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Jacent Wamala is a licensed marriage therapist servicing women of color. The Las Vegas native was surprised when she was approached for her first influencer campaign in 2018 — she had only 2,000 followers on Instagram at the time — and was compensated for it.
Little did Wamala know that the client’s interest in her was part of what is now the marketing industry’s next big hope for success: Black influencers.
As the U.S. economy battles to recover from a deep recession sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, and the country grapples with unrest following the killing of George Floyd, Black influencers are emerging as critical for marketers who are trying to target an African American audience that for decades was seen as secondary at best.
Trend and insight publication Another Insight listed only two microinfluencers of color among their top 40 microinfluencers — i.e., those with 5,000 to 15,000 followers on major social platforms — in 2016. Three years later, in 2019, the report listed 10 microinfluencers of color. The influencers span travel, food, lifestyle, fashion, fitness, motherhood and beauty. The growing market for influencers of color is evident, albeit less markedly, at the other end of the spectrum, with the biggest celebrity Instagram influencers in the world. Only two of the top 10 in this category were POC in 2017. In 2019, that number had doubled.
When Comfy Girl With Curls blogger Kaya Tomash returned to influencer marketing in 2018, after stepping away for a couple of years, she was surprised to see how the market had expanded. Colette Coleman, an influencer with 2,500 followers on Instagram, says the wellness space, which she’s a part of, used to be dominated by wealthy white women but brands are now opening up. Wamala benefited from that: She was approached to be an ambassador with FNX (Fenix Nutrition) — a brand specializing in functional fitness supplements and gear — with lifetime deals, unprovoked.
BLACK INFLUENCERS HAVE MUCH CLOSER AND PERSONAL CONNECTIONS TO THEIR AUDIENCE AND THAT GIVES THEM A REALLY BIG LEG UP.
DAKARI DUNNING, COMMUNITY MANAGER, SPARKLOFT MEDIA
A large reason is that the power of the Black dollar can no longer be ignored. A 2019 Nielsen report showed that Black buying power has grown fourfold from 1990 to $1.3 trillion in 2018. While white buying power increased by 89 percent between 2000 and 2018, Black purchasing power grew 114 percent in that period. Needless to say, that doesn’t ameliorate the deep-seated economic disparity along racial lines that still blights America: The median household income for Black families is 40 percent lower than for white families. But African Americans in total represent a consumer market unlike ever before. And with $15 billion expected to be spent on influencer marketing by 2022, brands are well-aware of that. Amid the racial churn in the U.S., they also know that they need to go beyond what they’ve done in the past to regain the trust of the African American community.
It isn’t just the growing size of the market that brands want to capitalize on. Minority communities are typically more tight-knit, which makes influencers even more critical in targeting customers at a time when people are spending less. “Where minority influencers have an advantage is their connections,” says Dakari Dunning, community manager at Sparkloft Media, a social media agency that runs an influencer program. “Black influencers have much closer and personal connections to their audience and that gives them a really big leg up.”
Dunning says that in each of the last three campaigns he’s worked on, the client or the strategist has emphasized “the surging popularity of Black social and how large of a market and how much potential is there.”
Part of the reason why that potential is finally being recognized is due to the changing nature of influencer marketing. Previously, the term “influencer” referred to a celebrity, athlete or public figure with a coveted blue check beside their social handle and a million followers. They represented a cookie-cutter standard of beauty, were already rich and famous and were thought best-suited to drive traffic. For a while, it worked. But trends now show consumers want more-intimate connections than traditional influencers can deliver.
That’s why marketers are focusing all the way down to nano-influencers (1,000 to 5,000 followers), who, research shows, generate 85 percent higher engagement than influencers with 100,000 followers.
Racial discrimination is still very much present in the influencer industry. Last year, several Black influencers posted vlogs with examples of how they were treated differently on campaign trips compared with their White counterparts. Some companies might sign on talent just to check the boxes given their newfound focus on the Black market, industry experts say. It’s something that some talent agencies are already watching out for.
“When they say, ‘We need diversity,’ we don’t make assumptions. We say, ‘What does that mean to you?’” says Tami Nealy, communications director at Find Your Influencer, an influencer technology platform. “If they’re not making it a point to ask for diversity when we deliver a list of sample influencers for them, we always include it.”
So what should you do if you’re a person of color, sitting on an engaging social media following with a niche you love? The easy answer would seem to be capitalize and get paid. But Tomash says it’s not that simple: “I would say stop and think … before diving in. Write down a mission statement or goal, think about what makes you unique.” As the competition grows in the Black influencer market, that’ll help the best stand out.