Diversity in influencer marketing is a problem.
It’s blindingly obvious to anyone with eyes that a disproportionate number of influencer marketing campaigns feature mostly white, middle-class, slim, straight, attractive women.
It’s the holiday company inviting yet another group of affluent, attractive white women with long hair and slim figures away for a luxury weekend. It’s watching the Instagram posts from yet another event populated by white women from London and the Home Counties. It’s yet another speaker panel filled with almost identical faces.
We play “spot the difference” and it’s not funny – because often there’s no difference at all.
There’s no one simple reason for the lack of diversity in influencer marketing.
- Marketing itself has a diversity issue. Sometimes, the people making influencer selections are white, middle-class people. They’re sometimes young and inexperienced. Perhaps they feel comfortable choosing people who look like them. I think they also see safety in choosing people who have already been chosen by other influencer marketing campaigns. So a lack of diversity becomes self-perpetuating.
- Then there’s the fear of “getting it wrong”. I’ve watched brands try and take steps to increase representation only to be jumped on for doing it badly, or representing Group X but not representing Group Y. It’s frustrating and sometimes, I’m sure, it’s tempting to respond by simply continuing doing the “safe” thing and not provoking the Internet mob.
- There are practical concerns, too. Financial and geographical issues play an important part in who can access opportunities. It’s easier for some people to find time to go to events, to pay for travel, to secure extra childcare. Those people tend to get more opportunities, do more networking, and grow their channels more quickly as a result.
But complicated isn’t an excuse for doing nothing. What can we do?
Today I wanted to share some practical things that I can think we can all do – influencers AND marketers – to address the lack of diversity in influencer marketing. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments.
Before we dive in, please know that I understand I benefit from a good deal of privilege. I’m doing my best but I accept my words and actions won’t always be perfect, but please accept my intentions are good, and I’m always looking to listen, learn, and do better.
Ask Questions about Diversity
I have heard influencers being asked to “call out” brands who run campaigns that aren’t diverse. Or to turn down event invites out of principle if the guest list isn’t diverse.
I’m not sure that’s always realistic. I think it’s a big assumption that someone is in a position to be able to turn down paid work because of a larger organisation’s lack of understanding and inclusivity.
So I don’t judge influencers who work on sponsored content campaigns where diversity is less than stellar. I DO judge the brands, though.
To influencers, I will say this:
If I am approached to be a part of a speaking panel, an “influencer panel”, or a brand ambassador programme where I am going to be the FACE of a campaign, then I absolutely DO have a responsibility to ask the basic question, “How diverse will this campaign be?”
If I’m working with a brand on a major piece of activity, then my reputation is aligned to the brand’s reputation. So I’m going to ask questions, and I will absolutely walk away if I don’t like the answers.
I want to know I’m not going to accidentally end up sitting next to a Brexit politician, but equally I want to know I’m not going to end up in a photo line-up that’s blindingly white. I want to know that when I share this campaign with my community, the images actually LOOK like my community. (side note: if your brand understands why diversity is so important, here’s where you can find out more about working with me)
Use Your Voice
I don’t think it’s every individual’s responsibility to turn down every campaign that isn’t inclusive. But I do think it’s every influencer’s responsibility to draw attention to this issue, and not ignore it.
We teach our children that when they see something wrong, they speak up. And we must hold ourselves to the same standard.
Comment on those Instagram posts. Maybe you don’t want to be seen as a trouble maker. But there’s no harm in sending a DM or email to say, “Hey, I love your brand and I really hope that next time you do this sort of campaign, you can make more effort to include some more diverse faces and people.”
You could add a diversity statement to your email signature or social media bio’s. Use social media to share posts about influencers from minority and under-represented groups. Educate yourself. Mix up who you follow.
When you’re recommending bloggers for campaigns, or creating a “top 10 button crafts” post, make a point to celebrate and include a diverse group of influencers.
Make your Guest List More Diverse
Brands, you need to do better with your guest lists. WAY better.
Influencer events are one of the most visible areas where diversity in influencer marketing is lacking. It is a common sight to see Instagram posts from blogger events where EVERY single face is white, young and attractive.
Perhaps you think you’re doing your best because, well, you invited those two black women, but they couldn’t make it.
But inclusion means thinking about WHY under-represented groups are under-represented and taking positive steps to support their inclusion.
Is your location affordable to get to? Is the time of day convenient for those who have other, paid jobs? Are you compensating people fairly for their time, so that you’re not excluding influencers who aren’t affluent? Are you actively supporting influencers who may have additional needs around accessibility? Are you specifically making a point to identify and reach out to influencers from under-represented parts of the community?
As an influencer you can help to guide brands, too. Make a point of suggesting other influencers who you think might be interested in an event you can’t attend. And when you see a campaign that is being inclusive, shout about it! Celebrate that brand, share it on Stories, Tweet them a quick thanks. Let brands know that we’re watching, and we care.
Look Beyond Numbers
If you’re an influencer with a disability, if you’re plus-size or from a different ethnic or cultural background, then you’re going to struggle to get the same numbers as those white, straight, middle class people – EVEN if you’re just as talented, and work just as hard.
That’s just a fact.
The closer someone is to that mainstream “ideal” the more opportunities they receive. If they are affluent, they’re more able to accept those opportunities. Once they’re at the events, they network with brands and other influencers. Everyone benefits from the network, and everyone’s profile grows together.
But if you’re outside the circle and don’t get that initial foot in the door, it’s virtually impossible to catch up.
Brands need to accept that if we want to be diverse and inclusive then, in the short-term at least, we need to look past just numbers.
Yes, ROI is important but here’s the thing. When the influencers look the same, their audience is often the same. If I’m working with 10 influencers, isn’t it better to reach 50,000 different customers than to reach the same 10,000 people ten times over?
When you’re building a campaign, consider working with smaller influencers with better engagement and varied audience demographics alongside those big hitters with the impressive headline figures.
Diversity in Influencer Marketing Matters
Of the 56m people living in the UK today, 14% are not white. Around 6% identify as LGBTQ. Almost one in five people of working age have a disability.
So first up, it matters because if I don’t see myself represented by a brand, then I’m massively less likely to buy from that brand.
There’s one well-known family holiday brand that I’d never buy from because in seven years of influencer marketing, I’ve never seen them work with an influencer who looks and sounds like me. I imagine that if I went on that holiday, beaches would empty as people fled in terror, clinging their babies to them, as a Northern person over 40, who – cue the sinister music – IS NOT MARRIED – came into view. It’d just be me and Flea on the beach with several hundred abandoned windsurfing boards.
So if you’re not mentioning the 30% or so of the country who fall into one of these under-represented groups by virtue of things like age, gender, sexuality, race or culture – well, that’s 30% of your potential customers.
More widely though, representation matters because it promotes understanding and tolerance. When you celebrate diversity, you’re making a small stand against the sort of people who promote discrimination and division. Did you know that 41% of trans people in the UK have experienced a hate crime in the last 12 months? Or that black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women? How about the fact that people with a disability are twice as likely to be living in food poverty?
Our influencer community is diverse. Let’s try and make influencer marketing more diverse.
Yes, lots of these are big issues with complex causes that require large scale political action to address. But we can play a small part in creating a more diverse, inclusive society with online content.
Be someone that strives to do better, and make things better.
Where to Start
I wanted to share some of the places and people that I get inspired by when it comes to learning about diversity in influencer marketing.
- Candice Brathwaite – top-notch Insta person but also with lots of interesting views on diversity and representation
- Stephanie Yeboah – a plus-size, black influencer, and journalist (this post in Metro is fabulous)
- BodiPosi Panda – just a must-follow influencer for body positivity and feminism
- Top List of UK LGBTQ influencers – Lesbemums
- Ultimate List of Black UK Bloggers – Circus Mum
- Parent bloggers over 40 to Follow – Tots100
- 12 Disabled bloggers to add to your reading list – Euan’s Guide
- Annie E Lainey is a YouTuber and disability activist
I’m very keen to add more links here, so if I’ve missed someone you’d like to see mentioned, drop a link in the comments 🙂