Today, global influencer culture generates profits in the billions of dollars per year (including a staggering $13.8 billion in 2021) as brands seek to associate themselves with aspirational role models that sell an idea of spontaneity and authenticity.
Over the past few years, influencers have become professionalized, and the most successful ones are managed by agencies that take a commission for connecting them with clients. This is a new industry and legislation, including anti-discrimination rules, is yet to be fully drawn in most jurisdictions. In the United States, the multicultural workforce faces clear disadvantages already, and an unregulated influencer market could exacerbate these, particularly among disenfranchised groups such as Hispanic women.
Influencer culture promotes individual empowerment and entrepreneurship, two valuable assets in today’s job market. However, there are apparent gaps in how multicultural, non-white influencers are reimbursed in the United States and other developed economies. Influencers and allies realize the magnitude of this gap, and initiatives to create awareness and generate action to counter it have started to appear.
What exactly is an influencer?
Influencers are digital commodities that significantly change how audiences relate to media. According to Curtin University scholar Crystal Abidin, who has been researching Internet celebrity cultures for more than a decade, influencers are:
“everyday, ordinary Internet users who accumulate a relatively large following on blogs and social media through the textual and visual narration of their personal lives and lifestyles, engage with their following in digital and physical spaces, and monetize their following by integrating advertorials into their blog or social media posts.”
Because these advertorials have to marry a brand’s values and image with that of the influencer, content tends to be highly curated, which can be problematic when race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality are an integral part of an influencer’s identity.
White content is seen as mainstream and the rest as niche, which is reflected in the influencer pay gap.
One of the reasons why this pay gap might exist is because multicultural content is perceived to be niche and to have limited reach and scope. In contrast, the content generated by white influencers is seen as mainstream and appealing to a wide population. This translates into pay gaps as far as 35%, for instance, when comparing Black and white influencers (when it comes to the broader grouping of Black, Indigenous, and people of color, the pay gap compared to white influencers is 29%).
This gap was identified through a study by MSL in partnership with The Influencer League, in which 400 content creators were interviewed. The study also revealed that 59% of Black influencers recognized that posting about race impacted their income. Given that influencer cultural and commercial dynamics aim to sell an idea of authenticity and organic product placement, having racial justice be a taboo topic seems, at best, contradictory.
The influencer pay gap is a global issue, and there are digital initiatives to address it.
As reported by The Verge in 2020, this pay gap is not new and not exclusive to the United States and extends to other anglophone developed nations such as Great Britain, where Black and Indian influencers have reported being paid as much as ten times less than their white counterparts. In response, Adesuwa Ajayi, who is Black and works at the talent agency AGM, decided to create her initiative to denounce the influencer pay gap and raise awareness. Influencer Pay Gap is an Instagram account where influencers can anonymously share their pay gap stories and receive support through the comments section.
Ajayi receives about 100 direct messages daily, which paint a picture of gross inequality. The posts in Influencer Pay Gap gather precise data, including past brand campaigns, engagement rate (defined as the percentage of people interacting with their content), pay rates, what they had to do, race, and location. Ajayi collates this data in a spreadsheet and expects to release a report summarizing her findings.
Diversity matters in media and influencer culture should not be the exemption.
In addition to fair renumeration, equality and diversity in the influencer culture should also extend to content. As Kate Talbot writes in Forbes, “With this immense investment in influencer marketing, brands need to think about inclusivity from the very start of their campaign strategy.”
True diversity goes far beyond a box-ticking exercise. In the end, what we see on our screens defines the decision-makers. As Talbot reminds us in her article, marketers are predominantly white and favor influencers who look like them.
Multicultural influencers hold a unique position that companies could benefit from by expanding their reach and tapping into diverse markets. However, there needs to be an even playfield in pay and representation for authentic content that speaks to a multicultural reality. Reach out to My Code to learn more about opportunities to collaborate with a diverse networks of creators and influencers.