Racial Inequity In Influencer Marketing

Racial Inequity of Influencer Marketing

When I worked in a cubicle, I thought it looked glamorous and exciting: “influencers” getting together every week or two for another beautiful brunch, surrounded by a sea of floral arrangements in handmade ceramics, celebrating the launch of some new product or collaboration.

But sitting here on the other side, as one of the people who sometimes gets to attend these affairs, I’m not quite so sure about them.

Influencer marketing is a rather new phenomenon, taking hold within the past five or seven years. Though, I suppose, a different sort of influencer marketing has been around much longer than that, with celebrities acting as a spokespeople for some cosmetic brand or another. But the landscape of the industry has changed. And it’s taken - in my opinion - a problematic turn.

The problems, as I see them:

  1. The guests who are invited to these events are almost always 90+ % white women. (At least in LA.) If these events are akin to playing a round of golf for men in finance - in that they are a place where business alliances get formed and ideas for future collaborations are generated - this is incredibly problematic.

  2. The women who are invited to these events are typically selected because of the size of their Instagram following. But, the act of being AT these events helps to grow an influencer’s Instagram following even larger. In this way, the events perpetuate Problem #1, making it very difficult for new women to be included in this group.

  3. Later down the road, the media features certain companies because they, or their founders, have large Instagram presences, which they assume is an indicator of interest in the company. This means that these same people are written about in magazines and on blogs, invited to speak at events and on podcasts. This, in itself, isn’t a problem, for these women are incredible and they’re doing great work -- except for that fact that, as we discussed earlier, there was a racial component to all of this in the beginning, which means that these racial inequities linger.

  4. As any CEO knows, good press in the right place directly impacts sales, which means that the women who are featured in the media (via Problem #3) then experience an influx in revenue, creating tangible growth in their business AND, consequently, their Instagram presence, which means that next time there is an influencer event, they will most certainly be invited again.

  5. You see what I’m getting at, I’m sure. The problem is self-fulfilling and cyclical.

So, the question is, how do we break the cycle?

Brands throwing influencer events invite certain people because they know their posts will create a positive ROI for the cost of the event. They aren’t going to spend the money if they don’t see this return.

I don’t know the solution. But it’s something we need to start addressing. Because the current status quo isn’t acceptable. And as critical thinkers and creative problem solvers, I know we can do better.


Photography: Jennifer Young