A 2019 survey found that children would rather be YouTubers than astronauts. This made headlines and led to a lot of grumbling about “kids these days.” But it is not surprising that young people – to 1.3 million in the UK – want to make their income by creating content on social media.
The global influencer market was rated as deserving $13.8 billion (£11.2 billion) in 2021. Individual influencers like Zoella and Deliciously Ella are worth it £4.7m and £2.5m, respectively. About 300,000 are people aged 18-26 i already use content creation as their sole source of income.
The lifestyle we see advertised on social media is alluring, but does it affect a viable career? Beneath the shiny exterior are income insecurity, pay inequality based on gender, race and disability, and mental health issues. in my research with travel influencers and content creators, I observed these impacts that young people hoping to become influencers should be aware of.
Does your fintech have global ambitions?
Before you consider expanding, check out our handy checklist
Successful influencers will be the first to claim that anyone can succeed in the industry. Love Island contestant-turned-influencer Molly May Hague has been criticized for saying that everyone “has the same 24 hours in the day” because few people actually “make it” financially as influencers.
Social media economics expert Brooke Erin Duffy explores the careers of fashion bloggers, beauty vloggers and designers. In her book (No) You get paid to do what you love, she revealed a huge gap between those who find lucrative careers as influencers and everyone else. For most people trying to become influencers, their content creation passion projects often turn into free work for corporate brands.
In an April 2022 Report, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) identified the pay gap as a key issue in the influencer industry. There are pay gaps based on gender, race and disability. The DCMS report referred to 2020 MSL Group surveya global public relations firm that found a 35% racial pay gap exists between white and black influencers.
Adesuwa Ajayi, Senior Head of Talent and Partnerships at AGM Talent started an Instagram account called Difference in influencer pay to highlight these differences. The account provides a platform where influencers anonymously share stories about their experiences collaborating with brands. In addition to racial disparities, the account also reveals disparities in pay for people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ influencers. The DCMS report also noted a “widespread lack of employment support and protection”. Most influencers are self-employed, often facing inconsistent income and a lack of protections that come with permanent employment – such as entitlement to sick pay and holiday pay.
The risks of self-employment are exacerbated in the influencer industry due to the lack of industry standards and little pay transparency. Influencers are often forced to assess their own value and set royalties for their work. As a result, content creators often undervalue their own creative work, and many end up working for free.
Powering the platforms
Influencers are also often left at the mercy of algorithms – the behind-the-scenes computer programs that determine which posts to show users and in what order. The platforms share few details about their algorithms, but ultimately they determine who and what gains visibility (and influence) on social media.
In his work with Instagram influencers, algorithm expert Kelly Cotter highlights how the pursuit of influence becomes an “appearance game.” Influencers interact with the platform (and its algorithm) in ways they hope will be rewarded with visibility. In my research, I found that influencers are sharing increasingly intimate and personal moments from their lives, posting relentlessly in an effort to stay relevant.
The threat of invisibility is a constant source of uncertainty for influencers who are under constant pressure to feed platforms with content. If they don’t, they may be “penalized” by the algorithm – posts may be hidden or shown lower in search results.
Mental health crisis
Having a constant online presence eventually leads to one of the most prevalent issues in the influencer industry: mental health issues. Influencers can connect with their platform workspace and audience at any time of the day or night – for many, there there is no longer a clear division between work and life. Coupled with the fear of losing visibility, this can lead to overworking influencers and facing mental health issues like burnout.
Online visibility also puts content creators at risk of significant online abuse – both in terms of how they look or what they do (or don’t post), but also in terms of negative perceptions of influence as a career. The potential for online abuse can lead to mental and physical health problemsincluding depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia and eating disorders.
While becoming an influencer may seem attractive to more and more people, the dark side of the industry needs to be made visible and improved through increased employment regulation and industry-led cultural change.
If you are struggling or think you could benefit from mental health support, please speak to your GP and/or try contacting support organizations such as The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association, The Samaritans or Campaign against miserable life (CALM). There is also information on wellbeing and support via NHS website.