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These Influencers Are Challenging One Of The Largest Ambassador Marketing Companies To Show Receipts

Story of a black creative's life, right?

Business

When I think of an influencer, I think of hard-working individuals who produces fresh content tailor-made for their following. Everyone is an influencer in their own right so there are different types of influencersMega, Macro, Micro, and Nano. Within these varying categories, there is a myriad of opportunities for influencers to partner with brands of all kinds. But, let's be honest, the influencer space is predominantly white. This means that influencers of color have to work twice as hard for the same opportunities as white influencers. Imagine being an influencer of color and learning that your work is valued less than that of your white counterparts. Story of a black creative's life, right?

The 2020 revolution is forcing the world to stop and listen to black folks. Thanks to a pandemic within a pandemic, society is finally hearing the cries of black people. Granted, we have been saying "per my last email" to injustice for decades but we will take what we can get at this point. Unfortunately, injustices happen to us in all spaces. For that reason, heavyweight influencers like Aicha Balde and Marche Robinson created the #OpenFohr campaign.

In case you don't know about Fohr, let me learn you something. Fohr is a global influencer marketing platform for ambassadors and brands. The goal of the platform is to provide influencers with tools that help them create a cutting edge marketing strategy, leading them to partnerships and campaigns. Fohr proudly states, "We support influencers. We are nothing without our influencer community, and we act accordingly." And like many other companies, Fohr jumped on the trend to pause advertisements and post anti-racism resources amidst the civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd. The gag is, they don't walk it like they talk it. For years, Black and Brown influencers have made it their business to share their grievances with being underpaid and there has not been any change.

That's where Aicha and Marche come in. We had the chance to dig deeper into this movement and what it means to these amazing women.

xoNecole: Tell us about yourself and how you became an influencer.

Aicha Balde: My name is Aissatou Balde but only my dad calls me Aissatou, everyone else knows me as Aicha. I am a West African-born full-time working mom and a Black content creator (@talesandturbans). My journey as a content creator started as an outlet to empower African [and] Muslim girls like me to do things that seemed impossible, such as juggling school, family, and work. Today, I pride myself in creating a space for open and difficult conversations about motherhood, identity, and life, along with the fun stuff like fashion, skincare, and food.

Marche Robinson: I'm Marche Robinson and I am an attorney and blogger (@marcherobinson) living in Raleigh, NC. I've been blogging since 2012. I graduated law school in 2010 and the market was very bad. There were not a lot of legal jobs. I took a contract role in Charlotte and at the time I had an inconsistent working schedule and needed something creative to fill the time. I started reading blogs and my friends and family told me I should start one. So, in August of 2012, I launched my blog and initially just shared fashion, beauty and décor images I found online.

​Why did you start the OpenFohr movement?

Aicha & Marche: A group of eight Black content creators - Aissata Diallo, Denisse Myrick, Valerie Eguavoen, Yvette Corinne, Marche' Robinson, Nasteha Yusuf, and Nuni Yusuf, and I started #OpenFohr as a next step in a series of interventions against racism at Fohr. Over the past two years, we have complained, explained, consulted, and recommended solutions to Fohr, but our voices have been silenced with polished campaigns that convince the mainstream media that Fohr is a changemaker in the content creation space.

Agencies like Fohr have capitalized on the growing call for "diversity and inclusion" in the influencer industry without really making any changes to their exploitative and discriminatory practices. We created the OpenFohr campaign because we cannot allow people to keep exploiting the anti-racist narrative for profits. Over the past two weeks, as the Black Lives Matter movement took center stage in the public discourse, Fohr paused its advertising, posted protest resources, and even provided anti-racism resources on Instagram. Yet, many of the Black content creators who have worked with them are discriminated against and underpaid.

We also want people to know that this is about both racism and economic exploitation. Fohr boasts over 100,000 (majority-white) influencers on their online platform, yet only 4% (just over 4,000) content creators have ever had a contract with Fohr. They have created a platform that does not value influencers as people but sees them as a commodity to be sold to brands. It is impossible to address the issues we see at Fohr without addressing the culture of consumerism and exploitation perpetrated by the industry.

Left to Right: Aicha Balde, Marche Robinson

Photos Courtesy of Aicha Balde & Marche Robinson

"We want people to know that this is about both racism and economic exploitation. Fohr boasts over 100,000 (majority-white) influencers on their online platform, yet only 4% (just over 4,000) content creators have ever had a contract with Fohr. They have created a platform that does not value influencers as people but sees them as a commodity to be sold to brands. It is impossible to address the issues we see at Fohr without addressing the culture of consumerism and exploitation perpetrated by the industry."

​What does it mean to be a Black influencer?

Aicha: To be a Black influencer means showing up in spaces where you may not be wanted and still doing it for girls who look like you. I learned the hard way that brands tend to gravitate more towards bloggers that fit the standard of beauty. For a long time, I thought, "Blogging isn't for me because I don't look 'the part'." Even photographers have blatantly told me that they don't know how to edit my skin tone, completely unwilling to learn and unable to even recommend an alternative contact. The biggest challenge of being so diverse in this business is finding people who can understand you and won't crush your confidence. I blog to remind myself and others that we are good enough; our diversity is an asset, not a drawback.

Marche: When I first started out, being a Black influencer meant filling a void. Fashion magazines and sites rarely shared Black women. They still have a very long way to go so I still feel this way. I feel like influencing is a way to share fashion, beauty, etc with women who can relate to me. It's not easy for Black women to open a magazine and see a woman like them sharing their story or their favorite products. If it were not for Black influencers, there would not be as much representation.

​When you learned of the influencer pay gap, how did you feel?

Aicha: These issues are not new. Black bloggers have been discussing our unfair treatment in the Influential Marketing world for years, but to no avail. What finally broke the camel's back was the fact that Fohr had the audacity to use the #BlackLivesMatter issue to their advantage despite their repertoire of exploiting us. When I say us, I don't just mean Black content creators. This includes their Black employees who cannot speak out about their treatment for fear of being ostracized.

Marche: Honestly, I was not surprised. Pay gaps are present in every industry unfortunately. I've been in the position where I was drastically underpaid than my legal colleagues in certain jobs even though I had the same or more experience. It's unfortunate because I think that we've become accustomed to being undervalued. I also feel like there is this veil of secrecy that prevents you from discussing your pay, so you can sometimes feel like you have negotiated the best rate when you didn't.

Left to Right: Aicha Balde, Marche Robinson

Photos Courtesy of Aicha Balde & Marche Robinson

"Pay gaps are present in every industry unfortunately. I've been in the position where I was drastically underpaid than my legal colleagues in certain jobs even though I had the same or more experience. It's unfortunate because I think that we've become accustomed to being undervalued. I also feel like there is this veil of secrecy that prevents you from discussing your pay, so you can sometimes feel like you have negotiated the best rate when you didn't."

​What are your demands of Fohr?

Aicha & Marche: Fohr must stop treating this movement as a PR nightmare to hide from and instead, face it as the call to accountability of their actions and inactions over the years. You cannot have an entitled and unaware homogenous-white staff leading an organization and expect to get it right. You will always miss the mark because there's no one to say otherwise. Lack of diversity is how you end up taking advantage of Black creators and complain when you get called out. Fohr needs an independent outside party to look at their structure and provide constructive criticism. Most importantly, Fohr needs an HR department. You cannot fairly police yourself. We know that, so let's change that.

Why do you think it's important for Fohr to show their authentic commitment to Black influencers?

Aicha: I personally don't think Fohr is capable of being authentic to their Black influencers. This was never something that was on their agenda. As I said, this conversation has been going on for over two years but nothing has changed. The creation of The Fohr Freshman Class was a result of Fohr getting called out for lack of diversity, and yet they still failed us. It is essential for authentic commitments to happen because Black content creators are as deserving of our space in this sphere as much as anyone else. We are here and we matter.

Marche: Fohr should show authentic commitment because they have consistently held themselves out to be supportive of diversity and leader in the influencer marketing industry. How can you hold yourself out to be so groundbreaking when you lack diversity within your organizing and with the bloggers you hire for campaigns? I think there is this tendency for people to say, "Oh that's just the industry," but that doesn't make it right. People should be paid adequately for the service they provide.

Left to Right: Aicha Balde, Marche Robinson

Photos Courtesy of Aicha Balde & Marche Robinson

"It is essential for authentic commitments to happen because Black content creators are as deserving of our space in this sphere as much as anyone else. We are here and we matter."

What advice do you have for other influencers struggling to create?

Aicha: Do things that come naturally to you and that revolve around your day-to-day life. Reach out to another sister to have a creativity party and get ideas flowing. Most of my Insta family will tell you that my DMs are always open, whether it's for help, a listening ear, or to celebrate each other: I'm here for you, sis.

Marche: So many influencers have had to pivot during quarantine and now with the current movements. I think that you have to share what you are passionate about. When you do what you love it comes naturally. I actually started a TikTok account and it's been fun to create content in a new way and it has resonated a lot with my social media followers. I think this is a great time to step back and think of a new way to create and share what you love.

To keep up with the #OpenFohr movement, follow them on Instagram @openfohr. And follow Marche and Aicha on Instagram @talesandturbans and @marcherobinson.

Feature Image Courtesy of Aicha Balde & Marche Robinson

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