Beauty influencers, the makeup mavens of the social media space, are forever changing the way brands reach consumers and deliver content, and they’re doing it one YouTube tutorial and smoky-eye demo at a time. Market research firm Research and Markets predicts the global cosmetics market will hit a staggering $675 billion in sales by 2020, with beauty influencers serving as significant contributors to that growth. Top brands like MAC Cosmetics have successfully partnered with makeup-artists-turned-influencers like Patrick Starrr to launch entirely new makeup lines together. More than just a phase, beauty influencer marketing has become one of the most effective ways to engage customers in today’s social media-driven economy.
Influencers are the reigning monarchs of social and streaming sites like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. They might be hairstylists, makeup artists, models, fashion gurus or self-taught beauty enthusiasts with big personalities. Influencers command power because their accessible pulpits make them capable of reaching mass audiences. They’ve established credibility not only by posting reviews but through sharing personal stories. Such disclosure is seductive. Recommendations from hot bloggers can dramatically affect sales in a matter of minutes. For example, Tribe Dynamics found that GlamGlow’s online brand ambassadors, called #glambassadors, helped the mask manufacturer reach $6.3 million in earned media value last year alone.
“Apart from loyalty, brands should seek out influencers with engaged and growing followings and those who create varied content rather than simply posting product shots.”
–Conor Begley, cofounder and president, Tribe Dynamics
–Conor Begley, cofounder and president, Tribe Dynamics
Experts endear themselves to followers by recommending beloved insider products or by demonstrating coveted makeup techniques via videos that are both instructional and entertaining. Such practices engage shoppers and turn tastemakers into credible, reliable sources. But authenticity is paramount. Customers must trust that the influencer they follow is endorsing a product that he or she truly believes in. A survey from Rakuten Marketing reveals that 80 percent of patrons call influencer transparency about paid endorsements “extremely important.” Once forged, the value of that relationship is hard to over-state. “Beauty enthusiasts are more likely to trust influencers’ independent, organic endorsements ... because they can expect an objective, credible opinion,” reveals Conor Begley, cofounder and president of Tribe Dynamics, a company that offers marketing technology and analysis for lifestyle brands.
Young buyers are especially motivated by influencer engagement. Nielsen reports that 59 percent of Gen Zers (born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s) are more likely than the general population to connect with brands via social networking sites. This statistic is significant because Gen Z is on track to become our largest consumer group by 2020. It’s clear that influencer marketing is becoming an increasingly instrumental way for brands to drive purchases.
Influencer collaborations are most prevalent in the beauty realm, say experts at Coresight Research. That’s because such partnerships are actually generating higher sales than old-school celebrity endorsements. “About 80 percent of the top 15 beauty brand collaborations for the first half of 2017 were with influencers, and only 20 percent were with celebs,” Begley says. The pairing is also good for manufacturers’ pocketbooks: a beauty authority can be hired as a brand ambassador for roughly $500,000, compared to the millions of dollars often spent to engage an A-list star.
FINDING THE RIGHT INFLUENCER FOR YOUR BRAND
Choose an Organic Connection. The most successful influencer alliances stem from an organic relationship between the ambassador and the brand. “In general, companies should strive to forge connections with influencers who have demonstrated a consistent, genuine affinity that extends beyond a preference for a specific product,” Begley notes. Case in point: Makeup guru Jaclyn Hill, whose YouTube fan base totals 5.7 million followers, nearly broke the internet when she partnered with Morphe cosmetics in 2017 to launch an eyeshadow palette, which sold out in just 45 minutes. Last year, more than 1 million Jaclyn Hill palettes were sold. “The union was successful not only due to Hill’s wide following but also because of her time-honored loyalty to Morphe,” Begley asserts. “She had mentioned the brand an average of 24 times per quarter in the two quarters preceding that product release.”
“The typical margin for engagement on Instagram is approximately five percent. The goal is to work with an influencer with 10 percent or more engagement, so posts lead more traffic to platforms.”
–Breanna Armstrong, director of social media and digital marketing, The Kirschner Group
Court the Influencer. Identifying a dream influencer is only the beginning. Th brands that are the most successful at forging long-term partnerships are those that engage in a subtle courtship process. It starts by liking posts or following a blog. Thoughtful comments grab attention, so when a brand does approach an ambassador, the groundwork has already been laid for a personal relationship. Smart brands contact influencers only with specific opportunities: those tailor-made to match the tastemaker’s niche interests. Relevance is critical–and this paradigm extends both ways. “Brands should avoid working with bloggers who have not previously expressed interest in them, as well as bloggers likely to spark controversy, which can alienate a portion of the brand’s consumers,” Begley suggests.
Engagement Over Followers. Credibility is essential when a brand is selecting an expert to partner with. “Legitimate influencers have a presence on multiple blog sites and social media, with measurable audiences and engagement,” says Mike Froggatt, intelligence director at Gartner L2. “They should be able to provide a benchmark, plus a projected range of engagement per campaign, so brands can set their own expectations.” Powerhouse macro influencers typically have close to 1 million genuine followers; thus, they can garner widespread exposure for a beauty group. But bigger doesn’t necessarily equal better. Smaller-scale micro influencers–those with 10,000 to 100,000 supporters–mustn’t be overlooked. “They tend to enjoy higher engagement rates from comparatively close-knit, passionate fans,” Begley says. The key, according to Froggatt, is to look for influencers who reply back to followers’ comments, since that’s a true engagement driver. Breanna Armstrong, director of social media and digital marketing at manufacturer rep. firm The Kirschner Group, echoes this notion of valuing an influencer’s level of engagement over number of followers. “An influencer with 1 million followers who only gets 2,000 likes on an image won’t be as persuasive as one with half the followers who draws 20,000 likes,” she says.
Patiently Play the Long Game. Remember that results can take time. Brands that do best are those in it for the long game. “An influencer’s followers often visit a page several times before they notice a brand tag, then actually click to follow it,” Armstrong explains. “Campaigns sometimes require influencers to post once a week for a month or request packages that can be spread out.” Of course, popularity comes at a price. Because influencer marketing has become so prominent, this realm is getting crowded–especially in the beauty sector. Fear of missing out drives some brands into hasty alliances with influencers whose viewpoints don’t necessarily match the company ethos. For brands, long-term planning and patience are essential when it comes to choosing the right partner.
Questions regarding ethics and regulation are on the rise in this still-nascent channel. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently started calling out influencers who hadn’t disclosed Instagram posts that were, in truth, paid advertisements. Any “unfair or deceptive acts or practices, in or affecting commerce, are declared unlawful,” wrote the FTC. This means that by not labeling a paid endorsement, social media mavens might not only lose trust with followers–they could incur retribution from the agency created to protect American consumers, too. A study conducted by digital data collection group Lightspeed Research found that only 11 percent of marketers are aware of or possess an understanding of the FTC’s rules. More than half said they were either not aware of or unfamiliar with its policies, while 23 percent admitted to being only “somewhat familiar” with the guidelines. Further, the agency has begun putting the onus on brands themselves. Companies must ensure their influencers’ compliance with regulations, and any brand endorsement not substantiated by fact is open to enforcement from the FTC.
“Influencer marketing, when done right, can expose retailers to new audiences and potential buyers. Given the correct partnerships, properly vetted for authenticity and credibility, these can directly drive increased awareness, sales and other forms of conversion.”
–Mike Froggatt, intelligence director, Gartner L2
But most marketers find it easy to be transparent. Marketers can easily define posts and play it safe by using clear hashtags (like #spon, #sponsored, #ad, #paid or #partnership) or by using the paid partnership feature on Instagram. In fact, Bloomberg reports that in the one-year timespan between July 2015 and July 2016, the number of properly labeled Instagram posts jumped from 120,000 to 300,000. “Every brand and influencer is different,” Armstrong says. “If brands make the effort to get to know influencers and embrace them as family, and influencers enter into principled long-term business partnerships, the results truly go a long way.”
WORKING WITH INFLUENCERS TO DRIVE IN-STORE TRAFFIC
- Instagram Stories: “Instagram Stories and Snapchat are methods through which ambassadors expose those behind-the-scenes moments many followers crave,” Mike Froggatt of Gartner L2 says. In addition to creating Instagrammable areas throughout your store, partner with an influencer to do an in-store visit for an Instagram or Snapchat takeover. Create a custom geofilter so that the influencer’s followers know your store’s location. Have the influencer tour your store and point out some of their favorite products along the way—and be sure to utilize the correct brand tags and hashtags to increase your account’s engagement. Since many influencers now have their own beauty brands, this is also a great way to break the news that you started carrying one of these brands. For instance, if you just started carrying Leyla Milani hair extensions, invite Milani herself to your store for an Instagram takeover to let customers learn more about her brand and your store.
- In-Store Events: Live events bring together tastemakers, customers and even celebs. “Meet-and-greets generate both online traffic and foot traffic in stores,” Breanna Armstrong of The Kirschner Group says. “When teaming with influencers for this type of appearance, be sure your brand provides social media graphics for them to post and promote to ensure successful attendance.”
- Cause-Driven Promotions: Charitable sponsorships executed both on the web and in stores likewise present invaluable opportunities to spark interest. “Cause-driven marketing is important to many influencers, so choosing the philanthropic moments that align with a brand’s core values can positively sway followers,” Froggatt says. For example, retailer Sleek Hair threw a 23rd birthday bash for influencer Kim Thai at their Tustin, California, location. Visitors shopped and participated in giveaways, while a portion of the proceeds went to the American Cancer Society.
- Free Swag Promotions: Giveaways hold power that should not be underestimated. “Teaming with an influencer to produce a giveaway is a great trick for speedily increasing revenue,” Armstrong reveals. “To maximize return, users are often required to first follow both the influencer and the brand or store’s account, then tag two friends in the comments.” Others pair a compelling tutorial of a specific product with a coupon code for instant buys.
Though influencer fraud has yet to be fully defined, the most traditional characterization refers to fake followers—using bots to artificially inflate follower counts or engagements as defined by comments, likes and shares. Here are the top scheme signs to be aware of:
- “Avoid experts who have separated their personal accounts from their influencer accounts,” Froggatt urges. Uniformity should exist among an influencer’s audience. Private accounts are a red flag for fake followers.
- “One of the better signs of an account with fake followers is a large discrepancy between audience size and follower engagement,” Begley reveals.
- Similarly, when accounts draw in a large number of likes but low comment rates, this is a clear indication of users paying for boosted engagement.
- Comments that consist of a single word or emoji are more than likely fake.
- Abbreviations like“fb” (follow back) or “lb” (like back) indicate users looking for additional followers—they’ll like the content of anyone who likes theirs first.