A Site For Sore Eyes

4th November 2011

Blogging – an abbreviation of weblogging – remains a popular way to share your opinions on a wide range of subjects… and even a a cursory look online will show that beauty and lifestyle are naturals for this. They say that the best way to learn about blogging is to do it yourself – but the best shortcut is to talk to the best beauty bloggers to find out what it’s all about and get a head start.

Mary Linehan has done just that…

It’s virtually impossible to count exactly how many blogs there are just in the UK, never mind globally, but certainly the magazine-style, or e-zine format is perfect for the latest news, product reviews, tips and advice – and of course big brand advertisers and smart marketeers. And it’s a natural platform for writers looking for a satisfying outlet for their creativity, or entrepreneurial talents, albeit one that is a big commitment.

Importantly, too, blogging is a natural partner for beauty brands. The greater part of the audience that they are targetting is comfortable with social media. Blogging and tweeting are second nature.

Even in cyberspace, though, success needs to be measurable to some degree. Traffic to a site and the number of followers are the commercially recognisable measures. To make it, a beauty blogsite needs to be well written, have clear messaging, inform and work on some emotional level to attract followers and build up loyalty and thus credibility. So it follows that a successful beauty blogger needs to be at the top of her – or his – game and also understand blogging culture and certain nuances. From the conversational, chatty style of social media comes a sense of community, and blogging-chums appreciate ‘added value’, such as links to other sites or blogspots they might interest them. And since a blogger is in a virtual relationship with each of their followers, they also need to be prepared to have their opinions challenged and debated – all of which makes it both liberating and stimulating – or, as one blogger describes, “fresh, fun and interactive”.

Regularly in the top half of the Top 10 lists of the best UK Beauty Bloggers, is British Beauty Blogger, Jane Cunningham. Jane is an experienced beauty journalist, having written for glossy magazines and a raft of national dailies. She spotted a niche for her talents about three years ago when she realised that blogs were on the up in the US with the UK lagging behind. She also recognised that blogging would feed her creative frustrations. “As a beauty writer, it was great to have a space of my own where I could say what I really thought of products without having to worry about an editor censoring it.”

Being author of one of the most visited UK beauty sites, Jane has very firm views on the contribution she and her colleagues make. “Bloggers are very powerful in opinion forming and, of course, don't have to keep advertisers happy… They can tell it as it really is – something that hasn't ever happened before. It's all skewed to benefit the customer rather than the brand.”

With some conviction, she adds, “Beauty blogging has made a significant impact on how women buy their beauty products with many searching for online reviews before they make a purchase.”

Janine Phillipson agrees that blogging has rung in changes in beauty. However, she says that industry insiders, from CEOs to brand managers, to press officers, all stand to benefit as well as the consumer. So, too, do the small brands.

Janine set up Goldilocksbeauty when she was freelancing from home, having left her beauty editor job on one of the top glossies to have children. Working on monthly magazines for over 20 years, her lightbulb moment came when she was poring over parenting titles and realised that beauty coverage was seriously lacking – and that there were consumers out there who went online for their information and were not being catered for.
Highly regarded beauty journalist Jenni Baden-Howard is another who has spotted changes in the beauty sector since she set up her brilliant nonstopmama blogsite three years ago, in the area of visual contribution in particular. “I think it's interesting to note how established magazines – Vogue, Allure etc – are designed to look like blogs in their own website layouts, ie in short post form, as with tags like the Vogue blog.”
They say that imitation is a form of flattery so perhaps this is a nod from the magazine industry that blogs are the proverbial genie out of the bottle.

Bloggers and brands haven’t always had an easy relationship. Historically, big ad spends give a brand not only the lion’s share of the pages, but a louder roar. As Jane Cunningham attests, “Initially, blogs were avoided by PRs and brands, as their outspoken nature took some getting used to! Now, most brands have a blogger strategy and actively look to work with us.” She fights the consumer corner, and in doing so she highlights the potential commercial influence of bloggers: “Hopefully, where a product has got consistently poor reviews, it will encourage the brand to go away and make a better product instead of expecting consumers to part with money for something sub-standard.”

When award-winning journalist Kate Shapland set up her blog in early 2009, she was interested in the rise of social media and wanted to experiment. Rather than set up a site devoted to beauty generally, her chosen specialism is legs – hence The Leg Room.com. Kate was somewhat unprepared for the initial fallout – and admits to immediately regretting it. Blogging is a major commitment, and Kate already had to write a weekly column for the Saturday Telegraph Magazine plus daily columns for Telegraph online, although she does add that the problem lay not only in the commitment – “I have plenty to say about legs” – but the poor image that blogging had in the beauty business.

“Blogging is a platform for opinion”, she continues, thoughtfully, “And while delivering information with opinion can be interpreted differently there is room for the subject matter (or brand) to feel aggrieved by the way a blogger writes in order to maintain a following. I really did not want to be part of that culture, so I decided early on to concentrate on giving visitors to The Leg Room a positive, upbeat and entertaining read, and not to get wound up over the number of followers it had.”

So what are the positives for good bloggers and entertainment values for readers? What is it that keeps everyone logging on? Jenni Baden-Howard feels, "So many great writing and creative talents are being 'discovered' through their blogging, which is fantastic. There is so much more opportunity now to get ahead and show people what you can do – by just doing it!”

Jenni is gushing on the positives of her own experience, too. “With nonstopmama.com, I guess it's where my life as a mum of two and my passion for beauty, health, wellbeing, fashion, homes, through my work, collides! I have the busy, flat-out mama in mind, who doesn't have time to read reams of copy but wants a quick 'lift', an idea, a fast make-up trick that works a treat, a quick and foolproof recipe, something pampering for her, a fab, short interview with an author or expert she's interested in… I want to uplift, encourage and have a laugh and share with other mums (and many nonstopmamas who aren't mums, I might add!! You don't need to have kids to be a nonstopmama by far!!).”

What, then, is the future of beauty blogging? Queen Bee Beauty blogger Tanya Jones has something to add here. She was, unusually, a crime and showbiz hack on regional red tops with an unfulfilled passion for great beauty products before she set up her blog. She says, “I think an exciting future is in store for beauty blogs and websites as the internet has given a voice to those with something original to say. Fresh input from those who had no platform in the past, means a journey of discovery. It’s going to be fascinating to see where it will lead.”

These pioneering beauty bloggers regard the experience as upbeat and exciting. and no-one looks likely to be pressing the escape button anytime soon. Jane Cunningham loves that she has met like-minded people from all walks of life that she would never have had the chance to know about; Kate Shapland finds it fulfilling and would devote much more time to it than she is currently able to because of her pressing work commitments; Janine loves the excitement that a blogger can get something out there instantly, whereas a magazine may take up to three months to publish. For her, though, old habits die hard: “I still love to have and hold a magazine to enjoy – losing yourself within the pages of a good article or stunning visuals is a different type of escapism to an online read.”

And the last democratic word – a piece of advice to those looking to check out blogs for the first time – goes to the British Beauty Blogger: “It's well worth spending time to seek out the smaller blogs as well as following bigger, more established ones. Everyone has something to bring to the party…”

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