MLM and the Gig Economy
An article from late last year provides some interesting insight into how multi-level marketing companies (and their recruiters) are exploiting the “gig economy” to recruit new victims. It’s entitled “MLMs Take the Worst Parts of the Gig Economy, Then Make You Pay.” That’s right, you get to pay to be a member. You don’t actually make money.
The gig economy is focused on contract type of work… short term projects to make some money. It sounds great, but may not necessarily be wonderful when people are doing it out of necessity. They can’t find a full-time job, so they take contract positions to help pay the rent.
MLM preys on this necessity. You need to make some money, and they tout their scheme as a way to make extra (at worst) and a lucrative living (if only you’re willing to try hard).
From the article:
These days, who wouldn’t turn down an opportunity for a little extra income, especially when all it theoretically takes is hitting up your high school pals and former coworkers on Facebook? Enter multilevel marketing, or MLM — the commercial juggernaut that birthed the Hydra’s head of pushy sales pitches for patterned leggings, long-wear lipstick, weight-loss wraps, and eyelash extensions that dominate your social feeds. More than 20 million people in the United States are involved as independent sellers in an MLM or direct-sales company. (Quick semantics note: almost all direct selling organizations employ the hierarchical recruitment structure of MLMs, which means that almost all direct-selling organizations are also MLMs. For our purposes here, the terms are used interchangeably.) In 2017, there are more direct-sales organizations than ever before, and an estimated one in six U.S. households is involved in one, according to the Direct Selling Association.
That statistic is staggering, but perhaps not that surprising for anyone who’s had access to a social-media newsfeed in the last year or two. MLMs and their acolytes are ubiquitous, and they’re thriving — especially among women, who in 2016 comprised nearly 75 percent of all U.S. direct-sales consultants.
But this article points out how MLM recruiting language is adding to the extra income story. They’re now more focused on building your own “side hustle”.
On consultants’ Instagram feeds, in between the product promo, before-and-afters, flash sales, and giveaways, there will typically be a substantial dosage of #GirlBoss content: lots of “hustle” in gold script; lots of Pinterest-worthy inspirational quotes about taking risks and forging your own path and being the CEO of your life. Posts are often bolstered with many, many hashtags, including but not limited to: #slay, #grateful, #blessed, #MomBoss, #BusinessBae, #AmbitionOnFleek. Memes and blocks of emoji-laced “copypasta” text about supporting entrepreneurs and championing local businesses make the Facebook rounds, over and over again.
The article’s author has MLM’s number. She explains that the money in MLM isn’t in selling products, it’s in recruiting. Thus the nonsense about “building my empire” and things of the sort.
MLMs train their consultants to do this:
Amber, who sells nail wraps for Jamberry, says the company offers online coaching groups that include sharable motivational memes. Elle, a former Younique seller who detailed her experiences on her blog, writes that she was initially attracted to Younique after seeing an acquaintance’s posts about “rocking” her business, escaping the 9-to-5 life, and witnessing her life change for the better after taking a bold leap of faith into the unknown. “Scarlett looked so cool, so self-assured, so… business-like,” Elle writes. “I wanted that, too.”
Via email, Elle tells me that after experiencing it in her Younique seller’s group (the Butterfly Babes), she now sees this kind of verbiage across MLMs. “It seems to be learned behaviour,” she says. “The downlines see their uplines spouting this inspirational trite; they think their upline is being successful, so they want to emulate them. Thus the behaviour spreads like a disease.” A quick look at the #JoinMyTeam hashtag on Instagram reveals a mosaic of platitudes — “Building my empire one mascara at a time,” “Goal Digger,” “The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately” — accompanied by captions that promise freedom, flexibility, and success for those who are willing to take the leap. “Do something brave and LET’S DO THIS,” a LipSense distributor writes. “People are going to judge you no matter what you do… might as well be living a lifestyle you LOVE!”
All the MLMs are selling a dream. Social media has made it possible to sell it 24/7. You can put whatever image you want on Instagram or Facebook. You can make your MLM life look sucessful, no matter how much money you’re losing.
Does this work? Of course it does, or they wouldn’t do it.
But to be a part of the company, you must pay. Many require inventory purchases to et started, but even with those that don’t, there are still fees to sign up. The REAL gig economy works because people are actually making money. They’re using their car to drive others around for a fee. They’re using their skills to complete projects for pay. But in Mary Kay and other MLMs, you’re paying all sorts of money to get involved and stay involved, and you have very little chance of turning a profit.
Excellent quote from the article:
“What good is a side hustle if it doesn’t help to pay the bills, or if you’re spending more on inventory than you make in sales and commissions? That’s not a side hustle; that’s an expensive hobby.”