The influencer industry is one of the emerging businesses. Influencers are individuals with a strong foothold on social media; they shape discussions as well as create content with the sole aim of influencing their followers.
According to Bloomberg Business, the influencer industry also has its fair share of bias against people of color. Bloomberg found out that Black influencers are paid less compared to their White colleagues with less following.
Brand endorsement on social media, according to SignalFire, is estimated to be $10 billion annually. Bloomberg interviewed dozens of social media influencers who said White social media influencers make more money than their Black counterparts.
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The report said in some cases, Black influencers are not paid at all. An influencer in the beauty industry with about 1.5 million followers on TikTok said before she knew what her true market value was, she mostly accepted product brands instead of cash. “They got free promo,” Stacy Thiru said. “All I got was hair.”
Another famous Black social media influencer, Jordan Craig, opined that he got to know of the racial gap in pay in the industry when he attended a program and his White colleagues showed up in luxury cars while he used Uber because he couldn’t afford a car at the time.
“It’s crazy to be famous on the internet and then have it not mean anything,” he said. “Literally, I was not sure where I was going to sleep last March.”
According to the report, the pay gap “cuts against the meritocratic promises of the likes of TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube, which allow creators to achieve celebrity without going through agents or casting directors.”
In July 2020, The Verge cited the case of the only Black influencer at a photo shoot. Mikai McDermott was paid around $150 while her White counterpart earned about $1,500. To make matters worse, it took the brand four months to clear her invoice. “It was a whole day of microaggressions, so by the end when I had asked [the model how much she made], I was just over it, and I wanted to leave,” McDermott said. “Now I look back at it as a learning experience.”
The influencer industry has no standardized pay structure nor union workers or real co-workers. However, in recent times, moves have been made to close the pay gap among Black and White influencers.
This has led to the founding of Influencer Pay Gap by Adesuwa Ajayi, a Black woman who works at the talent agency AGM and manages influencers. Ajayi engages influencers to anonymously share their past brand campaigns, what they were expecting to earn and how much they were paid, their race, among others.
“I think sometimes we forget that the influencer space is still in its infancy in comparison to different forms of maybe marketing or whatever it might be,” Ajayi said. “So it’s very much unregulated to a large degree, and what has definitely become apparent from the page is just seeing how many influencers need help.”
In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, marketers appear more willing to work with Black influencers and look at ways to close the pay gap among Black and White influencers, the Bloomberg report said.