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Life beyond style

If you’re a social influencer, whether it’s an Instagrammer, blogger, or fashion guru with 1,000 to 100,000 followers, you can easily get paid between $50 to $1,000 USD to advertise for a brand, according to influencer marketing firm Hireinfluence.

However, Quartz recently examined this new endeavor and spoke to Cornell researcher Brooke Erin Duffy about the myth that working hard on a personal brand will pay off in the long run.

Here are the five most interesting takeaways from her interview with Quartz.

…on the myth that powers aspirational labor.

“The myth is very much a meritocratic one: That if you are putting the most creative, unique content out there, and you have a special voice, you will rise to the top. And by rise to the top, I mean you will earn an income.

The reason that I call this a myth is that if you look at people who have actually risen to the top—the super bloggers, the super influencers—I don’t see them as people just like us. They have some sort of existing capital. They have the right connections. And so, the myth is one of digital meritocracy. If we work hard enough, if we have this creative vision that nobody else has provided, we can get our dream job and do what we love and get paid.”

…how much work the people she interviewed put into their personal brands.

“A lot of people who had been doing this for years were shocked at how a culture of self-promotion eclipsed the creative elements. They got into this because they really enjoyed styling or writing or photos. They would say, I’m coming up with my creative product, and then I’m spending hours promoting it—sharing it on Instagram, sharing it on Facebook, sharing it on Twitter. It can’t be the same content. They have to vary it depending on the audience for each platform. And after that, they would say, we have to go through and respond to all of our followers, and we have to engage this culture of reciprocal following. I follow a blogger because she’ll follow me.”

…if anyone she interviewed was successful.

“A lot of people who were successful had worked for years moonlighting as a blogger while maintaining their full-time jobs. They were essentially doing two jobs in order to make enough to subsist on. There was also a sense that they always had to be on. You can’t just abandon your blog for a week, or you see a huge dip in your followers, which directly links to your advertising income. And so, there’s this kind of, what is this doing to my personal life? But also, when is this going to pay off enough for me to leave my job? Or is it not?”

…on companies benefiting from this myth that anyone can make it on social media.

“Brands kind of dangle this promise of hope. You’ll see campaigns where brands will say, hey, hashtag your favorite jeans look and post on Instagram and maybe we’ll feature your image for people to see. There are also more dubious promises of exposure. I talked with people who said the companies would not offer them any sort of financial compensation. In one case, this woman was a cosmetics blogger and she had a sizable following. She said companies would sometimes send her products unsolicited and say, hey, could you just do us a solid and blog about this?”

…drawing a parallel between aspirational labor and other types of traditional “women’s work.”

“Child care, domestic work are seen as activities that women inherently do and they’re naturally good at. It’s invisible in that it’s unseen and also there are no economic rewards associated with it. We now see the lineage of this devaluing of work in the social media economy. I see these investments of time and energy as a form of work, but they’re often seen as leisure, they’re seen as fun, and they’re seen as something that shouldn’t be materially compensated.”

Read the interview in its entirety here, then after, read about how easy it is to become one of these phony Instagram “influencers.”

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