This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
Over the past several years, many people have written about how multilevel marketing companies, or MLMs, have been able to grow exponentially by recruiting underemployed millennial women through social media. (I have written about how Facebook supercharged LuLaRoe, an MLM clothing company.) However, one aspect of this phenomenon isn’t covered as much: the rise of the MLM influencer.
I’ve been thinking about this topic as I watched a juicy bit of drama unfold this week in the Young Living online community. Young Living, a company founded in 1993 by a rather “interesting” dude, has been one of the main benefactors of a recent boom in the popularity of essential oils.
Over the weekend, Madison Vining, who ran one of the top-selling teams in the company with her husband, Tyler, made a shocking announcement on social media. The couple said they had decided to leave Young Living for Modere, another MLM that has seen success hawking a line of collagen products, a buzzy trend in wellness.
In an IGTV video posted to Madison’s more than 237,000 followers, the couple shared that, after around eight years with the company, they had resigned from Young Living. A few days later, Madison announced on her Instagram stories that they were moving to Modere.
In the comments of the video and elsewhere online, Madison’s followers and downlines (the people below her in her Young Living business) expressed total shock. To understand their feelings, you have to know just how sweet the Vinings’ Young Living gig was.
Madison and Tyler had “Royal Crown Diamond” status in Young Living, which meant they were among the most successful consultants in the company. According to the company’s 2019 statistics, Royal Crown Diamond sellers made an average of $1,645,692 annually, or roughly $137,000 a month. This revenue, of course, is mostly made up of sales generated by the Vinings’ team, the Happy Oilers, who made the base of the, let’s say, pyramid-shaped structure the couple sat on the top of.
By quitting Young Living, Madison and Tyler are walking away from it all, and they will need to rebuild their team from scratch. To many, the move made no sense. “My head hurts trying to understand. Walking away from over a million-dollar residual income a year & your team for another company?” wrote one commenter. Another person claimed the Vinings had not even informed their teammates before making the announcement. “I’m happy for you and excited to see what comes next, I’m a bit bummed I didn’t see this directly in the Happy Oilers,” she wrote.
Madison later said on Instagram that, because of the terms of her exit, she was not able to directly contact any of her team members before leaving.
Soon, rumors began to swirl that something shady was going on. People speculated that Modere had enticed the Vinings with the promise of a salaried position, which would be a shocking move for a MLM. Madison denied the rumors in a response to a comment on her Instagram video, saying, “I promise you haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about.” She added that they received no paycheck to leave and had left “$200k on the table.” (I assume per month, since the lowest earner in their bracket makes around $600,000 annually, according to Young Living.) Madison also claimed she had not “sold” her team back to Young Living for any sort of profit.
“The rumor mill/drama factory is typically not the place to get ethical, factual information,” she said.
I’ve reached out to Madison, Modere, and Young Living to ask about these rumors, but haven’t heard back. This whole saga, though, has gotten me thinking about the MLM influencer and the leverage someone like Madison wields in the MLM structure.
Of course, the whole MLM business model has always only benefitted a select few superstars, but the internet has made this gulf even more apparent. Sure, before the internet an MLM used to be able to trot out its top performers and flaunt their lavish lifestyles to motivate their sellers at conferences or whatever, but, as with everything on social media, the comparison trap is now bigger than ever.
Madison has been such a success in Young Living, I believe, not just because of her skill at direct sales but because of her aptitude in social media influencing. She launched a career as a blogger and influencer alongside her Young Living business, and her dual professions have worked in tandem to enrich each other.
Her Young Living business helped her get internet notoriety, which I think likely played a role in her Instagram growing from around 56,000 followers in September 2018 to now more than 200,000. That has led her to open additional income streams, like LTK and sponcon. But her Instagram has also helped her Young Living business; it’s the best advertising imaginable for joining her team.
Madison has declared on her blog that “every brick, every board” of her enormous, custom-built home in Oklahoma “was made possible by our YL journey.” She walked her followers through her journey creating “the house Happy [her team] built.” Followers see how enviable Madison’s life is every single day on her Instagram stories, full of videos from her beautiful home, broods of animals, happy and adorable kids, and all the luxuries her huge paycheck affords her. It doesn’t take much convincing to sign up; here’s someone living their best life every day who’s reminding you that you could have this too, if you just gave it a shot.
Thus, Madison’s exit actually kind of makes sense. Sure, the Vinings are leaving an easy paycheck on the table, but they don’t necessarily need Young Living anymore. An MLM seller in the age of influencing can not only reach the top of the *cough* pyramid *cough*; they can create an entirely new career for themselves at the same time. Sure, the Vinings are going to Modere now, but their possibilities are endless. They could start their own MLM if they wanted, they could build a bigger team with a more favorable contract for themselves at Modere because of their star power online, or they could just be influencers. Or they could do all three.
MLMs have long parroted the often mocked phrase that their sellers “build their own business.” But in this case, the Vinings actually have. Of course, very few of their downlines can ever hope to replicate their success.