Influencers Are About to Unionize
"There is an idea that because we have a certain status that means we are protected, and it is the furthest from the truth."
This week marked a major win for influencers on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and other social media platforms. SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents actors who work on television, film, and radio is expanding its membership to include those who create sponsored video and audio content on their channels.
Now, anyone you see posting #ad in their captions when you're mindlessly scrolling through your feeds will be eligible for benefits like health coverage and a pension. This includes any sort of sponsored content from an Instagram Reel to a Twitch stream. SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris told Backstage that these influencers will also have access to a contract dedicated to branded content deals created by the union, which could help them with negotiations — more details on this are still pending.
"I think it's really wonderful because there is an idea that because we have a certain status that means we are protected, and it is the furthest from the truth," Tess Holliday, a model, and influencer who founded EFF YOUR BEAUTY STANDARDS tells InStyle via Instagram message. "Being able to have access to more protection, especially for the marginalized communities that are influencers, and having access to healthcare is a big deal."
The title of "influencer" has changed a lot over the last decade. What once was reserved for a select group of mostly white women with hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram has expanded exponentially in the last few years. Now, one viral TikTok video (think: Nathan Apodaca, the man who skateboarded to Fleetwood Mac while drinking cranberry juice), can make you into a household name. This murky transition from having fun on a platform sharing videos with your friends to earning money with millions of eyes on you is difficult to navigate.
"I gained my platform on TikTok and Instagram in May and once I started working with brands I was really overwhelmed," Eli Rallo, a TikTok Influencer with over 230K followers says. She went on to explain that the influencers often turn to each other for help with negotiations because there aren't any real standards. "There's no place to really turn to for support or protection and all the negotiating and contracted work is really just up to you. Though it seems like a glamorous path to take and is such a privilege, people tend to forget that influencing is essentially freelance."
While this certainly is a great development for recognizable names like Charlie D'Amelio and Addison Rae, it's an even bigger deal for influencers from marginalized communities. As more brands look to diversify whom they work with, especially following the accountability messages from the Black Lives Matter movement, it's particularly important that brands aren't able to exploit activists.
"So many influencers from these communities don't receive the same opportunities that white cisgender influencers receive, and on top of it have to struggle to be paid fairly and make a living from their careers as influencers," explains Callia Hargrove, founder of Backstory Consulting, a marketing agency rooted in diversity and inclusion. "I think this will open up the gates to ensure that those creators receive better opportunities and are paid fairly."
Regardless of how you feel about influencing, there is no question that it is a real job for hundreds of thousands of people across the world, and like any other person in the work-force, they deserve protection and benefits. Hopefully, this new agreement is a step in the right direction.