Too many influencers think of themselves as fun individuals just doing their ~*thing and ignore the fact that they are entrepreneurs. And when that happens, the scandals inevitably emerge. Influencers hire their friends, don’t know a thing about HR or people leadership, and end up with headlines like people allegedly getting raped at YouTuber parties, someone losing an eye at work, or have so many scandals that Vulture writes a timeline of them.
You might create individually. Heck, you might only be 17 (or even younger). But as soon as you start thinking about your team, it’s not enough to hire your besties and get to the grind. You need to plan for HR.
The perfect storm for a public scandal
The creator and influencer economy is wonderful because it democratizes who can build an audience. While this has its own downsides (see: trolls gaining a following by attacking other people then milking their followers for money when they lose sponsorship deals), I see it as a net positive when you consider so many voices that are usually silenced getting to build their own platforms (see: historically marginalized people).
However: to all the creators out there, whether you have a big audience yet or not, you are entering the perfect storm.
1. You are trapped in the individual cool factor
As creators, your audience and community want you. You are the face and the talent. You’re the new “small business owner” that does everything themselves. Sure, you can make a lot of money, but it’s hard to extract yourself when you are the product. Plus, many creator audiences choose creators specifically because they want to avoid the “corporatization” of creativity, so the moment you start talking about “departments” you turn people off.
2. You will face major hiring challenges
Because most creators started solo, it’s not like making your way through existing industries, building a network, and then striking out on your own. So when you do need help, you often turn to the friends you had growing up. This can shore up a sense of community as well — not to mention audiences love a good bestie collab — but it usually means these “employment” opportunities are done without contracts that protect both you and your bestie.
3. You’re a celebrity without a team to protect you
When it’s just you and your audience, you aren’t shielded by image makers, fixers, or a group of people having a shared interest in your success like agents or publicists. Celebrities have whole teams solely dedicated to keeping themselves and their image intact. We’ve seen how bad this can go (read: #FreeBritney), but for many celebrities, it’s a safety shield against some issues that could have turned into big scandals (read: Reese Witherspoon).
4. Public interest in your downfall
The media covers what people want to know about. When you suddenly gain a massive audience without the traditional trappings of celebrity, people want to know about you. They want to know how you did it. Some people just want to watch you fail. And that means the media will have a voracious appetite for stories about you and how you treat your team. While this can massively help your following, it also means the media will pick up any whiff of scandal — even if it’s not actually a scandal — and put your growing business through a public investigation.
This will only get more vicious as local media picks up. Soon it won’t just be the big names like James Charles asking his assistant to shave his butt (!?!?) that get written about. Your local paper could easily write about a micro-influencer doing things locally (you!), and that could get picked up through the blogosphere and eventually into national news if the story is made salacious enough.
Don’t fall into the biggest startup trap of all time
When you have money coming in the door and a team to help you create your product — even if that product is you — realize you are an entrepreneur growing a business and you need HR advisory, systems and support in place. Whether it’s sponsored content, merch, gigs, other products… it doesn’t matter. You not only have legal obligations to follow as an employer but trust me you’ll want a team to protect and advise you.
Now. James Charles and David Dobrik will probably not read this article. That’s ok. I’m writing it to the newbie creators. The folks with 10,000 to 1,000,000 followers starting to build their teams and thinking about what’s next. The folks that just brought on their first hire. Or the people who have done a deal or two and now realize they could grow significantly with just a bit of help.
If you want a preview of what happens when business leaders ignore HR systems, you can find examples from your fellow influencers. But you can also look to tech, an area Susan Fowler has documented extensively. But here’s the thing: You don’t have to fall into this trap. You may not know all the processes like interviewing, onboarding, and performance management, but you can retain consultants (like us) who can help you. At the end of the day, it’s your business. You need to build it like one if you want it to last.
One more thing — At Bloom, we have supported some of the world’s most admired influencers and creators who aren’t ready to hire a full-time HR or Talent hire but need the leadership on an interim basis. We build inclusive foundational systems like implementing the best tech, tools and processes that are infused with your org’s values. Plus, we offer some of the best diversity, inclusion and equity learning experiences and workshops. Read this article and think you may need some support? Bloom’s here for you. Book a no-obligation intro call with us to ask more questions and learn how we can help you out as much, or as little, as you need. Book a call with me, Avery, here.