Influencer Marketing Reflects A Social Media Diversity Issue

image of Black man below a glowing neon sign showing heart symbol and a 0 to represent 0 likes on social media, as part of the article on how influencer marketing reflects a social media diversity issue

Remember the debate around Twitter and its cropping algorithm?

Several users pointed out that there was a tendency for people with dark colored skin to be cropped out of preview views in favor of people with lighter complexions.

Twitter recently nixed its photo cropping feature entirely because users were right, according to Twitter’s software engineering director.

Internal research showed photos were indeed being cropped in favor of White people over Black people.

It’s great symbolism for how non-white users tend to be overlooked on social media in general. 

The top influencers on every social media platform always tend to be white.

The lack of diversity and visibility holds steady for both celebrities and other personalities.

If you ask most people to name who they believe to be the most successful social media influencer, most of the names will be the same. 

The D’Amelio sisters. PewDiePie. David Dobrik. Cameron Dallas. Jen Selter. Jake & Logan Paul.

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White social media influencers and content creators get more coverage, more visibility and more brand partnerships.

Late night talk show host Jimmy Fallon tapped influencer Addison Rae to showcase TikTok dances over any of the countless BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) content creators for a reason.

Yes, she has a higher follower count. 

But there was certainly a calculation to pick someone who had an image presumed to appeal to the most mainstream American viewers.

Inclusion and Influencer Marketing

Brands and the media most often highlight white social media influencers when speaking to mainstream audiences. 

They tap BIPOC influencers or content creators when they want to target niche or minority communities.

That’s despite the fact that nearly every single viral social media trend, TikTok dance, or slang term originates with BIPOC content creators.

Specifically Black culture is noticeably influential on mainstream social media trends. I’m talking about everything from slang like “tea” or “on fleek” to viral TikTok dances like the choreography for rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s chart-topping song Savage that dominated for months. 

All of which brands have eagerly sought to capitalize on.

Without showing proper appreciation for the communities behind them.

@jalaiahharmon

happy international dance day!!😎💕 dc:/ @chuckygonwild

♬ original sound – chucky gon wild

It’s documented that the majority of non-white social media influencers are paid significantly less for promotions and sponsorships than White influencers. That’s regardless of follower counts. It also doesn’t take into account when the BIPOC influencers are direct creators of viral creative content.

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Black influencer Adesuwa Ajayi created an Instagram called Influencer Pay Gap that shares submissions from others who have received unfair compensation for brand partnerships.

Part of the issue is the ongoing perception I mentioned above. 

The belief that White influencers have more widespread appeal and will drive more results.

top social media influencer infographic shows lack of diversity (by visualcapitalist.com)

Not to mention the misconception that White consumers have stronger buying power.

What makes this all stranger is that Black and Hispanic audiences engage more with social media content and spend more time on platforms, according to a Facebook study. 

In addition, another survey found that 55% of Black Millennials spend at least one hour a day on social networking sites (6% more than all Millennials) and 29% say they spend at least three hours a day, 9% higher than all Millennials.

chart of self-reported daily time spent on social media published by nielsen scarborough usa research in 2015 shows that black people people in america use social media more than the total population

And overall “Black and Hispanic users…consumed 137% more streaming video” than all other users across the board.  

So you’d think brands would be eager to work with creators who could offer insight into connecting with this key demographic on social media. 

The Perfect Social Media Influencer

It’s not just brands and the media that are responsible for the overshadowing of BIPOC influencers, though. 

PAPER published a report including a composite image of the “perfect” social media influencer, based on the top 100 most popular Instagram accounts.

The result was a White woman.

perfect social media influencer composite image created by PAPER magazine depicting a caucasian woman's face

Out of the top 100 Instagram influencers (celebrities not included): 

  • 9% are Black, 
  • 7% are Asian, 
  • 2% are Middle Eastern.

About half are White, non-Hispanic.

Only 19% are over age 30. 

Social Media Algorithms Have a Diversity Problem

an analysis of the 100 top influencer accounts on instagram (not including celebrities outside of social media) shows a lack of diversity of representation, as the majority of influencers are not people of color and also under the age of 30

Social media algorithms zero in on young white faces and features to determine which content to highlight in spotlight or showcase areas of the apps.

Research shows artificial intelligence systems developed by leading tech companies struggle to recognize or categorize the faces of Asian or dark-skinned people and women.

Facial recognition algorithms display the most trouble with identifying Black women. Even celebrities like Oprah and Serena Williams go unrecognized or miscategorized.

There was the case of Zoom removing Black faces entirely.

And even the case of a programmer calling out the AI behind the Google Photos app for categorizing Black people as gorillas instead of humans.

The bulk of the problem is that algorithms created by US-based tech companies have a lack of training data and resources. 

The technology is created by mostly men and then trained with mostly images of White people.

The Future of Diversity Social Media Influencer Marketing

And Twitter isn’t the only platform that’s been called out for favoring White users.

In 2020, shortly after the videotaped murder of George Floyd, a number of social media users began calling out multiple platforms for suppressing the voices of BIPOC creators on the apps.

TikTok released an apology afterward admitting that the platform had work to do in reviewing equal opportunity for content by all users to be showcased.

Creators pointed out that numerous videos and trends they uploaded would receive minimal likes and attention. But then a white user would repost and the algorithm would elevate that content to be viewed on a much more widespread basis, diminishing the role of the original BIPOC creator.

To address another concern raised, TikTok also committed to review policies in place to protect users from harassment and hate.

Women and BIPOC content creators have long voiced their concerns around privacy and safety across social media. 

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Social media moderation is an area long neglected.

In general, many social media users have begun to look for micro-communities to establish social online spaces without the fear of trolling and abuse that have become prevalent on major platforms.

But is the solution really to push diverse users away from the main platforms?

With more conversation around the importance of diversity and inclusion, social media platforms definitely need to take the challenge of better support for all users and creators.

Improving the experience for BIPOC users would translate into improvements for everyone by enriching all our content feeds with widespread representation of ideas and images, as well as more safety in general.

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