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Opinion

The Importance of Inclusivity Within the Influencer Industry Beyond Pride Month

Influencer marketing has a diversity and inclusion problem. This shouldn’t be news to anyone today, as culture critics, media, and the general audience have been raising this issue for a while now. Yet, the image of influencers remains overwhelmingly indistinguishable, with the same look and body type.

To paraphrase what author Stephanie Yaboah stated, the message that this status quo sends is troubling: only thin white women with certain lip shape can wear a certain type of clothes, only able-bodied white men can drive the newest cars, and only cis straight white couples can go on holidays. 

Without inclusivity, a domino effect occurs causing a self-worth crisis that scales entire groups of people, entire age ranges, etc. To give just one example of its effect, Dove’s “Reverse Selfie” campaign found that today 85% of girls use retouching apps and image filters by the age of 13, and 67% of girls try to change or hide at least one body part/feature before posting their photos in an attempt to fit with the “norm” projected onto them daily.

Luckily, the demand for change is here, especially following huge social movements in events throughout 2020 to today. Research shows that 38% of consumers are more likely to trust companies that do well with showing diversity in their ads. That rate doubles among Black, Hispanic, Asian, and LGBTQIA audiences, as well as when counted across all Millenials and all Gen-Zers. Prequel – which has risen to be one of the most favored photo-editing apps amongst Gen-Z, have spent years learning what drives their audience. Gen-Z is a generation that is especially socially conscious and cares deeply about equality, representation, and human rights.

Are major platforms becoming more inclusive? 

Most major platforms have been accused of racial bias over the past several years. TikTok has been observed by researchers to privilege content by white creators. Twitter found itself in hot water as users discovered it’s cropping algorithm, meant to showcase the most “interesting” part of the user photo, also favoring lighter skinned faces. Instagram has been receiving tons of criticism for the whiteness of its Explore page.

The public scrutiny and subsequent uproar in these cases proved effective— to an extent. Twitter removed the cropping from its mobile apps, but for some reason still keeps it in the desktop browser version. Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri pledged last year to allocate $200 million to support Black-owned businesses and Black content creators and personally vowed to bring more Black voices to the Explore page—if he delivers on either promise is yet to be assessed.

However, we’re seeing changes in the way platforms are attempting to push for inclusivity. Since June, Instagram has been notably featuring members of the LGBTQIA community for Pride month, along with the featured figures’ personal messages. We saw a similar thing last year, following BLM protests, when brands started publishing more content featuring Black people—unfortunately for many, this only lasted for a short while. This could be called a form of tokenism, perfunctory or symbolic efforts to be inclusive in order to give the appearance of racial or gender equality. We’ve seen it in movies, TV shows, and fashion—and are seeing it in influencer marketing, too.

Inclusivity without being performative 

Outreach that is not viewed as genuine or sincere is simply not cutting it across many industries, not only the influencer marketing community. Companies are being watched carefully, as consumers count the rates at which non-white,trans, or plus-size influencers are booked for photoshoots and taken on press trips. They try to hold the brands and agencies accountable for apparent lack of inclusivity through articles, open letters, or just raising questions via DMs, but we have seen some brands avoid responding by blocking the users and “promising to change”. 

When minority group influencers get booked, there is still a glass ceiling for the latter to break through—or rather, a gap to leap over. In the overwhelming majority of the cases, they are offered smaller checks than their white cis hetero able-bodied counterparts. Some influencers resort to entertainment lawyers to rectify it. Some, like a recent Taking Influence interviewee Anita K. Sharma, leverage their extensive market knowledge of rates paid to creators across the board to fight for equal pay for minority clients. Obviously, access to such lawyers is limited for people from impoverished backgrounds or underdeveloped regions.

For everyone who has to do their own legwork of both negotiating and analysing the market, the initiative by the @influencerpaygap Instagram account is a blessing. The account shares anonymously what creators of a certain race, gender, and calibre earn, based on community submissions. The revelation of the pay gap between women-of-color and white male contributors was famously a turning point in the summer 2020 scandal at the food magazine Bon Appétit that led to a high-profile resignations and overnight fall of the magazine’s empire. 

One can argue that was a reckoning too long in the making for the decades-old industry. Here’s to hoping this much younger era of influencer marketing, will crack the inclusivity equation much quicker.

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