YouTube influencer AndreasChoice

For years, “brands” have been paying “ordinary” “people” to “mention” their products in meaningless, easily ignored social media posts. This is called “influencer marketing,” and it’s collapsing. Fantastic, because it was a bullshit enterprise to begin with.

Once brands began to realize that some dipshit’s Vine account wasn’t going to make cans of Ragu or whatever go flying off the shelves, “influencers” cried foul. After all, their way of life–waking up, posting an Instagram of a cereal box, tweeting about laxatives, calling it a day—was threatened. They’d found a tremendous scam, and it sucks when your easy money train gets derailed. (I get it! I’ll be just as upset when blogging dies.)

The blowback looked like this:

Even MTV News was angry about the prospect of not being able to make a living typing proper nouns into an app caption. Amber Discko, a former Creative Strategist at Tumblr, has become a sort of Spartacus figure among the disgruntled, entitled influencer class. She’s also the person behind “Who Pays Influencers,” a new website aimed at exposing the payment practices of brands, much in the same way that Who Pays Writers has become a great source of transparency and accountability for freelancers. A key difference between that at “Who Pays Influencers,” though, is that writing can be good and worthwhile, while advertisements from a social media figure are always scummy. Who Pays Influencers has flung open the drapes and brought sunshine to the influencer economy, but instead of making it clear that these Viners are being exploited, it’s made it clear just how moronic this whole thing is.

Here are some reports, both satisfactory and aggrieved, from the people who think they should be paid for using Instagram and Vine, all of which appear on “Who Pays Influencers”:

Cutty Sark Whiskey via their agency at the time Ammirati/Resource, paid $700 as well as one case of various Cutty Sark whiskey products for ten abstract instagram posts, Whiskey (to shoot) provided upon contract, payment provided within two weeks.

American Express, Agency was High Road Communications. Paid $800 for 2 Instagram/Twitter posts, paid within 30 days, great to work with.

HP/Intel via Collectively (agency). Was paid $1000 + tablet for 1 Instagram, 1 blog post and 2 photos that were included in a Vine. Paid within 90 days

Honda paid $10,000 for a 2 minute youtube video that featured a car they loaned me and three of the features. Pay was $5,000 up front, $5,000 at delivery. They were really on top of it.

After working on a project with them, they asked me to post it to my instagram with their copy. I don’t have a huge following so I asked for $1k, they said they only had $500. Idk how this massive company could only have 500$ lying around. Didn’t respond to their email and they came back with $1k the next day. payment was 2 weeks late. Verizon is a shifty company and if I had known about the shifty way they treat their workers I wouldn’t have taken on this job. fuck verizon

I was offered $10,000 by Pepsi to record and broadcast songs on the piano that incorporated aspects of the Pepsi taste/brand, and when I showed them my work I was told to “fuck off” by an executive and paid nothing. Disgusting.

That last one is fake. I posted it on Who Pays Influencers as a joke, but it doesn’t really look out of place, and clearly no one at the site is vetting these accounts anyway. I’m not sure which of those should make me feel more chagrined.

This is what people are so afraid could be going away?? The chance to make $1,000 from a semiconductor company for posting “1 Instagram, 1 blog post and 2 photos that were included in a Vine”? The confluence of capitalism and cheap circuitboards has done so much to upend and devalue photography, journalism, illustration, and so forth—and we should defend a system that allows someone to make “$800 for 2 Instagram/Twitter posts”? The Influencer Economy isn’t an economy, it’s a market irrationality. It’s bonkers that anyone thought it was a good idea, and for once, companies are self-correcting in the face of so much wasted money—they’ve realized that $500 here and $800 there to pimp Starbucks and Intel probably isn’t actually doing anything. There’s a reason why Wheaties wants Stephen Curry, Nike wants LeBron James, and diet tea hawkers want the Kardashians—gratuitously overpaid endorsements tend to work better when people care about and admire the person doing the endorsement.

So when you read an anonymous social media executive say “Brands are going to start realizing the amount of followers you have doesn’t mean shit” and “Just because photos look good and have 200,000 followers means nothing,” this is a good thing. It’s so, so rare for a “brand” to act like anything other than a terrified, rabid money amoeba. Be glad they’re thinking this through. Don’t mourn the influencer—they were never real to begin with.