As protests against police brutality raged in cities all over the world this past weekend, many Instagram influencers spoke out. The platform has been filled with activism from influencers big and small sharing their thoughts and calling for change.
However, there is one voice that, until Monday, had been glaringly absent from the discourse. The enormous influencer monetization app LikeToKnow.It, and its parent company RewardStyle, spent the weekend ignoring the protests while continuing to send emails encouraging bloggers to post affiliate links to earn commission.
A spokesperson for RewardStyle didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Now, a black influencer has encouraged dozens of other bloggers to speak out against the company directly, saying RewardStyle and other brands have a duty to do better at highlighting black voices, especially as the gatekeeper to a major source of revenue in the industry. She and others are also calling for a reckoning of the influencer industry at large, hoping to use this moment to fight for long-overdue improvements in diversity and inclusion.
That blogger is Tiffany Moon, who blogs at @TheNorthernBelleoftheSouth. Moon has been calling out LikeToKnow.It and RewardStyle directly on her feed, in Instagram stories, and in comments on LikeToKnow.It’s recent post, and encouraging others to do so as well.
Moon, a fashion and lifestyle blogger from Raleigh, North Carolina, told BuzzFeed News she felt a duty to speak out and use her platform of roughly 15,000 followers for change. For her, the issue is a moral imperative as a black woman with a large following, but she also feels a duty to be an example for her 9-year-old daughter. Moon said while discussing the Floyd video with her daughter, she asked why people who have power aren’t speaking up.
“It hit me… I’m one of those people,” Moon said. “I’m your mother, and I’m not speaking up… Let me start pushing some boundaries. “
Moon began tagging bigger influencers and companies asking them to speak out. She has been shocked that LikeToKnow.It continued to post this weekend and has been “dead silent” on the protests.
“It’s so frustrating to me because I have campaigned for LikeToKnow.It for two years, I tell people all the time, you gotta get in with LikeToKnow.It, monetize…and for you guys to just remain silent?” she said.
Another influencer, who asked to remain anonymous, showed BuzzFeed News emails she received from LikeToKnow.It over the weekend, encouraging her to continue to post affiliate links amid the protests. The company also posted several photos, some featuring women of color, on its feed over the weekend. The company’s CEO, Amber Venz Box, did post on her feed, which has around 92,000 followers, that she “stands with the black community.”
On Monday, the company posted to its 3.5 million followers, saying it gets “strength from the diversity of our influencers, brands, consumers and employees.”
“We are proud to lock arms with you and will not tolerate racism within our community. We will continue to listen and use our platform to support you as you have always supported us,” the post said in part.
The company’s inaction over the weekend began to get noticed after Moon began to comment on LikeToKnow.It’s recent photos, asking them to speak out. Many other bloggers began to comment as well, calling on the platform to take a stand for its more than 3.5 million followers.
“The fact that you’ve said nothing about what’s going on but still sent out emails reminding us to meet our quotas says a lot… #blacklivesmatter,” one person wrote.
Another blogger who joined in calling for RewardStyle to speak out is Jessica Serna, who blogs at @MyCurlyAdventures. Serna, a Latina travel blogger who lives in Dallas, said while the issue is coming to a head now, RewardStyle and LikeToKnow.It have long had a diversity problem.
“I always knew,” she said. “You could see it on their feed, and in the most successful bloggers.”
Moon agreed, saying that while the platform has hosted diversity events with a platform highlighting black influencers, called “Influencing in Color,” its feed is mostly made up of white women.
“You talk about diversity and inclusion and you want to create a platform for black women, but you barely post black women on your feed,” she said. The Influencing in Color account did post about the protests, writing, “If you’ve ever wondered why there is a need for platforms like Influencing in Color to exist, the reason should be more apparent to you now more than ever.” The influencers behind the account didn’t return a request for comment.
Moon and others focused on LikeToKnow.It because it has a massive impact on the influencer industry. Not only does LikeToKnow.It have a big user base, but it now drives more than $1 billion in annual sales, according to Forbes.
Since the platform has such massive influence on how a blogger is able to monetize their feed, it has been criticized in the past for not doing enough to make sure a variety of women have been showcased. Cathy Peshek, who blogs at Poor Little It Girl, even wrote in 2018 she quit using the app after she felt it was unfairly boosting some women, but not others.
“Their feed was filled with women who fit the same mold,” she wrote. “The same rotation of about 10 bloggers are re-grammed again and again.”
Influencers like Moon think now is the time to make changes in the industry, and many others agree. Megan Jayne Crabbe, who has 1.3 million followers under @BodyPosiPanda, has called for others in the industry to “use your influence to make a difference.”
Moon said she has been impressed by how many influencers with hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of followers have been speaking out, even though some have said it’s too little too late.
“I do feel like some of the bloggers are being phenomenal,” she said. “And they are standing up, and they are saying, ‘We are not going to put up with this. We aren’t okay with this. This is wrong.'”
She encouraged bigger bloggers to start reaching out to brands and platforms like LikeToKnow.It to take a stand and put their words into action.
“Why are you not putting pressure on these brands that you partner with all the time?” she said.
Serna agreed that influencers hold the key to make their industry more diverse and enact real change.
“As influencers, we have a large job ahead of us,” she said. “We have the power to promote and make money for brands. However, it comes with a responsibility to also address the inconsistencies in the industry, which largely includes the lack of diversity.”
Moon has been encouraged by the changes that she and other influencers have already been able to make. She spearheaded a campaign to get the Pink Lily Boutique, a brand advertised by many influencers, to make a statement on the protests. After a few days, the brand released a detailed statement on its Instagram to its nearly 800,000 followers about changes it will be making.
“We see the lack of color in our brand, and we will take action,” the brand said, adding that the company will be donating an unspecified sum of money, as well as creating a shirt and donate the proceeds to an equality organization. It also asked its followers to help it choose the organization.
Moon said she also spoke with the brand’s CEO, Tori Gerbig, about the lack of diversity in its branding.
“We had a really good talk, and I feel like people are hearing us,” Moon said on her Instagram stories, adding that she would continue to call on LikeToKnow.It and other brands to speak out about how they could do better.
Serna said she thinks RewardStyle and LikeToKnow.It need to make real change to better their community.
“I would like to see RewardStyle have black and other racial groups in high-decision making rolls of power,” she said. “Rather than just doing the bare minimum, they should be hiring professionals of inclusion and diversity to rework their system so that they can have true change.”
She added that she is working with other influencers to band together, so anyone who is afraid to speak out can feel confident when asking for more diversity. She said right now there just isn’t “enough pushback.”
“We can also celebrate minority-owned businesses who could deserve extra promotion,” she said. “We already share products we love, we should do more to focus on diverse products we love.”
UPDATE: rewardStyle and LikeToKnow.It sent out the following email Monday night, promising more “representation on their social channels” and saying they have donated to various groups.