Yesterday morning, the hot topic among beauty bloggers on Twitter was this article on beauty blogging, and a make up artist / journalist’s surprise at seeing bloggers being treated as Press at the recent IMATS fair in the UK. The writer’s opinion was that beauty blogging should not be viewed as professional journalism with the associated required experience and knowledge, and because of that, should not be treated in a way that is comparable to Mainstream Media. She went on to talk about the focus on the “new” that bloggers have, and the behavior and opinions of the two bloggers she encountered.
As you can imagine, I have a number of issues with this article and the opinions of this writer. The first is that this article seems to be incredibly late. The blogging as a challenge to mainstream media reared its head several years ago, and it has been proven that time and time again, non-professionals with few barriers to entry (e.g. bloggers) can provide significant challenge to traditional press and professional bodies. Take the example of 538.com, which started off as a political polling blog applying the rules used in baseball statistics to political polling, which ended up being the most consistently accurate polling in the 2008 election. Or Jane Aldridge from Sea of Shoes who has now collaborated with Urban Outfitters on a shoe collection. New York Fashion Week has been on constant Tavi-watch, the 15 year old with a strong sense of what she likes and isn’t afraid to wear Comme des Garcons in geometry class, or blue hair to Fashion Week. Tavi’s been on the cover of magazines, written columns for Bazaar and Pop, and a video documentary for the Target / Rodarte collection. Beauty blogging has its own example with Lauren Luke who has collaborated with Sephora on a collection and writes reviews for The Guardian. This argument is old. And as Tavi said, if editors didn’t like or benefit from bloggers, they wouldn’t feature them in their magazines.
The writer appeared to struggle with the absolute nil barriers to entry that blogging has, and therefore that anyone with an opinion can do it, whether that they are a professional or not. This is true. I cannot claim that I know everything about every single beauty product, or that I can list the active ingredients in my moisturizer. But there are several aspects to this argument. The first is that there are beauty bloggers out there who can, and do. There are many professional make up artists who blog. However, I am assuming that she is referring to the non-professionals who blog simply because they love beauty products, and base their reviews on their own personal experiences. The first thought I have on that is questioning how that is different to a beauty editor in a magazine, which, at the end of the day, is still simply an opinion of one, or a few people. Yes, they might have more access to information, yes they might be able to do interviews on why a product works, but there is also an evergrowing sense of unease about the relationship between editorial and advertisement in magazines, and just how much paying for a two page spread can influence the coverage a product receives. Ironically, the FTC guidelines require bloggers to state when items have been provided for review for PR purposes, but traditional, or mainstream media, where the bulk of PR attention and freebies are sent, there are no such requirements. Furthermore, just as for every good blogger there are bad ones, the same exists in traditional media as well.
The author writes in an incredulous tone about the impact of these bloggers’ opinions to make or break products. To me, this makes sense. As people lose faith and turn away from MSM (circulation is down on many of the biggest magazines this year, and has been falling steadily for years), other opinion makers are filling in the gaps, namely style and beauty bloggers. Where a person could once get one opinion, they can now get tens of hundreds of opinions. Furthermore, the ability to interact and build relationships with bloggers, get second opinions, become part of a community all leads to bloggers becoming opinion formers in their own way. PR companies are catching up with this (just check Twitter to see whether your favorites brands are there and what they tweet), and some brands, such as ELF, are building their marketing campaigns around the new dynamic.
Does this spell the end of the expert? Of course not. But it opens a way for other people, people who can write well and whose opinions are valid, into the conversation to share. To complain about this phenomenon is pointless – it’s happened already, and continues to do so. Recognize that the paradigm has shifted, embrace the new voices, join the conversation, learn things you didn’t, and embrace the access to multitudes of knowledge and voices.