How Indigenous Creators Helped Inform our Inclusive Content Strategy

Storyblocks Features
November 18, 2021

How Indigenous Creators Helped Inform our Inclusive Content Strategy

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Still from Sonya Ballantyne’s Re: Stock collection.

Recently, Storyblocks collaborated with a talented group of Native American and First Native creators to co-create a series of stock media collections as a part of our Re: Stock initiative, and to help build an inclusive content strategy. This initiative was conceptualized and launched in the Fall of 2020 as a response to the lack of diversity within the media landscape. As a result, we have worked internally and externally to set goals that have helped us build a better and more inclusive product experience. Along with our creation efforts, we felt that it was important to reflect on the process we are currently going through as an organization to respond to the demand for content that more accurately reflects the world that we live in today. 

Part of that reflection included furthering the conversation to gather insights from some of the creators that we worked with. In thinking through today’s modern digital age, we felt it would be necessary and impactful to host internal and external events to hear from the Indigenous directors, cinematographers and creators that we worked with. During these events, we gathered some of the key lessons learned from our partners that helped us inform the present and future state of our inclusive content strategy. Here are some of our learnings, which we hope will inspire and encourage creators and businesses to harness the value of approaching your content strategy from an inclusive lens.

The Language You Use Matters

As you work to develop content that speaks to a particular target audience, it is always important to start with a creative brief – this brief should answer questions such as the challenge that you as an organization are solving for and the demographics of the audience that you’re speaking to. Through our work on Re: Stock, and learning from Native American and First Native creators, we were able to adapt and evolve our creative process to fold in a new layer of creative thinking –That new layer is language. The words that you use to communicate to your audience have an impact on how the message is received. If the words that you use to build your creative or communicate your message externally are “off”, the audience that receives this information will not receive it effectively. Or, even worse, they may ignore or react negatively to your message. 

We learned from the cohort of creatives that we worked with that language is utilized as a way of manifesting ideas into reality, and many of the words that we choose to use today are rooted in colonial practices. The usage of these words can be harmful and could result in a misinterpretation of your larger message. As Josué Rivas (Indigenous futurist and external Creative Director for Re: Stock) shared, “Creating is not an extractive process. Intention and the words that you use are an important part of manifesting an equitable creative experience.” Here are a few examples of what we mean by that, and the style guide that we developed as a result of this initiative.

Instead of capturing footage, we document experiences.

Instead of shooting films, we film things together.

Instead of taking videos, we make videos together.

Instead of working with subjects, we collaborate with partners to co-create together.

Consider the words above, and how reframing your language can help redefine the way that you collaborate with internal and external forces to co-create something amazing. The power of language is real, and in reality it’s a lot friendlier to approach a partner to let them know that you’ll be “filming” them or “making” videos with them. Nobody wants to be “shot” or “captured”, as these words have alternate meanings with negative connotations that are not collaborative in nature to say the least.

Inclusive Content Strategy

Instagram Live ft. Storyblocks + Indigenous Creators Discussing the Business Value of an Inclusive Content Strategy

Be Intentional When Inserting Yourself into a Conversation

Many have the desire to be thoughtful and considerate allies, but it takes hard work, intentionality and a listening ear to ensure that you are building genuine relationships through your work. The work of co-creating with underrepresented groups requires a certain level of fearlessness. Mistakes might be made along the way, but the real work comes in as it relates to consistent reflection, growth and a spirit of learning throughout the process. Remember that no member of a group has the desire to be tokenized or viewed as a “checkbox” in your marketing playbook, so it’s very important that your organization does more than “drops in” to a sacred space. The exercise of co-creating is not an extraction exercise, but should be viewed from a genuine space of learning and collaboration. 

Additionally, underrepresented groups have the tendency to be overwhelmed with requests for creative partnerships during times of turmoil. As a business, encourage your team to be proactive when approaching a group for a co-creation opportunity. Consider the optics of reaching out to a marginalized group with last minute or half-baked requests in the weeks near a core visibility period (i.e. after a tragedy or in advance of a dedicated heritage month). Partnerships and strategic initiatives are built over time, and should be approached from developing a genuine point-of-view, rather than latching onto a trending moment for the sake of catalyzing traffic and impressions for your brand. As Sonya Ballantyne (Filmmaker and Re: Stock creator) reminded us, “The relationship doesn’t end as soon as you finish production.”

One way to ensure that you are approaching a strategic initiative through the lens of authentic inclusion is by creating long-term goals that challenge the industry that you operate in. Pressure tests those goals towards the communities that you are serving, and see how they react. Your customers will push and inspire you to reach higher with your goal-setting. At the end of the day, these goals can help serve the purpose of inspiring others to vision and act towards the world they wish to see. When we started our Re: Stock initiative, only 5% of our people-focused content featured BIPOC individuals, and through the growth of our initiative, we have increased our people-focused content with BIPOC individuals to almost 20%. The lessons we’ve learned along the way have helped us shape our strategy to ensure that it positively impacts those that we hope to engage with through the efforts.

Still from Carol Murphy’s Re: Stock collection

Personal Optics Inspire Collective Impact

When co-creating and considering an inclusive lens, try to place yourself in the shoes of the community that you are creating for. The impact of media is large, and as a child, the protagonists and storylines that you are introduced to shape and establish your sense of identity. When one sees themselves represented within a story, it helps them relate to the story and connect with it on a deeper level. That deeper level of connection can effectively inspire current and future generations to be the very heroes, visionaries and success stories that they see within modern media. If all of the protagonist visions are homogenous and unvaried, then it shuts down pathways for innovation within our society.

Beyond creating inclusive content for the sake of inclusive content, think through how the content will be used in an end-state to inspire others and serve a purpose. For our Re: Stock content, we approach our creative briefing from the standpoint of analyzing data and understanding the type of content that our customers desire, along with the gaps that exist in our library that are asking to be filled. Intention must always be embedded into how content is conceptualized and outputted. Operating with intention results in authentic storytelling, and with authenticity you will find that you have the capacity to create beyond the tokenizing monoliths and stereotypes that exist in today’s world.

Through this experience, we’ve learned some tried and tested strategies for approaching an inclusive content strategy. We remain grateful and humbled for the opportunity to work with partners and creators that encourage us to continue in our journey to uncover the historically excluded stories that are begging to be told. To learn more about this initiative and our plans to continue to build an inclusive library, please visit

Ben Abraham

Ben Abraham is a brand marketer who specializes in garnering awareness, launching products and driving engagement for some of the world’s most exciting brands. When he’s not developing strategies to improve Storyblocks’ brand presence, he’s probably nerding out on food & restaurant trends. His favorite place in the world is Tokyo, Japan!