The online beauty community of Youtube is currently one of fastest growing genres on the platform with new creators posting daily. The market is saturated with beauty and lifestyle brands and there is no short supply of people on the internet to help promote them. The beauty industry has been cashing in on creators, influencers, and bloggers on Youtube and Instagram through sponsorships and paid content.
The industry has been gaining traction through PR packages, or free products sent to those with a substantial following. Influencers post massive hauls of PR packages to their Instagram stories as they are delivered to them. Tati Westbrook, Glamlifeguru on YouTube, recently posted a PR unboxing video that shows more than 50 boxes of free products sent to her that was stacked to the ceiling. PR packages have raised concern over sustainability efforts and the sheer volume of products influencers are sent to use, throw out or donate.
Major brands expense fully paid getaways, or brand trips, where they send influencers to beautiful locations to dine and party while using and wearing their products all showcased in photo-shoots for Instagram posts and daily vlogs. This phenomenon has allowed YouTubers and Instagramers to turn social media usage into full-time jobs. These influencers make a pretty penny for featuring a new product in their posts or giving a glowing review and encouraging their followers to jump on the bandwagon.
This raises the question of the integrity of the actual content being created. Are you watching a makeup tutorial or is it just an advertisement in disguise? Creators are now forced to decide to either be honest with their followers or financially support themselves and their content creation through brand deals.
Followers are quick to call out creators in the comment sections for making sponsored content that does not seem authentic and when some creators seem to have grown entitled to thinking they deserve compensation for the mention of any product in their content. Beauty gurus, such as Laura Lee, Manny MUA, and Thomas Halbert have been accused of only being in it for the money, when they were given reality checks when controversial information from their pasts and personal lives caused them to lose brand partnerships.
Jeffree Starr, one of the most followed beauty YouTubers, does not do any sponsored videos on his channel. He is praised by his followers for always giving honest reviews, even if the products have been sent to him. He has been ‘kicked off’ of many PR lists for not giving positive reviews. Kylie Cosmetics, Kylie Jenner’s hugely successful makeup brand, has been notorious for removing influencers from their PR list after a negative review of their products received attention online.
What kind of message do these brand-influencer relationships send to consumers? From a brand perspective, it shows this company only values an influencer if they can expect good reviews and are not open to honest feedback. From an influencers perspective, the individual can only make money if they give the brand what they want, but how do they be authentically themselves and loyal to their followers, who are the consumers being targeted?
The situation has left influencers and beauty lovers frustrated. What started as a community for people who loved beauty and wanted to share their discoveries and creativity, turned into an advertising money making machine. Brands continue to be aggressive with influencer strategies and creators feel torn when it comes to working with a brand in fear of backlash and have been more selective in their business choices. Smaller influencers do not always have the option to be so selective, especially when brand deals will help them to grow their following and perceived legitimacy. In result, the content put out has become extremely commercialized and followers are feeling a loss of the authentic and creative personalities creators once brought to their platforms.
With the U.S. Federal Trade Commission updating their guidelines on social media disclosures this past year, consumers will likely see more transparency when it comes to brand-influencer partnerships. #Spon, or sponsored hidden in the description box or caption, is no longer an acceptable sign of paid content. Going forward, it seems likely that beauty consumers will reevaluate who they follow and be more cautious of what product reviews they rely on. Hopefully brands will learn to see creators and influencers as true business partners, rather than taking advantage of them and their base of followers. If brands want to make a good impression with consumers, kicking off their favorite Internet celebrities from their PR lists is probably not the best idea. Finding a public relations and marketing solution that will satisfy the brand, the influencers, and the consumers in the beauty community will be an on-going challenge.