Beauty influencers are embracing the creator economy to speak directly to audiences and find greater control over what they choose to create and share explains Natasha Hulme, Global Strategy Director at SEEN.

Brands and the creator economy

This article is part of a series of articles from the WARC Guide to brands and the creator economy.

The beauty creator landscape continues to evolve in multiple directions. Talent has diversified and matured. Content that is long, short, still, moving, live or highly produced – whatever your preference or strategy there’s space for an abundance of mediums, all sourced from the influencers’ arsenal. There are thousands of faces, voices and perspectives ready to be tapped into by a willing brand that wants to tempt their consumer with reviews, endorsements and creative inspiration.

Macros, micros and all the inbetween-os, experts, newbies, artists and DIYers have all found their place in the beauty influencer society. As a brand, you can implement an influencer-focused content strategy with an enormous amount of certainty as to what you will see in return.

But, the question of costs has seeming remained something of an enigma. What to charge? How much? How to decide who gets what? What’s more important – reach or engagement? What are we trying to achieve and what is it worth to us? How has the creator’s content performed for other brands? What other incentives can we offer? Who reaps the rewards when there are many layers to PR, digital, social and content strategy that affect how well (or otherwise) an influencer’s material will perform.

At the peak of Clubhouse hype in 2020, I noticed a crop of chats popping up focusing on just this question: influencers – experienced and otherwise – hosting, discussing and asking for advice on how much to charge, for what, which platform, based on what metrics and brand. Some agencies and tools have proposed formulas for content requirements, but the relative infancy and varied level of experience of participants makes it difficult to come to one conclusive methodology.

This uncertainty has driven some resourceful influencers to explore more direct methods to shore up their earnings. Talented makeup artists, hair stylists and skincare experts are shifting focus from Instagram, YouTube and Tiktok to Patreon, Only Fans and new beta platforms Newness and Supergreat which raised $10 million in funding in 2021 to speak directly to audiences and find greater control over what they choose to create and share and better parity for what they’re paid.

Newness, founded by former Twitch employees describes their offering as “A place where they felt comfortable sharing their thoughts, a place where they felt safe and included, a place where they could ask questions and connect with others who shared their love of beauty in real time. Everything else out there feels too exclusive, too filtered, or too disconnected.”  The sell to the creators on the platform (currently by invitation only) invites them to “create content you really want to make” implying that other platforms favour material with less creative integrity.

The earning potential of content on these platforms varies, but is on the whole more closely attributed to the value that the viewer feels they’re getting from their experience. Products are purchased directly via affiliate links or branded shops for a cleaner purchasing experience or via the purchase of services. Very experienced session stylists like Wella ambassador Zach Mesqujit, makeup artists or those offering wisdom on specialist topics like wig styling, drag makeup or SFX are placing content behind paywalls with the aim of elevating their skills from the broader creator community. Some ‘super’ influencers are taking on the role of creative directors, recruiting their peers into collective discussions, masterclasses and conversations.

Zach Mesquit’s Patreon page allows fans access to his private accounts and expert content for a fee.

In the UK, demand for virtual access to dermatologists and highly trained facialists increased dramatically during the pandemic. An appointment with a top Harley Street aesthetician could cost you £500 in person, but now clinics held in the metaverse such as Get Harley can be booked at a fraction of the cost (bonus if you recognise the doctor from TikTok) and appointments come guaranteed to offer you brand agnostic advice. Brands are still able to reach consumers through partnerships with creators and platforms, but the consumer ultimately feels that they are getting something more personalised. One on one influencers, creators and experts are able to glean better insights about their audience that they can use to grow their community, crucial to ensuring the long term growth and stability of their career when in a competitive space.

As the creator economy continues to evolve and expand the question on fair remuneration will become more urgent. Policy development that we’re seeing governing what an influencer can or cannot do to edit their image (another conversation given that retouching in many forms has been around since the dawn of photography) and more stringent laws on declaring advertising, promotions and ‘PR’ gifting in posts indicate that there will be greater guidance and regulation over fair pricing for all parties. For now expect smart creators to think more deeply about what makes them distinctive, informative and worth seeking out and to monetise this on their own terms.