Jamie Birdwell-Branson had just moved to Toledo, when an old high school friend reached out on Facebook and asked to meet for breakfast so they could catch up. “She was so interested in meeting up that she agreed to meet up halfway between our two cities — which was about an hour’s drive for each of us,” Birdwell-Branson said. “I was so eager for friendship that I immediately agreed, even though I hadn’t seen her in years.”
Halfway through brunch, the other woman revealed that she was less focused on friendship and more focused on recruiting Birdwell-Branson to sell skin-care products. “It was nothing but a marketing ploy for Arbonne,” she said. “She had zero interest in what was going on in my life and had no intention of forming or reconnecting a friendship.” She added, “Needless to say, we haven’t talked since.”
Over the past few years, many of us have witnessed our social media feeds morph from kid and pet photos into endless posts by friends peddling everything under the sun: makeup, skin care, candles, essential oils, hormone gel patches, leggings, tote bags, juice powders, nontoxic cleaning products, whitening toothpaste, vitamins, nail decals, nutritional shakes and gardening towers.
Women and multilevel marketing (MLM) companies have gone together since Tupperware and Mary Kay were introduced in the middle of the 20th century as a way for housewives to make money from home and get products to women in rural areas. While some women find success in these endeavors, they are the exceptions: According to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report, less than 1 percent of MLM participants will profit, a far worse rate than for “legitimate small businesses,” of which 39 percent are profitable over the lifetime of the business. “MLM makes even gambling look like a safe bet in comparison,” the report states.
The FTC closely monitors MLM companies and cautions that the compensation structure, which incentivizes participants to recruit additional participants, “poses particular risks of injury.” While the financial risks of getting involved with an MLM are well-documented, the personal ones are harder to quantify but are just as real. Namely: You could end up alienating every Facebook friend you ever had.