The following is part of a six-part series based on content from Social Media Week Los Angeles, held at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, June 12-14, 2018. For more tidbits and conference coverage, follow #SMWLA on Twitter.   


Milana Vayntrub is no stranger to the spotlight. Best known for her role on the NBC hit drama series This is Us and serving as the adorable and witty AT&T saleswoman Lily Adams, she’s spent much of her life in front of a camera. Born in Uzbekistan, Milana and her family emigrated to the U.S. as refugees when she was just two years old – an experience that has fueled her own journey into activism.


While at Social Media Week LA, Milana lead a panel discussion with other content creators about using their platforms for advocacy. I had the honor of sitting down for a conversation with her after the discussion. Here’s what we talked about:


Choosing the right partnerships.


Having an influence is a valuable thing. Some creators – like Milana – go outside of what most celebrities and internet stars do and become advocates for causes and issues close to them, often sharing their own related personal experiences. But finding the right causes and organizations to work with is a choice that creators of all types must be cautious about.


“It’s important to have integrity when moving forward in the nonprofit space,” Milana said. “It’s a lot of work, so you have to make sure that the brand’s integrity and values are equal to yours.” This goes for any partnership. Creators must be careful to make sure that their personal values align with any company they partner with. “If you’re passionate about environmentalism, but then you partner with a brand that tests on animals, that doesn’t really communicate your values well.”


Dealing with trolls on the Internet.


As creators and brands, taking a stand online can often cause backlash from fans and followers. And Milana hasn’t escaped that backlash taking a stand on issues like immigration, human rights, and positive body image, to name a few.


“When it comes to trolls, I just try to keep in mind that people are operating on a set of beliefs and values that are different than mine,” she said. “We are a product of our circumstances. I can’t hate on that, but I can try to improve education and encourage tolerance.”


Responding to trolls can be exhausting for anyone. But when you’ve got a bit of a following, your words can draw more attention than the average social media user. “I’ve been fortunate to create a community of people who often defend my values and beliefs for me,” she added. “I won’t ever regret expressing my beliefs toward the things that are important to me.”


Being an activist.


“One of the things I’ve been think about a lot more is how we talk about ourselves as progressives or people fighting tolerance. A lot of people on the Left think that we’re ‘fighting the good fight’. But we can’t be the good guys and fight dirty. You have to check yourself. If we’re fighting for inclusion for people of color, the LGBTQ community, refugees, just to name a few, you have to actually include them in your life and put yourself in places rather than just tweet,” Milana said. “We need to make sure that our IRL values line up with our social ones. And vice versa.”