In the 2010s, as Instagram slowly became the preferred social media platform for fashion and lifestyle brands, along came those who managed to build enormous social media followings and make a living out of brand partnerships.
Influencer marketing became a core part of brands’ business strategies, and influencers were often paid an easy four to five figures per post. The influencer marketing industry is on track to be worth up to $15 billion by 2022. While the sector is fairly new, primarily targeting younger, more racially diverse millennials and members of Gen-Z, it still isn’t lacking in racial disparities when it comes to pay.
Black and Latinx influencers have recently taken to their social media channels to discuss how they are paid less than their white counterparts, overlooked for certain ad campaigns, and are often targeted just for campaigns for the racial and ethnic group they belong to. A Google search shows that the majority of the highest paid influencers have a dearth of people of color.
Recently, a new Instagram account called @influencerpaygap began exposing the difference in pay influencers of color sometimes face. Brands may claim to stand for inclusivity and equality, yet some are yet to fully—and equally—compensate Black and Latinx influencers.
Claire Sulmers, CEO of Fashion Bomb Daily and an influencer with over 225,000 followers on Instagram, has been collaborating with brands for ambassadorships since 2014 when she was approached by Toyota for an influencer marketing campaign.
As a Black influencer, she often works with multicultural factions of companies and she is traditionally approached for campaigns geared toward the Black community. (Sulmers’ sister works in influencer marketing giving her more insight into the issues.)
Sulmers said that that Black influencers are often compensated lower than their white counterparts. Sulmers herself has been in situations where brands try to pay her in free product rather than actual monetary compensation.
“People often try to offer me stuff instead of payment,” Sulmers said. “The feeling is clear that Black influencers aren’t valued as much as our white counterparts. I’ve had zero major fashion brands approach me for campaigns. Most of my partnerships for myself and Fashion Bomb Daily have come from small boutiques and independent designers. I’ve had billion-dollar fashion brands, like Puma, tell me they don’t have the budgets to offer monetary compensation.
“Most of my brand ambassadorships have come from hair brands. If fashion brands want to do something strategic about being more diverse, I have a strong demographic, and they might not think I’m the demographic they want, but I could be.”
The Daily Beast reached out to Puma for comment on what, if any, efforts they are taking toward all influencers being compensated fairly. The company did not immediately respond for comment.
In the wake of the George Floyd protests, many brands were hopping on the social media bandwagon by posting black squares for #blackouttuesday.
When fashion retailer Revolve posted a black square, people began calling out the company for a lack of diversity, and how they needed to do more to elevate Black voices within their company. Sulmers thought this would be an excellent opportunity to partner with the brand, but nothing came from it.
“When Revolve admitted they weren’t doing enough for diversity and wanted to do more, I emailed a direct contact the company to see about potentially partnering with them,” Sulmers said. “I didn’t hear a word. I realized that waiting for the industry to change is like watching paint dry, so I decided to seek validation and success for myself outside of the traditional avenues of fashion.”
The Daily Beast reached out Revolve for a statement on how they plan to ensure fair compensation for their influencer campaigns going forward. The company did not respond.
When @influencerpaygap launched their account six weeks ago, they shared the story of a white content creator with 30,000 Instagram followers who said they were hired for the same 2017 L’Oréal ad campaign that biracial transgender model Munroe Bergdorf was also hired for.
Bergdorf has 470,000 followers and made history as the first transgender model to front a L’Oréal campaign. The white content creator said they were hired at a fee of £5000 ($6,390) to replace a bigger name celebrity who had originally dropped out. The celebrity later showed up, so they didn’t end up using the influencer but still paid her the full fee.
This post became a point of controversy as several commenters said Bergdorf was paid half of that for the campaign, and was later fired by L’Oréal due to remarks she made about issues of racial oppression and white supremacy.
When L’Oréal participated in #blackouttuesday in the wake of George Floyd protests Bergdorf took to social media to call them out for how she was fired and mistreated by them. To right their wrongs L’Oréal rehired Bergdorf and formed a Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board that she will be a part of.
The Daily Beast reached out to L’Oréal Paris regarding influencer pay and what the company will due to ensure all influencers are paid equally moving forward. The company did not respond.
“The things you are afraid to approach are the things you need to learn to navigate.”
Igee Okafor, a menswear influencer with a following of 95,000 Instagram followers, has worked for three different digital marketing agencies. This gave him unique insight into how influencers should be paid so he knew his worth as a Black influencer.
“When influencers say they aren’t offered enough money, there isn’t enough education to teach influencers how much they should be charging as a business,” Okafor said. “As influencers, we aren’t just charging brands to post. We are charging brands for the audience reach we bring them. We are charging them for our creative production including photography and photo editing.”
Influencers often find themselves reluctant to try and negotiate for themselves too out of fear of looking too pushy and earning reputations for being difficult to work with.
“When I started as an influencer, I didn’t feel comfortable negotiating myself, because I was worried about leaving a bad impression on a client,” Okafor said. “I didn’t want to lose future opportunities because I developed a reputation of being difficult to work with. My advice to other influencers would be the things you are afraid to approach are the things you need to learn to navigate.”
As companies were being called out for their discriminatory practices during the beginning days of the George Floyd protests, Fohr—an influencer marketing platform offering services to influencers including subscription self-served, managed campaigns, and custom-built technology allowing members to book campaigns—became a focus of criticism.
Several Black influencers came together to form the @openfohr account to reveal how the company engaged in allegedly discriminatory practices. Open Fohr’s first Instagram post revealed that there was an almost $6,000 difference in pay between a Black influencer and a “white passing” influencer.
Fohr CEO James Nord would later address these issues in a video townhall, refuting allegations that his company was in any way racist. Nord pointed to figures saying white influencers earn $8.16 per 1,000 followers while Black influencers earn $8.14 per 1,000 followers.
In addition, of Fohr’s influencers, 16 percent identify as Black. Of the company’s total payouts, 23 percent went went to Black influencers. Fohr is currently reevaluating how they calculate rates to ensure more fair pricing going forward.
For Latinx influencers, navigating the influencer marketing industry is just as challenging.
Diego León, founder of Dandy in the Bronx, is an Ecuadorian American, and has over 42,000 Instagram influencers. Over the course of his career he’s managed to secure brand partnerships with everything from hotels to dating apps. On several occasions he’s been tapped for Latino-specific campaigns, but he’s also been faced with brands treating Latinos like they are a monolithic group.
“I’ve been approached for campaigns for Latinx nationalities I don’t belong to,” León said. “I’m Ecuadorian, and there have been times when I’ve been approached by brands targeting Dominicans, to which I respond, ‘Keep going further south to find out where I am from.’”
Like many minority influencers León has also been left with the question of what counts as fair compensation.
“There are brands that approach you with free product and act like that is compensation enough,” León said. “At the same time, they are still expecting deliverables like a certain amount of Instagram stories, posts, and written content. It’s up to us influencers to explain what we are worth. We are often photographers, photo editors, and content creators. So many brands want cheap or free labor, but I can’t pay the bills with free suits. I have to explain to them there is cost for my time and energy.”
León said that in order for influencer marketing to become a more playing field, there has to be more accountability for brands and public relation firms.
Companies are often times just focused on getting numbers and impressions and don’t actually research the people they are partnering with.
There has been a movement for influencers to unionize to hold marketing companies and the marketing division brands accountable and help further ensure equal pay and fair treatment of all influencers.
León keeps pushing on because he knows that representation matters, and more diverse voices need to be brought to the table.
“The moment still needs to happen for Latino creators,” he said. “Brands also need to understand that there are different types of Latinos. There’s black Latinos, there’s white Latinos. Companies need to do more than just say ‘Here’s a pretty person, let’s send them a product.’ More Latinos need to come together, because as long as brands see us as numbers or stats, they will keep treating us like that’s all we are.”
Lissette Calveiro, CEO of Influence To Impact, teaches creators how to build their social media presence and become influencers.
As a Latina influencer with 49,000 Instagram followers and as a seasoned marketing professional, she’s been on both sides of the industry.
She began noticing the pay disparity Latinx influencers face several years ago and worked to correct these injustices.
“Back when I used to manage influencer marketing campaigns, I would actually pay minority influencers more, especially if they were the only one—that meant they were uniquely valuable,” she said. “The big problem with Latinx influencers is that they aren’t negotiating for themselves. That ties into a bigger problem of them not knowing their worth, or understanding their worth. Sometimes I would tell them, ‘Well, if you can do this one extra thing for the brand, we can pay you a higher rate,’ as a way of trying to tell them they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for more money.”
Calveiro said that brands often want minority influencers to be part of campaigns without addressing how these campaigns speak to a particular influencer’s culture.
“Often times, we are given campaigns for what are clearly white audiences and we wonder what story we are supposed to sell,” she said. “On the positive side, there are other brands that tell us to be really authentic because they want our diverse voice and opinion.”
She herself has made it a personal point to partner with brands that allow her to tell her stories authentically, especially if it’s something she can connect to her Latina heritage.
Brands are starting to diversify themselves by asking more influencers to be part of general marketing campaigns. More Latinx influencers are looking for brands who want to partner with them to tell their cultural histories.
Calveiro also said that brands need to do better research and remember that not all Latinx people are one nation, and Latinx people come from a variety of countries.
“More diverse influencers need to be invited to the conversations around influencer marketing year-round and build a network of Latinx influencers to pull from,” she said. “After that, brands need to allow non-white influencers the freedom to create content around their own cultural context.
“It is important that we are allowed to bring our own stories to the table and make brand partnerships personal, because people can see right through the inauthenticity of just posting a product to buy.”