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Is social media fair and is that even a sensible question?
It seems that anyone that pays any attention to Instagram comes face to face with the question of how much is ‘fair’ in social media. As a new industry that is disrupting many others like fashion, advertising and travel to name a few, it’s hard to gauge how to and what is a normal perspective so early on. For example, ask any member of the public if they’d like to attend an amazing event with a free meal and open bar for a few hundred in exchange for their time and some Instagram coverage. See if they try to bargain for more, because it’s unlikely. It’s therefore somewhat understandable that those without a stake in the social media scene believe that bloggers or ‘influencers’ are ‘lucky’ that this is a common occurrence in our lives. And therefore, those of us who can make a living from this are conditioned to agree with everyone else. You can’t help but feel other people’s opinion rub off on you.
Personally, I do believe I’m extremely blessed that I can pursue a dream job and still buy food – one that I never thought of doing full time until beginning of this year. But to have the mindset that bloggers, including myself, have chanced upon this opportunity is terribly wrong. I’ve been doing this for seven years and didn’t make even £100 until my last year! Whatever those ill-researched articles online are telling you, 1000 followers won’t supplement your rent.
And this strange belief that bloggers have it easy is perpetuated by the rationale that while some slave away, for no apparent reason they are still not as successful as others. There’s misleading information out there that claims that there are common factors among Instagram stars. Usually, it’s that they’re female (and some might say ethnicity), under 30 and live in an urban area. Perhaps they date a photographer, but that’s optional. Even if this were proven to be statistically true, it encourages the wrong idea which is: if you don’t have 100k+ followers but you match the criteria, there is something wrong with you. If you’re not popular online and you don’t tick the boxes, well, there’s your answer as to why you haven’t got your own makeup business. I guess you should apply for Love Island next year.
When spelt out like that, I wonder if it sounds anymore absurd to you as it does to me. Yet this demeaning and patronising mentality is what influencers face every day in their inbox. I’d expect less ignorance from the people working with influencers. Many of us strive to be taken seriously as entrepreneurs but there are companies out there that don’t think that influencer marketing is worth assigning a healthy budget to – yet they still want a foot in the door. It’s odd that this happens, especially when quite often, some individuals are more established than a lot of brands.
I’ve found that around 40% of my emails involve me explaining my fee. Breaking down why unremunerated non-compete clauses hurts future income, my background as a journalist, my public speaking gigs, my niche in luxury fashion etc. Imagine going to a job interview and when you’re discussing your salary, having to reiterate your CV, which is already in the employer’s hands. But you see, despite all of this unnecessary drama, for now this kind of behaviour is still fair play. Yes it’s tiring, frustrating and frankly tedious, but we chose this and knew what we were getting ourselves into. And anyway, ethical or not, every industry looks for cheap labour.
What’s inexcusable are double standards.
Did you know that for the majority of events you’re invited to, a handful of influencers have been paid to post? You probably knew that about campaigns but the contradiction goes beyond this. And often, who gets paid isn’t clearly assigned to following or content quality. A week ago, I met a writer of 20 years that runs one of the most popular blog-zines in the UK, where each post gets thousands of views. She told me that often, she’ll be asked to do something for free when she knows her friends are getting paid, even if their stats are lower. I was reminded of that conversation because recently, I was asked to post for free by a huge beauty brand (yes, I know, groundbreaking). However, I’ve been paid by them before. At first I considered it because I always support past clients, why else would I have accepted the job in the first place? But then I stopped feeling flattered and realised I hadn’t been invited to any of their latest events and hadn’t been gifted what I was promised. I wasn’t fortunate to have their attention. I was being used.
After that blogger and I shared our experiences, of which you’ve just heard 0.5%, we agreed that the best way for brands to navigate this and make the situation ‘fair’ is to go by a tiers system. Whereby those aren’t ‘on brand’ or ‘lack reach’ (whatever reasoning you want) just aren’t contacted at all – or you just don’t pay anyone. I’m much more inclined to post for free for brands that are open about their payment policies, are generous with their time and gifting, and are represented by genuine people that have actually read my blog and already follow me. Like, my name is not Fleur.
Now, I’m happy to say that when these kinds of ‘unfair’ situations arise, I no longer retreat and lick my wounds. I’ve learnt to brush it off and move on but we do need to be proactive about it. My influencer friends and I share almost everything we can think of – contacts, our fees, how much a campaign is offering even if we’re on the same one. And no one loses out because if a brand really wanted to work with you, they should expect to pay you the same as your peers. It would be naive of me to expect everyone else to do the same – I know influencers in different countries that wouldn’t share a whisper of this.
But I hope that this post and the ones before can bring some transparency to an industry that’s shrouded in rumour, hype and mystery. It’s the reason I still update my Industry News section and continue to discuss issues we’re facing.
How far do you think we are from making our industry ‘fair’?