Social & Influencers

Qianna Smith Bruneteau wants to destigmatize influencing

“When people think of influencers, they think of people just taking selfies, doing work that they don’t think takes a lot of time or effort,” The American Influencer Council (AIC) founder said.
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Qianna Smith Bruneteau

6 min read

Qianna Smith Bruneteau isn’t an influencer. But she founded the American Influencer Council (AIC)—a trade group that’s aiming to become the Association of National Advertisers for the influencer marketing industry—after holding social media roles at companies such as Saks Fifth Avenue and the United States Tennis Association, which involved working with creators. Leading the AIC is now Bruneteau’s full-time gig.

The not-for-profit was founded in 2020 with the goal of sustaining the “integrity and viability of the influencer marketing industry in America,” per its website. But in her words, it’s about “destigmatizing” influencers and giving them professional skills. Since then, it’s gained about 100 members (Bruneteau declined to share membership dues with Marketing Brew) and offers mentorship and trade resources, as well as business development services, Bruneteau said.

Founding members include artist and product developer Kendra Dandy and entrepreneur and fashion designer Rocky Barnes, but you don’t have to be an influencer to join. Bruneteau told us AIC has three member tiers: “Career creators” are the only ones with voting rights, but “member advisors” from brands, as well as companies that work with influencers, are eligible to join. Influencers interested in joining must meet certain criteria, like having an active social media presence and regular brand partnerships.

We spoke to Bruneteau about recent AIC happenings as well as why she wanted to build the non-profit.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Qianna on Qianna

Marketing Brew: Have you ever considered yourself an influencer?

Qianna Smith Bruneteau: Never.

MB: How about an influencer marketer? Where do you fall within the landscape?

QSB: 100% an influencer marketer and an influencer advocate. I have done content as a blogger with brands, but I would never say that I was an influencer…I have an affinity for creators (or digital creatives), because when I was blogging or working with brands, I experienced all of the things that young, small businesses go through—like struggling to get your invoice paid on time, or not knowing how to advocate for yourself because you’re super young.

When starting the AIC, a lot of my experiences are a culmination of wanting to be an advocate for people who don’t necessarily have a voice or can’t stand up for themselves because they don’t know the right way or approach to do so.

AIC happenings

MB: Where were you when the idea for the AIC came about?

QSB: I was still working at the US Open. And the [USTA], to a degree, has a membership model. I was fairly fortunate to have an opportunity to sit in on board meetings and to have an idea of, ‘What does a national model look like when it comes to supporting different types of communities?’ Because within the tennis community…you’re supporting a lot of different groups, whether that’s youth tennis, collegiate tennis, [or] pro tennis. I was very inspired by the approach of the United States Tennis Association, and I wanted to do something to give back to young professionals.

I really do believe that when you look at the numbers of influencer marketing, it’s primarily women who are driving our space. And I wanted to create something where women and creators of color could have a platform and a seat at the table. So our membership model is very unique in that creators have a voice and a vote, and can really steer the movement of the association. And they also have the opportunity to serve on our committees and our board of directors.

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MB: What are some things the AIC has done or is doing to advocate for influencers?

QSB: In May, we launched the Career Creator Club with different Fortune 500 executives from brands like Saks Fifth Avenue [and] Buy Buy Baby. … We had guest mentors from RewardStyle, Michael Kors…we brought in so many different SVP-and-above executives to meet with our first cohort. And we put together a really robust learning plan for the first group, who had one-to-one sessions with the launch mentors who volunteered their time. It was a six-month program … [and] Rocky Burns was our lead mentor for the first cohort.

[Editor’s note: The first cohort featured six AAPI creators and five AAPI executive mentors,  Bruneteau told Marketing Brew, as she wanted to tailor it to this community, given movements like Stop Asian Hate. She also told us the Career Creator Club is free and open to non-member creators.]

We’re getting ready to launch the second cohort in the spring. That was a great program because we know creators are eager for knowledge and they want to understand how to advance their career journey. Having access to professionals who are leading some of the biggest brands—who are on the pulse of the buying decisions—it’s important that creators understand what brands are looking for from the brands themselves, and to really have support from the business community.

Big industry questions

MB: What do you think of kids saying that they want to be influencers when they grow up?

QSB: At the end of the day, being an influencer is being a small-business owner. And that’s where, you know, destigmatizing influencing is the priority of the AIC. I think that young people who want to own their own business and engage in a creative pursuit digitally is something to be celebrated.

MB: When you say “destigmatizing influencing,” what do you mean by that? What’s the stigma?

QSB: When you think of influencing you think of … a lot of negative depictions of influencers, or you think about the account @influencersinthewild. There are so many examples, where people try to tear down people who pursue this craft rather than looking at it as someone who has a passion for food, or illustration, or photography.

Now with TikTok, you’re seeing so many different, diverse types of artists—whether that’s a tattoo artist, or people who are gardeners, or people who have a variety of different passions. I love Vic[Blends], the barber, who goes around communities and gives free haircuts and shares people’s personal stories. You have people doing amazing things in their communities.

The beauty of influencer marketing is that it’s a lot of different people who specialize in a niche, and they’ve been able to craft this community. But yet, we focus on people who make headlines, and those headlines have a tendency to be salacious. And so when people think of influencers, they think of people just taking selfies, doing work that they don’t think takes a lot of time or effort.

We try to educate creators through our resource hub, and through our Career Creator Club…[on] what it takes to operate, what it takes to grow. What is the investment? What is your long-term game plan? A lot of people come into this space thinking that this is an overnight success, when it’s years of building. I’ve been in this space for 20 years.

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify the guest mentors list and that the AIC is a not-for-profit.

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