At this point, the idea of “influencer” being a legit job title isn’t that crazy. Like it or not, Instagram and social media as a whole has created a culture where lots of people can earn a living off of their online presence. Sure, they tend to f*ck up and do problematic stuff, and we love roasting them for it, but their jobs aren’t actually fake. As in, they are providing a service and getting paid for it. And most real jobs and industries have professional organizations, whether they’re unions or more general membership programs. For example, actors have the Screen Actors Guild, or people in the auto industry have United Automobile Workers. Well, it turns out influencers have one too. It’s called the American Influencer Association, and I, like I’m sure you do, have many, many questions.
We first stumbled upon the American Influencer Association (AIA) last night, when we saw a post on Instagram about their award show. That’s right, there’s an entire award show dedicated to celebrating influencers. And even though you’ve never heard of the AIA Awards, they had some major appearances from people like Caelynn Miller-Keyes, Becca Tilley, and f*cking Kim Kardashian. All of this begs the question: who is behind these awards, and how do they have so many connections?
To start with, I visited the AIA website, which looks pretty, but didn’t really answer most of my burning questions. Let’s take a look at their their mission statement, which claims that AIA “aims to educate, inspire and advocate for the diverse global community of social media influencers.” Ah yes, the downtrodden, underprivileged influencers of the world. If anyone needs an advocate, it’s definitely all those girls doing FashionNova ads on Instagram.
The rest of the mission statement feels like it could be copied and pasted from any other professional organization, and it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s actually what they did. But what exactly does the AIA do? How do they advocate for their members? Is this a real thing or just a shell company that’s making Kris Jenner billions of dollars? To attempt to answer that, I visited the Benefits portion of the website.
Please, I’m begging you, turn your attention to the second benefit listed. “Access to online influencer certification courses by accredited universities.” I’m sorry, WHAT? What the f*ck is an influencer certification?? And what do “accredited universities” have to do with this? Does Harvard offer a course on how to Facetune your ass to the correct proportions? Is there a Yale symposium on knowing when it’s time to get lip fillers? I refuse to believe this is a real thing, and the AIA website offers no additional details to inform my opinions one way or another.
The other benefits are more standard, with things like networking events and an AIA newsletter, until you get to the very last line. Lo and behold, membership earns you “the opportunity to be nominated” for an AIA award. Uhhhh, are you kidding me? Not only is it stupid that these awards exist in the first place, but you have to be a member of this dumb association to even be nominated? This whole thing is starting to feel like more and more of a scam/pyramid scheme… so of course, I want to join.
Luckily, there’s a “Join Us” section of the website, and I hopped right on it. Notice it says the introductory membership is free for right now, and supposedly that gets you access to all the benefits listed above. Great! I filled in my name and email, and it didn’t ask me for any additional info. I didn’t set a password or anything, and I don’t even see a place on the site to log in. I didn’t even have to prove that I am an influencer! Also, they haven’t sent me any emails. I’m waiting to get spammed until the end of time, but I haven’t heard anything yet. But yeah, I guess theoretically I could go sign up for an influencer class at Harvard about gummy vitamins now.
So while I’m waiting to find out if I’m an official influencer or not, I did a little digging to find out who’s actually running this sh*t. First of all, the photos in the “Our Team” section of the website are wild. We have the CEO Christopher, whose photo looks like a fan taking photos with his favorite YouTubers, because I guess he couldn’t find a solo pic. Then there’s Christine, who actually looks professional, and then there’s George Ledes, with a grainy black and white photo of him talking on the phone. Do neither of these men have LinkedIn photos?
I didn’t immediately realize this, but Christine and George are actually married, and I found their New York Times wedding announcement if you want to read it. Speaking of George Ledes, he seems to be the number-one guy in this group. I found his LinkedIn, and it’s kind of crazy. It says that he’s been President & CEO of both “COSMETIC WORLD” and “BEAUTY FASHION” since 1977, and both of those things really sound fake. But it turns out that they’re both industry trade magazines, and Christine used to be the editor-in-chief of both. According to her LinkedIn, Christine has also run her own communications company since 2006, and last year, she and George founded The Beauty Influencers, which is essentially a blog.
Going even deeper, I found out that both Cosmetic World and Beauty Fashion were founded by George’s father, John Ledes. John just passed away last month, and according to an article written by Christine on their site, The Beauty Influencers, John was a beauty influencer before the concept even existed. Schott writes that John was “known for his industry event coverage, business scoops and reports from the trenches of the retail industry, [and] anyone who was part of the beauty industry sought to be featured in his publications.” She added that before social media, John Ledes was instrumental in the beauty retail landscape. Back in the pre-Instagram days, I think you would have called John a tastemaker.
So even though the whole idea of the American Influencer Association seems stupid, and their website is suspiciously low on details, the people behind it, at least, are insiders with over 40 years of experience in the beauty industry. They’re not influencers in the way James Charles and Jaclyn Hill are, but they were around way before social media took over. At the very least, they have enough pull to get Kim Kardashian at their award show, and that’s no small feat. That being said, I still need to know a lot more about these alleged “influencer certification courses.” I always said I would never go back to school, but I might have to make an exception for this.
Images: kimkardashian / Instagram; American Influencer Association (4)