This Philly influencer’s virtual academy is helping BIPOC creators navigate pay discrimination

This Philly influencer’s virtual academy is helping BIPOC creators navigate pay discrimination

Janesha Moore wants you to know she wasn’t an overnight success. The Philadelphia fashion influencer created content for nine years before hitting it big in 2023, when her Instagram followers jumped from 30,000 to more than 170,000 in just a year.During that time, she made over $110,000 from social media.Her secret? Affiliate marketing, or when influencers receive a commission for directing followers to purchase products using, say, a specific Amazon link that will pay the creator driving traffic to the site. The practice — thought to have died alongside blogging — has been revived by influencers. Moore, who posts outfit ideas and style recommendations, includes a call-to-action with almost every video or photo: comment “NEED” and she’ll send links to everything in the post.Now, Moore is teaching others that method through the Strategic Influencer Academy, a virtual community for BIPOC content creators looking to make a living without relying on advertising partnerships, a practice with a history of pay discrimination.Enrollment begins at $997 and caps at 30 students who receive three to six months of personalized coaching from Moore, info sessions with popular e-commerce platform LTK, and a year’s access to an online library of 30-plus virtual lessons on how to create shoppable social media posts. The academy had a 5,200-person waitlist before its first cohort began in February, Moore said. All of her students are women of color.“The biggest misconception new creators have is that brands will just come to you and want to work with you if you’re producing good content,” said Moore, 27, who is Black. “Brands don’t, and if they do, pay is a mixed bag.”Most influencers don’t make money from posting, but the creator economy’s compensation issues get worse when you factor in race. White content creators stand to make 29% more than non-white ones for advertising on behalf of brands, giving influencer marketing a reputation for socioeconomic inequality.The Strategic Influencer Academy’s logic, then, is that BIPOC influencers focus on what they can control — how they convert their followers’ trust into sales — instead what they can’t: How much value corporations place on their followers.» READ MORE: 20 must-follow Philly TikTok accounts, from Door Dashers and rappers to Gritty“I have to turn down so many brand deals because these companies keep lowballing me,” said Rasheena Liberté, 33, a Black fashion influencer enrolled in Moore’s academy. “I want to be in charge of my income, and right now I’m not.”Teaching influencers to influenceBelow the part of the creator economy that sells you stuff is another one where influencers sell the concept of financial freedom — via dropshipping, flipping houses, or dozens of other self-employment trends.» READ MORE: This Philly creator made Beyoncé’s viral disco hat — then came the dropshippers.These courses are especially popular during times of socioeconomic tumult like now, when mass layoffs spark renewed interest in entrepreneurship, said Brooke Duffy, an associate professor at Cornell University who studies the creator economy.That interest already existed in communities of color, where hustle culture has been glorified, said Lindsey Cameron, an assistant professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.“We’re talking about people who don’t get access to the traditional labor market in a straightforward way,” said Cameron. “Spending time talking about beauty products you already use or how you care for your child — or just commodifying your lifestyle — can seem like a great option among a set of bad options.”Online influencing courses can be hit or miss, said Duffy. Since social media platforms constantly tinker with their algorithms, tips on creating viral content have a finite shelf life. Lessons focused on business savvy, like realizing the worth of your personal brand or mitigating risk, however, are evergreen.Moore is quick to differentiate the Strategic Influencer Academy from the standard influencer-led course. For one thing, Moore said, she’s “not profiting off people’s hopes and dreams” by hawking get-rich-quick schemes.» READ MORE: Greg Parker, Philly financial influencer, accused of real estate scam after encouraging investments in derelict propertiesFor another, the academy places the oldest business advice in the book — diversifying your revenue streams — in context of content creation, where brand partnerships can at first seem like the end-all-be-all.“Going viral is cute and all, but it’s not sustainable,” said Moore, who said she didn’t start earning six figures from content creation until she stopped chasing brand deals (and went full-time after being laid off from her day job as a project manager).Part of the reason why Moore pushes affiliate marketing, then, is that commission percentages are standardized, so BIPOC creators don’t have to wonder if a brand is cheating them.Liberté, who has been a full-time influencer since 2020, said Moore’s lessons have taught her plenty, such as how to create marketing automations, plan content weeks in advance, and — most importantly — set goals while being patient with herself.Liberté said she made around $70,000 from brand deals and $6,000 from affiliate marketing in 2023. This year, she hopes to earn $70,000 from each.“What I appreciate about the Strategic Influencer is that the information is concise, clear, and easy to replicate, said Liberté, who is based in New York City.Still, Duffy cautions aspiring influencers about thinking of affiliate marketing as a guaranteed money maker, especially as recession fears are causing consumers to curb spending.Even if creators aren’t tied to brand deals, they’re “still dependent on the financial health of a particular section of the economy,” said Duffy. “No one knows what’s going to be the most successful.”Navigating the influencer opportunity gapThough the creator economy is largely powered by trends from BIPOC creators, the industry is rigged against rewarding them. Even if successful, Moore’s students are still left to navigate a deliberate lack of pay transparency, platforms that suppress Black content creators for talking about their Blackness, and burnout.“The promise is to democratize information, right? That’s very different from the economic reality,” said Duffy. “There is a need for responses like these to inequity, but there are also so many barriers. Who can afford to participate in educational programs? Who has the time and energy to keep up with the algorithms? Who is able to network?”» READ MORE: This Philly woman went mega-viral by mocking gross cooking TikToks. Like many Black creators, her fame hasn’t been profitable.By the end of their first year as influencers, white content creators are twice as likely as Black ones to have landed their first paid partnership with a brand — “a delay that ultimately impedes their long term success,” according to a 2023 survey of 550 influencers from communications agency MSL.That disparity sets up a large opportunity gap: 77% of Black influencers are considered micro-influencers with less than 100,000 followers and average annual pay of $27,000, according to another study from MSL, compared with 59% of white influencers.In practice, this can look like some Black influencers going into debt to keep up while many white ones are gifted free goodies, or Black influencers getting paid less, even if their followers are more engaged.“When I get a brand deal, brands want me to do everything under the sun for the bare minimum. And then I’ll see other white creators work with the same brand and it’s like they just have to stand there and try on a shirt,” said Liberté. “It’s a slap in the face.”These problems don’t disappear when you hit the big time, either. Moore said a brand recently asked her to create 15 marketing deliverables — including social media posts, videos, and sitting on strategy calls — for just $2,700. By industry standards, that work could pay tens of thousands of dollars.“It doesn’t matter what you do as a Black woman. You’re gonna get lowballed every time,” Moore said.There are other roadblocks just within affiliate marketing.Success relies on your followers regularly seeing your content, which can be difficult on platforms like TikTok (which has an algorithm experts say is riddled with racial bias) or Instagram (which once had a safety filter that blocked content from Black creators about race) or YouTube (which just went to court over claims that it restricts views based on race).“The emphasis on affiliate marketing does not by itself address the root problems of fairness, equity, and bias,” said Michelle Darnell, the director of Tarriff Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business. “But it can have a positive impact on people who are suffering the symptoms of those things right now.”In order for the academy to have its intended impact, Darnell argued that corporations must do their part by increasing pay transparency, for example, or publicizing the demographics of their influencer roster.Right now, however, Moore’s focus is teaching BIPOC influencers to have a mindset of abundance.“The system has us thinking that there’s only so many spots for Black creators,” said Moore. “I don’t believe that.”

https://www.inquirer.com/life/philadelphia-fashion-influencer-bipoc-pay-disparity-20240309.html

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