Updated at 12:08 p.m ET on December 27, 2018.
After rising to MySpace fame in the mid-aughts, the singer-songwriter Kaila Yu amassed a following of nearly half a million fans on Facebook and 70,000 on Twitter and Instagram. Like all “influencers”—people who leverage a social-media following to influence others—Yu now makes her living monetizing her audience with branded content, promoting products and events through sponsored posts.
In July, she received an overture from a well-known influencer-management platform called Speakr, on behalf of the DNA-testing company 23andMe. It was offering her $300 for a Facebook post. “Somebody really likes you! One of our brand partners is running a campaign and we think you’re a perfect fit,” read the email from Speakr, which Yu shared with The Atlantic.
Yu agreed to the offer and coordinated with a Speakr account executive via email. Yu followed her directions to a T, and on the morning of July 25, she loaded up her Facebook page and posted the ad.
The next day, she requested payment. Six months and countless emails and phone calls later, Yu says she still hasn’t been paid for her work.
Speakr is one of the most notable and established influencer-management platforms, with clients such as Verizon, Sony, Ford, Nissan, Disney, Microsoft, and Universal Studios. It, like most influencer-management platforms, offers a simple service: sifting through the saturated influencer market to match stars with brands. Speakr is the middleman: The brand pays Speakr (or the brand pays an agency, which pays Speakr), and Speakr then distributes payment across a group of approved influencers, slicing and dicing the money to get maximum reach. For instance, the platform might pay 20 smaller influencers $500 each for a tweet, then pay five larger ones $1,000 each for an Instagram post, for a total influencer promotion ad buy of $15,000.