Originally when I started writing this post it was going to be a call for more transparency from Influencer Platforms, and I will do that here but I’m extending the remit now because this is oh so much bigger than Influencer Platforms, it’s about Brands, PR’s, and Influencers - White, Straight, Cis-gendered able-bodied Influencers to be precise and how they can #InfluenceInclusivity
Let’s start with Influencer Platforms and full transparency from me too! I’m signed up to a couple of influencer platforms and have received paid brand work. Part of my longer term vision in working for myself includes paid brand work (and as Mindy Kaling would say, why not me?) but here’s the thing - if I’m going to be an influencer I’m going to go in it not just with eyes open, but with a purpose in having some part in bringing about change - the current systems are not inclusive, they uphold the same homogeneity and we’re all the poorer for it.
This goes way beyond a lack of representation. At the core of the issue is white supremacy. Whether intentional or not this fairly recent world of Social Media Influencer Marketing has found itself sleepwalking into the same old narratives and it needs a course correction, stat.
So let’s break this thing down
What Is in Influencer?:
At a very basic level, an Influencer is an influential person? We all hold some influence in our lives, be it our kids, colleagues, peers, friends, and when it comes to Social Media Influencers, they have some influence with their online followers. Some use their influence to educate and inform, some use it as a marketing tool for their business, some create to entertain (I do love a meme) Some do wonderful combinations of all those things and them some! And many Influencers use their Social Media channels to work with businesses and brands in exchange for a fee to create and publish content on their channels. Like I do now and again with Instagram.
What Is An Influencer Platform?
An Influencer Platform is essentially an agency - a middle layer that will work with brands to help them find Influencers to work with. An Influencer can sign up to an Influencer Platform or Agency, publish their fee and a brand may find them through that platform and want to work with them. Brands pay the Influencer Platforms and Agencies for their support in finding the right content creator to see their influencer marketing campaign fulfilled.
So What Is The Problem?
As I see it - a lack of transparency is playing a large part in why there is not just a lack of diversity in many campaigns, but also a disparity in pay. Women of colour who are Influencers are not getting paid the same and their white counterparts for equivalent work, with equivalent followers and engagement online.
Let’s cover the lack of diversity first. Be it with brands themselves, or the influencers sought for a campaign press trip - a lack of diversity is bad for business, and bad for brand reputation. It does affect the bottom line because ultimately consumers want to relate to brands that share their values and appreciate our glorious uniqueness. When the same type of faces are on repeat not only is it yawn inducing, it’s harmful. Harmful because it perpetuates the narrative that unless you are white you have no place, no business here, and just as harmful - make yourself fit to this singular type if you too want to feel belonging. Isn't that such bullshit? Like isn’t that so boring? Isn’t it just rage worthy to feel like you cannot take a space or have any power unless you conform to this narrow definition of what is traditionally seen as acceptable and valuable?
Which brings me to the women of colour who are influencers, with equivalent followings, similar themes and brand values, and engagement as their white counterparts who are passed over time and again for paid campaigns, press trips, gifted products etc. Aja Barber quoted on her stories earlier this week that - we’re never the first to be approached. In fact when pitched to or approaching brands the paid work is still not forthcoming. Do you know what that means? It means the Social Media Influencer industry is once again dominated by white folks, whiteness reigning supreme. What a shit show.
What Action Can You Take?
If I’m looking at this as a whole - which I am, a multi-pronged approach is needed.
Brands and PRs need to do better - their marketing teams that deal with social media outreach need be learning to move past their own bias to actively seek out more diverse influencers to work with.
Influencer Platforms - we need more transparency. Transparency on the processes and strategies that ensure an inclusive approach and if it doesn’t exist - create them! In places of employment that employ over 250+ people it is required by law to publish Gender Pay Gap data, I believe publishing BAME Pay Gap data as a mandatory requirement will not be far behind - so why not capture that for influencers and actually gather the data to show disparity? It’s not that we don't know there is a problem, but we do need to know how deep this goes.
White influencers - your call to action is a simple one because you hold power in your privilege to hold brands and Influencer Platforms and Agencies accountable. Use that power and invoke an inclusivity rider. A non negotiable set conditions for working on a brand campaign that ensure equity, diversity and inclusiveness. Make this the norm, have this in your regular vernacular. We need that critical mass to tip the scales in our favour, to level the playing field. After all a rising tide floats all boats right?
It has to be coordinated. I actually reached out to two major Influencer Platform agencies, including the one I’m signed up for but unfortunately neither have responded to my questions in seeking transparency.
So I’m creating this hashtag #InfluenceInclusivity so that we can organise and put our voices together for collective accountability, we can change this, we must change this.
As Bey says “OK ladies now, let’s get in formation”