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Social media influencers call for respect in the industry

Johannesburg – Content creation has become a front-page profession as the digital age evolves.

South Africa was quickly highlighted as one of the countries to watch. The rise of the social media influencer gave South Africans Trevor Stuurman, Pamela Mtanga, Lasizwe Dambuza, Sergio Ines and Sarah Langa a global platform to grow their careers.

They use the world as their workplace. Influencer marketing came to fruition through the rise of the photo-sharing application Instagram and the video platform YouTube. Corporate marketing agencies didn’t wait long to jump on the wagon and enlist their services.

If only their desire to work with influencers were reflected in their financial compensation. Several influencers have criticised brands and marketing firms for being delinquent in payments for completed campaigns.

In 2022, popular influencer Mihlali Ndamase went on Instagram and publicly urged companies Vodacom and Malfy Gin, among others, she had worked with to pay her due monies.

“As much as I love you, I didn’t leave my house and shoot content for free. When are you paying me sana?” she asked Vodacom in an Instagram story post.

She asked a similar question to the alcohol brand Malfy Gin on the platform. “Hayike sana, months of not paying me as a brand ambassador. Can we talk? Bigger person ushonile, I want my money.”

Ndamase followed up with posts that she received payments and apologised for publicly blasting them. However, she wasn’t alone in the condemnation. Beauty influencer Foyin Ogunrombi said that much of the existing friction was due to disrespect and selective bias. She said the long wait for payments felt unreasonable for those who did influencing for a living.

“One of the senses is that we’re not respected as a profession, and people do see fit to do whatever they want because since you are an individual, not an institution, company, or an agency, they feel like there’s leeway in how they can treat you,” Ogunrombi said.

“Secondly, there is no recourse or consequences for late payments. Even if it’s contractually obligated, they just get away with it. So they just won’t pay.”

Lawyer Tracey-Lee Lusty (owner of Fitnessgirl on Instagram) shared similar sentiments on the frustration of content creators.

“Unfortunately influencer marketing is still very unregulated in South Africa. I think some brands over-commit and then run into cash flow issues that cause these unfair delays,” Lusty said.

Lusty recollected having to find the relevant agents through LinkedIn to get her payments.

“It’s not a pleasant experience and should be completely unnecessary if the brand and the agency would just adhere to their own contract terms,” she said.

Nyiko Baloyi, the founder of Influencer Agency, said much of the process involving recruitment for campaigns would result in an agreed contract between parties with a stipulated budget and payment terms. This is done after a selection process based on the creator’s media kit, social media metrics or rate card.

“The agreement will state what is expected of the influencer and all the terms and conditions of the campaign. Its purpose is to protect both us as an agency and the influencer,” Baloyi said.

Regarding the friction over late payments, Baloyi said that much of that stemmed from a lack of professionalism. Hayley Wessels, of global agency IndaHash, said they were an exception.

“When it comes to people being paid, it is always a very sensitive topic. Delayed payment can cause the influencers to get upset with the clients just in the same way as the client will get upset with the influencers when they are late in supplying their content,” she said.

“In South Africa we usually have a clause in our agreements and contracts with the influencers that they will get paid for the work done once we have received the funds from the client. The clients are aware of this agreement and do understand the implications of late payments.”

Ogunnrombi said that while she understood that there were individuals within agencies who may have a bias against influencers, she didn’t believe it should contribute to the disrespect towards them. Influencers fund their social media projects from their own pockets, in addition to the budgets supplied.

“There is an element of disrespect. However, I will not extend that to every agency but I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t exist,” she said.

Wessels disagreed on this point. “I am speaking on behalf of IndaHash, but I am sure many in the industry will have the same opinion as me. We value creators as they are extremely influential and the work they create is outstanding,” she said.

“They form an integral part not only of the campaigns but of our modern society and they are respected just as much as anyone else in the industry.”

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