering over the keyboard writing and deleting words? Trying to gauge whether a social media post will strike all the right chords or go the opposite direction, making your 15 minutes of fame infamous? To post or not to post, that is the question.
If you’re not an influencer, not focused on building a brand, this day-to-day occurrence might not be in your purview. But for Kikora Mason, 33, deputy director of digital strategy with the city of Chicago, social media is her domain. The Tallahassee, Florida, native has been working on Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s handles on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, Nextdoor and Twitter social media platforms, as well as the city of Chicago, since September 2020. Mason develops content and strategy for all of the mayor’s social channels and provides strategic social media direction/oversight to all city departments/sister agencies that have a social media presence.
A cursory look at comments on @Chicago and @chicagosmayor posts reveal a mix of reactions that run the spectrum of emotions from love to hate and everything in between — commenters pontificating and asking who runs the account?
Kikora Mason is Chicago's deputy digital director and the person behind the @Chicago Twitter account. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)
“There are people saying things like: ‘What intern is running this account? ‘Or ‘Y’all are trying too hard!’ Or ‘Here y’all go.’ It seems like people don’t realize that it is a Black woman running the account,” Mason said. “I get the sense that they think it is a 20-something white boy, who’s trying to emulate Black culture. It’s kind of funny reading it because it’s like, ‘Huh, they have no idea?’ ”
With a degree in psychology from Florida AM University and a master’s degree in journalism from DePaul, Mason’s career path veered toward social media and public relations. Several jobs with communications groups and marketing/PR agencies, including Burrell Communications and brands such as Toyota, Essence and McDonald’s USA. Taking a break from agency life, she sought a new opportunity and landed a job with the city.
“It’s always been really important to me to be connected to the work that I’m doing and that I’m doing something meaningful,” Mason said. “That’s why I love and still love multicultural work so much because I saw myself in it. This is probably the freest I’ve ever felt in my career. I am in a space where I have an opportunity to create more opportunities for Black creators and bring awareness to city resources. Because I have all these years of digital experience and expertise, I feel like I am able to be very creative in communicating what people need to learn about the city.”
Over a year later, Mason is making her mark: Do you recall the Sept. 3 tweet from the @chicagosmayor account about the city budget? The post went viral, as it paid homage to Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy” album cover.
“I didn’t expect it to blow up the way it did,” Mason said. “I was sitting at my computer and we were in the thick of budget season, which I was already thinking about: ‘How can we talk about the city budget on the internet in a way that people will care about and be interested in?’ So I was already in that head space. And then Drake dropped the cover art. I saw a couple brands play into it. I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is great. I wonder how we can play into this?’ And what we would talk about that will make sense for us?’ What we were talking about was easy: budget. But what would the creative actually look like for this? And my mind immediately went back a year ago ... when I’m sure you saw the meme of the mayor standing in front of the barricades closing the beaches. That’s the image. The whole creative ideation process probably took less than 30 minutes. And the online reaction was very powerful.”
We talked with Mason on the eve of the city launching it’s “We Built Chicago” content series. Mason, Candace Moore, chief equity officer for Chicago, and Shermann “Dilla” Thomas, (the Chicago Urban Historian, for those on TikTok) came together to make the six-video series exploring the racial demographics of Chicago. (The first two videos will drop on TikTok on Thanksgiving.)
“It’s a hard job and it’s not for the faint of heart,” Mason said. “I make a decision every day to show up because I’m using these skills and expertise to help Mayor Lightfoot, a Black woman and the chief of staff Dr. Sybil Madison, a Black woman, succeed. I believe very strongly that Black women can and should be leading in more organizations. And I want to do whatever I can to ensure that happens.”
Mason further enlightened us about her mission to make Lightfoot “the most digitally savvy mayor in the country.” The following interview has been condensed and edited.
Q: There’s a lot of Chicagoans leaving the city for other places, what makes you stay?
Kikora Mason: What I really love about Chicago is the passion that people have for their city here. And I have used a lot of that as the inspiration for the voice and tone for @Chicago. A lot of those things that have gone viral from that channel are really based off of things that I’ve learned from my friends and conversations that I’ve heard over the years.
Q: What’s your modus operandi when dealing with commenters, do you respond or let them duke it out among themselves?
KM: I think you have to be careful. The point of a post like: the city versus the suburbs, it obviously gets people talking. There’s a conversation that’s happening. And I manage @Chicago, but I’m also managing the mayor’s social presence and there’s always conversation that’s going on in those comments. And I see most of it. It’s not always worth responding to the negative stuff. So, if there’s a negative stream of conversation going on, I’m very mindful and I monitor it. But a lot of times, it’s just not worth it.
Q: When you approached this job, did it scare you due to the gravitas politics brings to the table as opposed to consumerism?
KM: I was not scared. I am a Black woman in America. There are very few things that could scare me. But also being Black in America, it’s tough. I know what it feels like to walk into a room and constantly have to prove why you deserve to be in that space. It absolutely does not feel good. If I can just be vulnerable for a moment. It hurts me, because I truly believe that Mayor Lightfoot cares and wants to do the best for the city. But there are so many attacks she has to rise above that are deeply rooted in racism and sexism. I think this country has proven time and time again, it does not like strong, outspoken, powerful Black women. But do you know what we’ve proven? We’ve proven that perseverance is in our DNA. And we’re going to be here.
Q: What is your routine/process when you’re working your social media magic on Lightfoot’s social handle as well as @Chicago?
KM: Those channels are obviously very different. Mayor Lightfoot’s channels, we pretty much know every day what we need to talk about. Our priorities are always going to be: COVID, crime, taxes, schools. We know that. With @Chicago, the voice plays into Black culture, which really is pop culture. So it just depends on what’s happening in the world, what’s happening on the internet, and I don’t think too deeply about those things. Something that I tell agencies that we work with and our departments: When it comes to social media, less is more. If you spend too much time thinking about something, then that tells you that you’re not thinking about it the right way.
Q: After 2020, there’s been more conversation about race. How does race factor into the digital space? What’s been your experience?
KM: I’m in a position where I have access to decision makers at the major social media platforms, and I have to admit that I’m really disappointed that racist, sexist and generally offensive rhetoric goes unchecked. That’s a problem for me.
Seats at the table and Black people in the digital community doing this work that I’m doing ... I really think there could be a better job of creating a Black digital talent pipeline. I have to believe that there are other Black people working in digital leadership positions, but I don’t know a lot of them. And I’ve been really diligent about trying to expand my network to meet more Black women leaders in this digital space — because we need to be in rooms where decisions are being made, so that we’re represented authentically and accurately.
Q: What’s been the hardest challenge, being the person behind these handles?
KM: The racist and sexist commentary. I think people forget that the mayor is someone’s daughter, someone’s mother, someone’s loved one. I don’t like the way people speak about her on the internet.
Q: There’s so many creators in Chicago. Who are the ones who we need to be paying attention to?
KM: I’m very much a fan of Luvvie (Ajayi’s), work. Her trajectory has been amazing to watch. I think she is definitely somebody who commands the internet. I have always really enjoyed her because she’s always remained true to herself. To see where she is now, I think has been truly remarkable. Shermann is definitely someone that everybody should be paying attention to. We’ve had so many conversations about how he started and all these new opportunities that are coming his way. If you are creating content that is real, and that people can connect to, the internet will do what it does. He didn’t expect to be where he is. But he was sharing interesting information. He was being open and authentic about who he is and sharing that on the internet. And he just has a love and passion for the city that people also love. One thing that I have learned in this space, and I always advise people on — authenticity is what matters. People need to feel connected to what it is that you’re saying.
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