This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
Ever since the federal government first began offering Paycheck Protection Program loans in 2020, influencers have been a target of ire for people who want to police who exactly was eligible for the COVID relief benefit and argue over who is “worthy” of the funds.
This week, members of the Bachelor subreddit have gone after former franchise stars who are now influencers. Tayshia Adams, Colton Underwood, and Arie and Lauren Luyendyk have all been blasted on the internet for applying for and receiving PPP loans, and the whole thing has ballooned into a scandal that has been gobbled up by the tabloids.
The allocation of government money isn’t really what people are pissed off about, in my opinion. The underlying issue is that a lot of people refuse to accept that influencers are running small businesses and have no understanding or respect for the work that they do. So, when they see influencers getting money they think is supposed to go to traditional business owners, they assume the influencers “stole” it from actual hardworking people because they are greedy.
I get it. Sometimes it annoys me too. Influencers seem to have great lives. They work for themselves, set their own schedules, and can choose how often they work or don’t work. They get to write about their own interests and even live extravagant lifestyles, going on luxury trips and shopping sprees for content. The best influencers don’t even make it look like they work at all. It’s normal to be jealous of them.
There is a difference, though, between having a pretty enjoyable job and not working. For whatever reason (cough, cough, sexism), despite the fact that we are a good 10 years plus into the creator economy, a vast majority of the US population refuses to accept that being an influencer, an industry that is made up of mostly women, is a legitimate career.
The truth is that most influencers run their own limited liability corporations, develop content for brands, pay their taxes as business owners, and do a ton of other things behind the scenes that we don’t see on Instagram. Some have employees, while others hire contractors to handle certain aspects of their businesses such as taking their photos or managing their SEO. Amid all the drama this week, Jessica Camerata, who blogs at An Indigo Day, posted this IGTV in which she explains how her business is set up and runs, which I recommend watching to get a full understanding of how a lot of this stuff works.
Also, from March 2020 onward, influencers, like every other small business owner, looked like they were in serious trouble. At the time, I talked to Grace Atwood, who told me she had already had several brand deals (her main source of revenue for her business) canceled or postponed by sponsors who were tightening their own belts. More recently, a group of travel bloggers I interviewed each told me they had lost significant income in spring 2020 and had to completely pivot their business models to stay afloat. (This isn’t to imply that any of these people took a PPP loan — I didn’t ask.)
Yes, for influencers, choosing to take a PPP loan may have included paying themselves if they own a sole proprietorship. It doesn’t matter how rich these influencers seem personally, either, as personal and business finances are completely different. You can have personal wealth, but if your business is bringing in no revenue, it will die.
There is nothing wrong with influencers doing this — at least, not in the eyes of the law. Influencers are small businesses, and the PPP loan was designed to keep those businesses afloat. Influencers lost revenue, so they took government assistance to ensure they could weather the storm. Is that not what the entire program was designed to do?
I can hear you now. But what about all the small businesses that didn’t get a loan, who were more deserving of the money? OK, sure. There are plenty that, unfortunately, did not get money from the government and suffered as a result. That totally sucks! But why is that the fault of other small business owners?
Or maybe you’re saying, But influencers are not small business owners! That brings me back to my original point. There are fundamentally few differences between the owner of an LLC, an influencer business, that sells clothing through Instagram and one with a brick-and-mortar store. The only difference is in how we as a society perceive them.
It’s fine if you’re still angry. It doesn’t seem fair that some of us have to toil for the Man while other people get to run Instagram businesses. Many influencers got where they are because they are privileged in a myriad of ways, like coming from money, being hot, or getting lucky in the industry at the right time. Again, it’s OK to be jealous of that.
But the PPP argument isn’t about any of that — it’s based on a fallacy and bad faith. Harping on it isn’t helping anyone, certainly not business owners.