This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here (and you should, ’cause we just revamped it).
For months now, concerns over a possible recession have fueled conversations on social media about the economy — the changes people are seeing in their day-to-day lives and what else it might impact. And as companies rethink their spending strategies, the influencer economy is one of the many areas being affected as small and midsize content creators tell BuzzFeed News they’ve been seeing declining sponsorship offers and more brands backing out of paid deals this year.
Karla Alverio, 27, is a Puerto Rico–based vegan micro influencer with more than 12,000 followers on Instagram. She told BuzzFeed News that this year she’s seen more opportunities fall through the cracks, including a short-term two-month paid sponsorship that she thought would ramp up to something bigger. “I got invited to a very exclusive event with eight other content creators,” she said. “And in that event, they offered us a long-term partnership. I still haven't got it.”
She saw a similar pattern unfold earlier this year with another company. “We were having conversations, doing all the processes, and then out of nowhere it just stopped,” she said.
Peter Lee, 22, is a food TikToker with over 438,000 followers. He said he’s seen fewer opportunities in his inbox since the beginning of the year. “I think some content creators have managers and agents that reach out to companies and do all those things for them,” Lee said. “I don't have that luxury to afford a manager or agent, so getting brand deals is all up to me.”
Tobias Buxhoidt, the CEO and founder of parcelLab, a data software that works with retail brands to track operations, said companies’ rising concerns about a recession has led to lower marketing budgets, which in turn puts less money on the table for influencers.
“Brands are used to spending a tremendous amount of money and effort to find and convert customers into buying something, and influencer marketing is one hot topic,” he said. “We see a trend that it just becomes harder and harder to find and acquire customers. So it becomes more expensive. And we see brands become more cautious about what’s going to happen. Some are already kind of getting ready for the recession to hit on a broader base.”
Tess Chung, 37, a makeup influencer with more than 30,000 followers on Instagram, said she feels a similar way. “I think the most scary thing is just not financially stable,” she said.
Chung said she’s currently using her savings to focus on her channel, having worked as a makeup artist in Taiwan and China for years. Even with most of her professional energy being focused on Instagram, her lack of income and financial back are some of the reasons she doesn’t feel comfortable calling herself a full-time creator yet.
“A lot of people who I think are full-time creators, they post like three times a day on TikTok, like, maybe on [Instagram] Reels at least two times a day,” she said. “And, of course, the sponsorships and stuff that make it sustainable.”
It’s hard to just call yourself a full-time creator without the confidence that you could pay your bills from it, Alverio said.
But at the same time, all the influencers said money wasn’t their top concern. Making content also just takes a lot of time. Lee said some TikToks can take him three hours to film. Alverio said she spends around six hours developing recipes. There’s also pressure to stay up on the constantly changing social media landscape.
“There's something different every single day, another thing to do,” Alverio said. “And it definitely feels like if you don't do this, if you don't do that new thing, you fall behind.”
As the influencer economy continues to become a topic of cultural examination, it’s important to think about how various legs of that economy are affected by other forces (the political, the economical, the technological). And as the different revenue streams — creator funds, ad revenue, brand deals, paid sponsorships — take a hit, it will likely make it even more difficult to be a financially successful influencer.
“The influencer market is also getting very, very big,” Buxhoidt said. “There's so many niche players. It's really hard to actually define who is the right influencer for [a company’s] target.”
Alverio said platform size, content niche, and geography can also impact financial opportunity. She told BuzzFeed News that vegan brands are rarer in the marketplace than general food brands, and even then, not everyone is willing to ship food products to Puerto Rico due to delays and concerns that they’ll spoil. “It’s hard to get sponsors for my niche,” she said.
There’s also a top echelon of influencers in Puerto Rico who usually receive most of the deals, she added, making it harder for smaller influencers to stand out from the crowd.
That’s something Lee thinks a lot about. He told BuzzFeed News that while he’s excited about all the new content, it does add another layer of pressure to be different. “With this surge of creators, it means brand deals and sponsors have a bigger pool of creators to choose from now more than ever,” he said. “With the recession happening, the effort I put into my videos to set myself apart now had to get dialed to 11.”
The way audiences interact with influencers is always changing — we’ve already seen so many memes about social media advertisements — but Buxhoidt thinks partnering with influencers for marketing will still be important.
“I think you will see more brands using influencers to actually retain customers,” he said. “Audiences will be thinking twice about if they want to make a purchase. If influencers can get people excited about a brand and build a really loyal customer base, then it is better for them as a brand.”
“I'm very picky with my brand deals,” Lee added. “I know that someone in the world just watching me is going to use whatever I'm promoting. And if I’m not going to use it, I don’t want anyone else to use it.”
Still, the creators emphasized that none of them do it for financial gain and have no intention of ending their channels because of money. Lee said becoming a content creator has always been a dream for him, and having a platform itself is a childhood goal of his realized.
“I love sharing my ideas and content to the world,” he said. “I do hope to make this my full-time career and make my mark on the world one day, but I figured to do that and really chase my dreams I have to take it slow and go forward step by step.”