There are a few potential opportunities to protect influencers, which in turn will help us all resist the constant commercialization and misinformation in our feeds. Prioritizing fair pay and industry transparency will help incentivize influencers to share better products and information. But even to begin with, government agencies, legislators, and company executives must understand that dismissing the powerhouse industry as the “Wild West”—a term used repeatedly—only serves to cover up its problems and allow them to perpetuate. For now, the “lawlessness” of the industry is a choice that can be changed.
Legislative attention should be directed to the lack of transparency and accountability of large platform companies to their users, as well as to the imbalance of power between these companies and those who try to compete with them. The FTC could bolster its rules and oversight with more consistent repercussions for influencers and brands that obfuscate their relationship so that consumers can clearly identify paid content.
It likely can’t be as simple as the #ad hashtag, though “clear and visible” disclosure of sponsored content is still necessary. Influencers market themselves as experts, as authentic individuals with their own opinions. Increasingly, influencers are identifying themselves as “community leaders”, indicating a more consistent engagement with a particular point of view and the people who subscribe to it. Influencers should disclose the nature of their work in their curriculum vitae; this will help users understand that just because one post is not sponsored doesn’t mean the influencer is “just an ordinary person”. They are part of a new industry of cultural workers who are shaping our world, just as workers in older cultural industries such as advertising or fashion have done for generations. And just like those who work in other industries, influencers face the constraints that define their work.
Another avenue for change is organizing work among powerful people, but efforts have been limited. The SAG-AFTRA influencer contract and the establishment of the American Council of Influencers are two optimistic developments. However, the union contract only covers video and voiceover work and thus encourages influencers to switch to it even if photography or text is their speciality. Need more options. Unions and trade groups can help transform an industry into one that broadly recognizes and respects shared professional standards and their role in society, as other cultural industries such as journalism and advertising do, rather than just “what resonates.”
A solid sales organization could also help bridge the gap between brands’ pursuit of creative expression and effective marketing. Just as the Fashion Designers Council of America works to support emerging designers, a strong professional body of influencers can offer support to creatives starting their careers and establish best practices for marketing firms and brands, including resources for ongoing internal evaluation and policy change to identify weaknesses. . injustices and eliminate them. Using influencers as valuable, fair-hired professional employees will not only improve their work lives, but should inspire brands to take more creative risk in product development and marketing, while reducing the appeal of questionable transactional relationships. The influencer industry needs to work more together internally to find a way to maintain its benefits — entrepreneurship, connections, networking, and creative expression — and reduce its harm.
While (and for now) the institutions tasked with addressing these issues do something, we must fight the social media landscape that encourages us all to act like influencers every day – spend more time scrolling, post more often. and “more authentic,” shopping or making our own lives like shopping. Studying television in the early 2000s, media researcher Mark Andreevich. famously outlined “surveillance work” – or how the media, which allows us to flaunt ourselves, still extract value from us. Even non-professional social media users should be aware of the “work” they are doing to profit for big tech and vote, advocate and use social media with that in mind.
Extracts from The Influencer Industry: Finding Authenticity on Social Media © 2023 Emily Hund. Reprinted with permission from Princeton University Press.