I feel a disturbance in the Force.*
It’s a disturbance that has been bubbling under the surface for years, and is now bubbling over. It is a disenchantment with how information is getting out, and being received, and is a direct result of the rise in use of social media, in particular, Instagram.
There is a rising disenchantment among users of Instagram who bond within the beauty community, that there is a growing lack of transparency, honesty, information and sharing. There is an element of greed, and self-entitlement among many who strive to be noticed and be rewarded by the beauty brands, and this sits ill with those who truly have an interest in the genre.
Speaking from the viewpoint of a blogger (I have too small a following on Instagram to merit any standing, but at least I know it’s not padded) I’ve seen this same thing happen in the blogging community a little while ago. The difference now, is that anyone with a blog, or who has an instagram account, suddenly gets tarred with the same brush.
All bloggers and influencers are liars and sell-outs – the rabble cries, and shake their pitchforks in the light of torches. Sigh.
I, Beauty Blogger
I read often of people proclaiming “I don’t trust bloggers, Youtubers or Instagrammers. They are all greedy and only in it for free stuff” and that generalization kind of hurts when you see it. “Not me!” I want to cry. But it then comes across as self-pity, so I just shut up.
I am a blogger, and I refuse to call myself anything but a blogger. I am not a “content creator” (what the hell does that mean anyway? EVERYONE creates content the minute you publish anything online!) nor am I an “influencer”. If you are influenced by me, it’s really on you. I’m not going to take credit nor blame for it, nor am I about to tell people that I’m in the business of influencing people to buy or do things. Truthfully, that isn’t right, nor is it honest.
I should not be out there, trying to influence you in any way, unless I am a paid ambassador for a brand, and 100% committed to them. Also, I dislike that term because it brings to mind a pen of sheep. An “influencer” is like the lead sheep that leads the lambs to the slaughter. Sheep are simple creatures. They usually follow where the leader leads them, and this is how farmers get their sheep into the slaughter-house. Unfortunately, social media and the culture of celebrity worship has turned us all into sheep. You can be the lead sheep, or you can be led. We’ve stopped being encouraged to think, only to follow. But that is my rant for another day.
And this brings me to why it makes me sad that the term “blogger” almost seems like a derogatory term today. Like I should be embarrassed to call myself a “Beauty Blogger”, made to skulk around the shadows and edges of the bright shiny “influencer” people. Sigh. I’m not embarrassed, lest you wonder. But I am MADE to feel that way.
Most bloggers out there, who are most visible, being feted by international brands at fancy vacations, product launches or press trips are high-flying and do this gig full time as a source of income. Many of us cannot do what they do, nor are we willing to do what they do, in order be where they are. Yet, this really is also about how brands approach things, with the bloggers or “content creators” as their conduit.
The problem with the industry is not the platform. The problem stems from human greed, laziness and dishonesty.
Greed is the root of the problem
As a blogger, I’ve seen this happen before, and we never recovered our reputation. We only got shoved to the back of the cupboard on the pretext that “No one reads anymore, you are obsolete” This is something I refuse to believe, but it is what I’m told. People have told me, “Why don’t you just focus on your Instagram and leave your blog? No one reads. Maybe you should find a way to increase your follower count so more brands can see you”. And I sit there bug-eyed at their audacity.
Do I tell people to kill one child so they can focus all their attention on the other and propel them to fame? If you won’t, then don’t tell me to kill my blog. Ridiculous.
Rogue bloggers have been gaming the system for years. Fake content, dishonesty – we’ve seen it all before. They take beautiful photos (or pay people to), they are beautiful to start with, and they attract a following. What you often get are product features from these bloggers. Not a review. Sometimes, I’ve seen press releases blatantly copied, but with the blogger’s own photos, to give the impression of authenticity. This has now spilled over onto other forms of social media. I’ve learnt that instagram photos are contracted out to professionals, and so are captions. Ghostwriting an instagram caption is now a source of income. Wanna hire me? 😛
Because these people are so popular, or approach so many brands to sell themselves, they need to feature many products in a short time. (Often, we also hear of people who sell the press samples they receive or ask for – product they tell their viewers they have tried but never have) Unfortunately, this leads to very short content, often extracted in large chunks from the press release, with little to no critique or opinion. Sometimes, they’ve never even tried the product, yet rave about it. And that’s where the disenchantment creeps in as a reader, and which leads to the push-back against bloggers and online “influencers” – the lack of critique which I bemoaned before this. Blogging started out as a way to share your opinions online on your own platform. Today, it’s little more than a press release on some blogs, or a way to amass a boatload of free product. If I wanted a press release, I’d just read the damn press release.
It’s all very well to have beautiful photographs on your blog, or to take beautiful flatlay photos for Instagram. Every product in its place, every product pristine. A visual feast for the eyes, but like cotton candy, it isn’t real food. The captions of the photo tell you nothing, barring an insipid quote, or cooing over how pretty everything looks. The blog post has 10 beautifully taken photographs of the product or the blogger, with 2 paragraphs of content, with no opinion. If it was a product given to them, it’s often a rave. Photos never show a used product, because that is not aesthetically pleasing. It is like being served 3 leaves of a cold salad on a fancy plate, when all you want is a juicy sizzling steak and fries.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to have beautiful photos or to love a product. Instagram is all about beautiful photos. But I do expect an enthusiast to, I don’t know… spend money and be discerning about they love? Perhaps that’s naive of me to think so. Perhaps, when you are feted with so many products, you never feel the need to buy more or to question quality. Perhaps.
This bugs me because the product they receive for free, they “influence” their followers or fans to buy. It involves people having to spend hard-earned money. A mention about quality at minimum, would be appreciated, for we know worth is an individual consideration.
Be fair, PR products aren’t a bad thing
At the same time, I often also feel that readers or followers place slightly unfair restrictions on bloggers or instagrammers. I now see this statement a lot – “There are too many PR products around, I won’t follow an account or trust them unless they buy their own products”.
Well, that’s fair. Yet, how about looking at the flip-side. If PR or marketing do not seed out new products, how many people can afford to spend all their money on beauty products, just for purposes of looking “honest” or “for the blog”? Most people are putting out content for free. You don’t have to pay to read a blog nor to follow an Instagram account. As a follower, we want pure authenticity, but we want it free. There has to be balance.
The struggle here isn’t about free product. It is about taking that free product, trying it, and then sharing your OPINION on the product, both good and bad AFTER TRYING IT FOR A REASONABLE LENGTH OF TIME. Unless it’s makeup, a reasonable length of time isn’t a week, or even a few days. It’s 3 weeks to a month (To clarify, I am realistic to know that some products like cleansers or hydrating toners or even some masks may show results quickly and allow a person to form an opinion in less than 3 weeks. My beef is really with the review of treatment products or serums, masks and creams. Sometimes we won’t know if we react to a product till a few weeks later, even if it gives us a good impression at the beginning. Hence my blanket generalization of 3-4 weeks.). First impressions on skincare serve no purpose in my view except to let people out there know the product is available to purchase.
You can love it. I love lots of stuff. Perhaps you think me a sell-out too. That’s your prerogative. But I am confident in what I do, and how I do it. And that is the only way I’ve managed to stay sane in this crazy maelstrom that is social media.
If you’re afraid of a brand, you’re a sell-out
I still write, because that is what I do. I buy stuff, because that is where my interest lies, and because I can. I acknowledge that not everyone has that luxury. I splurged £100 on a bottle of serum. It was an act of insanity, but not everyone is that insane. But I am also open to receiving press material, because I can’t buy everything out there (even if it does seem like I do LOL! 😀 )
If you’re a blogger or have a sizeable following on Instagram, just be honest. Don’t be afraid to call out the bad, even as you praise the good. If a brand is so petty as to refuse to work with you thereafter, leave them. They aren’t worth working with. If you’re afraid of a brand, you’re a sell-out. If you’re so interested in a product, buy it. There’s no two ways about it.
If you’re a reader or follower, and only want to follow someone who buys their own stuff, know then you will have very little content. Yet, just because they buy their own products doesn’t make them an expert. Just because they can buy everything and feature tons of things doesn’t make them an expert. The experts are those who are trained in the study of the skin and dermatology. Everyone else is really just an enthusiast, and that includes you and I.
Support the bloggers you enjoy reading
This post is not about me feeling sorry for myself, nor about my being embarrassed to be called a “blogger”. I’ve made my peace, and I’m now just doing my own thing, bumbling along this trail, unsure of where it takes me. It’s just me being kind of pissed off that people are feeling so entitled about themselves, on both sides of the fence, and that I am being made to feel embarrassed that I’m a “beauty blogger”, implying that I must therefore be vapid, superficial, a sell-out and greedy.
So, unfollow if an account bugs you. Don’t read, if you don’t like the content. The industry is not going to change, but do support the people who you know are honest and open to sharing information. Share their content and engage with them. Leave a comment on their blog. Show them you care about what they do. By doing so, you help build a better beauty community for everyone, and perhaps you may even help turn the tide 🙂
Feel free to share your thoughts, whichever side of the fence you’re approaching from 🙂
* You won’t believe how long have I waited to use that phrase! 😀 It either makes me Obi-Wan Kenobi or Emperor Palpatine. Confused, I am. Embarrassed, I am not. 😀