Abstract: Despite the staggering uptick in social media employment over the last decade, this nascent category of cultural labor remains comparatively under-theorized. In this article, we contend that social media work is configured by a visibility paradox: While workers are tasked with elevating the presence—or visibility—of their employers’ brands across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more, their identities, and much of their labor, remain hidden behind branded social media accounts. To illuminate how this ostensible paradox impacts laborers’ conditions and experiences of work, we present data from in-depth interviews with more than 40 social media professionals. Their accounts make clear that social media work is not just materially concealed, but rendered socially invisible through its lack of crediting, marginal status, and incessant demands for un/under-compensated emotional labor. This patterned devaluation of social media employment can, we show, be situated along two gender-coded axes that have long structured the value of labor in the media and cultural industries: a) technical‒communication and b) creation‒circulation. After detailing these in/visibility mechanisms, we conclude by addressing the implications of our findings for the politics and subjectivities of work in the digital media economy.
Keywords: cultural production; digital media; gender; invisibility; labor; social media; technology; work