MSL analysis: More conversation, but not as much action, happening on creator pay disparity

Advocacy dominated social media conversation about racial disparities while action in the form of unionization and negotiation trailed.

(Photo credit: Getty Images).

NEW YORK: The volume of conversations about creator pay equity is increasing, but they are focused much more on advocacy than specific actions such as unionization and negotiation, according to an 18-month listening analysis by MSL. 

The analysis examined earned and social media mentions of creator pay disparity globally, focused on the English language. It most frequently observed conversations about Black creators receiving less compensation than their white counterparts.

“The loudest voices are from Black influencers and about Black influencers,” said Shreya Mukherjee, MSL U.S. chief strategy officer. “That still continues to be the loudest and the most frequent voice.”

Since MSL began the analysis in August 2020, there’s been an uptick in white creators, namely those from Gen Z, speaking out about pay inequity, Mukherjee added.

MSL relied on Google Insights, Brandwatch and Newswhip to pull data from news stories, blogs, forums and social platforms including Reddit, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr. Mukherjee and her team organized data by timeframe and conversation topics such as Black influencers, compensation, advocacy and diversity.

Conversations about Black influencers increased 120% year-over-year between the start of the analysis and its end in November 2022.

When focusing on mentions of action, advocacy was the topic of conversation six times more often than terms such as unionization, negotiation and commitments.

“This is an industry-wide cohesive effort,” Mukherjee said. “We just have to move the advocacy needle to action, and that has to happen as a collective force.”

In December 2021, MSL released the results of its Time to Face the Influencer Pay Gap study, which was conducted in collaboration with creator training company The Influencer League. It found that the median annual income level for white creators was about $67,000 while Black creators made just under $44,000. Meanwhile, BIPOC creators overall earned more than $47,000 per year. 

Additionally, 77% of Black creators were classified as ‘micro’ creators, meaning they had fewer than 50,000 followers. The median annual income in that category was just under $28,000. Sixty percent of white creators were classified as ‘micro.’

In its listening analysis, MSL observed a 170% increase in earned media conversation and a 62% jump in social media conversation between its study’s release in December 2021 and the analysis’ end in November 2022.

Despite conversations about the topic spiking globally, the racial pay advantage white creators have persists. MSL U.K. released its Just Influence 2022 report in September and observed a 22% pay gap between Black and white creators.

Still, Mukherjee emphasized that conversations are an important part of driving change.

“We may not see a clear moment of change; this is a systemic issue,” she said. “Conversation becomes the driving catalyst of change over time.”

MSL is also planning to release a data-backed standard of fair pay called the Influencer Pay Index in Q1. The index will rely on benchmarking data showing the trajectory of pay disparities at different points in creators’ careers.

“The benchmarks are intended to be an educational tool,” said Rob Davis, chief digital innovation officer at MSL. “We’re just trying to get as much information in the marketplace as possible so that when people are working with influencers and making influencer contracts, they have some guidelines.”

Creators can use those guidelines to strengthen their negotiations as well, Davis added.

“It’s not just on the brands and agencies, but the influencers themselves need this education and they need to know what to ask for,” Davis said. “The more that we can help them and educate them, the better it is for everybody.”

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