When it comes to the beauty industry, the biggest trend of 2017 is how influencers are completely changing the space. Whether it's a megawatt celebrity like Rihanna shaking things up by introducing a truly diverse range of shades, or Gen Z-based Instagram power-users changing how entire businesses operate, there's no question that it's a good time to be a beauty influencer.
But when it seems like just about anyone can be an influencer, how can you set yourself apart from the pack? At the 2017 "How to Make It in Fashion" conference in New York City on Friday, Fashionista's Beauty Editor Stephanie Saltzman led a discussion addressing just that: what it takes to be a beauty influencer today. She brought together a panel of experts in the influencer field, including Georgie Greville, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Milk Makeup, James Nord, Co-Founder and CEO of Fohr Card, Tina Pozzi, VP of Brand Marketing for Urban Decay Cosmetics and Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton, Creative Director and Co-Founder of Chillhouse and Founder of Taste the Style.
They shared their honest takes and hands-on experiences in the space, with the resulting tips being invaluable for both brands and influencers alike. Here are some of the most key points to takeaway from this group of beauty leaders.
Bring a new viewpoint to the table.
The beauty industry is all about personal expression, so when planning content, it's important to think beyond the scope of traditional coverage. Is there a new style you can introduce? Is there a different way of putting together a tutorial? Getting creative is the best way to set yourself apart. "We're looking for creators, finding people with a really clear point of view who are able to express it," said Pozzi. "It's not just someone who poses in a bikini with a great eyeliner, but really going a little bit deeper and saying, 'This is my point of view on beauty; this is how I'm able to create.'"
Don't be afraid to talk about things beyond the scope of your beauty space, either. In today's world, it's almost impossible to separate the personal from the political. "[Your audience] wants to know you from a deeper level; they want to know what drew you to be a beauty influencer — whatever that thing may be, it's important to put as much out there," said Ramirez. "If you don't talk about it in some way shape or form, people will wonder what your take on the current cultural climate is, and that could turn part of your audience off."
Ultimately, the beauty of the influencer space is that it allows more voices to participate in the conversation. While the first wave helped break the mold of what beauty coverage could look like, a new group of influencers is helping it move even further beyond the stereotypical white, cis-female lead space. "The influencers we have now, who I always think about like the original supermodels — the Naomis, the Kates — that's who I feel like we have now, and I can only see that becoming more nuanced into the models we have now," said Greville, as an analogy to the current influencer market. "It's no longer supermodels, but everyone can be a supermodel for a little bit. It will become more diversified."
Know what you have to offer.
Though it may sound ironic, Nord has never bought anything on Instagram in his life. He shared that while he does know Instagram has a decent conversion rate, brands shouldn't be looking for bottom-of-the-funnel sales marketing from influencers. ("Facebook is great for that," he said. "You spend a dollar, you make two.")
Instead, Instagram is the place to launch new products and build buzz, or to change perspective on existing brands, something which can be harder to quantify. "Most of the decisions I'm making — where I go to eat, where I'm going on vacation, the new brands I'm interested in — are coming from social," he said. "That's the really frustrating thing for me; I believe in it, I know it works, but I can't prove it works."
What that means is that brands are looking for influencers who genuinely connect with their products already. Don't be afraid to step outside the box and talk about products and brands that aren't necessarily already popular. When anyone will promote Glossier for free, you can be the person getting paid to help a lesser-known or struggling brand, because your audience already trusts your opinion in that space.
It's also essential to know what works for your audience. Don't be afraid to offer a brand feedback on a campaign plan which will help it work better for both of you. "My favorite emails are when I suggest something and they come back and say, 'I'm so excited to work with you, but how about this; this works better for my audience,'" said Pozzi. "There's even insights I've gleaned about how we should be operating as a brand based on that feedback, and that's when I know something is going to work."
Communication is key.
Nord admitting to having a "shitlist" of influencers who are bad at communication. While there is no "right" amount of time for a response, Nord suggested that responding within a day to a new collaborator, and within a few hours to someone with whom you're collaborating, is an ideal time frame. "It's one of the biggest frustrations: not answering emails," he explained. "It's honestly not that hard, especially if someone is paying you." Brands offer specifics to campaigns because they have important launch dates or targeted sales planned on their end, and not communicating can cause those campaigns to fail.
"Communication is a huge way to differentiate yourself as an influencer, because I'd say 75 percent of people are pretty terrible at it," said Nord. "We choose people sometimes more for their ability to communicate and execute a campaign effectively than their content."
But it's also important to keep it professional, no matter how relaxed the relationship. "I get so many text messages," said Pozzi. "There's so many ways to communicate right now that, I think because so many influencers are younger and millennials, their go-to is to text." Remember that you are conducting a business deal, and that the person with whom you're working very likely isn't the only person responsible for the project.
"I love being people's friend; I love going out to dinner; I love introducing people to the brand — but when it's 10 o-clock at night and I'm home, [...] I need to really clearly understand what's going on from a campaign perspective on my work email, as well," explained Pozzi.
Have an actual skillset.
This last tip may seem like a no-brainer, but today, when it seems like all you need is a camera and an Instagram account to make money, it's important to remember that you have to actually be good at something to get paid for it. "Just because I can sing along with a song doesn't mean I'm Justin Bieber, and just because you have a fucking phone doesn't mean you get to be a beauty blogger, let alone a very successful one," joked Nord. "You do have to have some sort of skill. Weird."
If your makeup experience is limited to the "natural" look, doing tutorials with crazy color palettes doesn't make sense; if your diet primarily consists of fast food, an audience liekly won't connect with any wellness content. Experiment with what you love, and keep a backup plan. "If it feels like a slog, and you're not getting a lot of good feedback, you probably need to keep trying different things," added Nord. "But there's a lot of entitlement. You don't get to just do it because you want to, unfortunately."