In the content creator industry, not everything is as stellar as it seems

Monday 07 February 2022 10.25 a.m.

Social media personalities Dixie D’Amelio and Noah Beck take a selfie as they visit Disney California Adventure Park at the Disneyland Resort. (Photo by Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort via Getty Images)

Say “influencer economy” to most people and there remains a temptation to ignore it as a handful of Youtube stars earn a few thousand here and there for makeup videos. In truth, the influencer economy has become mainstream – almost 50 million people worldwide consider themselves “content creators”. It ranges from impossibly young twenties hosting makeup tutorials to bloggers writing flowery prose about their last faraway vacation.

That number looks set to grow: in a survey by The Lego Group, 30% of British and American children said they wanted to be YouTubers or vloggers when they grew up. Only one in ten wanted to be an astronaut.

And it’s also a lot of money. Just before the pandemic hit, the arrival of the Hype House in Los Angeles caused a stir: a group of young TikTok influencers rented a mansion in Beverly Hills – 100 million views later and the bill certainly went up been paid. It was the brainchild of a 17-year-old named Chase Hudson, which your teenagers will have heard of even if you haven’t. So-called “content houses” keep popping up around the world. It’s a sign of an industry maturing in a way no one could ever have predicted.

“The idea that being an influencer means taking a pretty picture and posting it on social media is so outdated,” says Angela Simaan, director of communications at influencer marketing agency Obviously. The content creator economy is much bigger and more diverse than you might think. This includes everyone who monetizes their content online – and the agencies that represent them. A content creator can be a fashion influencer, yoga teacher, fitness coach, or live gamer. With the pandemic pushing — or forcing — many people out of their jobs, more and more people have turned to content creation full-time.

The scale and youth of the industry, however, creates a problem: this economy is almost completely unregulated and all the rules governing the space were largely designed by the platforms creating the industry. In 2017, Instagram made the move to require people to label sponsored or paid posts anyway, in an effort to allow for transparency.

Most established content creators have agencies that represent and protect their interests, but many, especially younger users trying to break into the market, find this out on their own. According to Anna Stern of influencer marketing agency Collectively Inc, only 20% of influencers have a business manager or agent who manages their contracts.

The financial flexibility offered by the industry is as inviting as it is problematic. “It’s not for everyone,” says blogger Nicole Ocran, founder of the Creator Union, the UK’s first influencer syndicate. Still in its launch phase, the union aims to protect content creators from unfair compensation, delays, or the worst-case scenario – no compensation at all.

Influencers often do four things at once: they write the script, adjust the lighting, record and edit. Because there are no clear copyright laws in this space, brands often take this content without permission from influencers. Agencies are no better than brands. Mediakix, a huge California-based influencer marketing agency, was in the midst of a media storm last year when influencers came out to denounce the company that ghosted them on payday.

Clearly there is still a stigma surrounding the work of content creators. This was brought to light during the pandemic, when Home Secretary Priti Patel denounced influencers for traveling to Dubai under the guise of going there for “work purposes”. Whether or not their decision to travel is justified, most people who post on social media simply don’t hit the bar of what we consider “work.”

Given this disconnect, brands and agencies can get away with a whole lot more. Bosses could never get away with paying their employees; but brands will try it. In the UK, late payment charges are in place to prevent this from happening, but Ocran says they are often ignored.

Gender and racial stereotypes are commonplace. Women are disproportionately scrutinized, with several influencers lamenting that they are seen as tasteless and superficial because of their work. An economy based on online content is more inclusive about who can access it, but it still doesn’t work in favor of minorities. “There is strong evidence of the ethnic pay gap: Black, Asian and ethnic minority designers are paid less,” says Ocran.

Finally, there is the question of longevity. For some influencers, this is a long-term plan. Edmond Kamara is a content creator, stylist and event curator. He posts about stylish men’s outfits as @cutsforhim and lives off what started as career advice from friends. “We are here to stay, it’s a whole economy that is growing. It will only get better,” he said.

But for young designers, whose brand is built on their youth and beauty, turning that into a long-term career plan will be a challenge. Some do it alongside other careers or college degrees, but for others, they make a living out of it. Some of the “older” influencers have managed to pivot their brand to a more mature audience, but the appetite for this is more limited.

It’s not pessimistic; it offers a real opportunity to experiment with creativity in a new type of economy. But as we begin to grapple with the repercussions of the labor economy and a different breed of worker, we also need to examine how an even younger generation views the workforce. Who knows how the metaverse will influence this world as well. But before we dismiss this work as just another internet trend, we should think twice. Content creators have a completely unregulated and often unpleasant industry to navigate. Understanding how it works might just make it a little better in the future.

About Linda Jackson

Check Also

Higher legal risk for third-party content: Social media companies will challenge more restrictions

Social media companies plan to challenge any changes to the law introduced by the government …