How Social Media is Transforming the Beauty Industry

It wasn’t too far in our beauty rear view mirror that glossy magazines ruled the beauty and fashion domain. We awaited the arrival of thick September issues to hit newsstands and our mailboxes with an eagerness similar to Christmas morning. There was nothing better than relaxing with the September issue of VOGUE, Elle, Bazaar, etc. Pouring over the pages, sleek supermodels with perfect skin and a must-have lip stain stared back at us; the issues chock-full of niche beauty products we wanted. However, something knocked the crown off of print magazines and over time, they lost their lustre.

september issues
VOGUE September 2003

Newsstand Sales Slump

Now September issues aren’t as eagerly awaited and they don’t make headlines outside the non-beauty or fashion world. It’s been several years since any September glossy was on my radar. It’s a known fact that print is down and publishing powerhouses are merging staff and folding titles. A pivotal time in the history of publishing is the stock market crash of 2008. Advertisers pulled back and reigned in their spending from most beauty and fashion magazines. Fashion titles soon turned into thin forms of what they used to be. Gone was the spring issue of our favorite beauty Bible bursting at the spine with glossy ads and creative layouts. Even though we are 10 years post-crash, many would say the print world never recovered. Advertisers didn’t come around as publishers expected and they maintained tighter budgets even to this day. You will notice September issues aren’t as thick as they once were and they may never be again. It’s fair to say our favorite beauty and fashion glossies may never regain being the darlings of readers and consumers.

New Topics

Aside from the crash of 2008, magazines in the fashion and beauty industry became more political; it’s not a bad change. However, when moving into this new political direction, publishers tried to please every reader and focused more on politics and social justice than say a new oil cleanser that attacks grimy pores. It’s difficult to wieve the worlds of fashion and beauty along with politics; especially when many readers crave to escape the real world. Politics and social issues need to be discussed, but they don’t need to push aside the discovery of fashion and beauty; especially for those of us that use glossies as an escape. As a consumer, I like to get lost in the world of beauty. For me, beauty is discovery. I want to discover new, niche skincare lines or brands that are hard to find; this is the reason I always devoured my favorite fashion and beauty glossies. My love for skincare products is one reason I went into beauty public relations. I love promoting new beauty brands that have a particular point of view and create unique and one-of-a-kind products. But now so many of my favorite titles aren’t delivering the ‘discovery’ articles as years past. I read about politics and social problems on my own; they don’t necessarily need to be present in every fashion and beauty publication.

The Dawn of Social Media – Specifically Instagram

Social media platforms didn’t begin with Instagram. Facebook was already on the social forefront when Insta launched in 2010, yet it was already becoming something of a relic with certain people, even then. Once users older relatives signed up, Facebook’s popularity dwindled. Younger users didn’t want their grandmothers to see what they were up to on wild weekends. Twitter was in full force, but not everyone warmed to it. The simplicity and layout of Instagram changed the social media landscape forever. Instagram is still a mobile-only app that cannot be accessed through a desktop or laptop. Its popularity and user base are astounding. From a beauty PR point of view, Instagram is so well-loved because it’s photo-based, super easy to use with a clean layout, and you don’t have to use a lot of text per post. Facebook seems like Times Square when logging on; it’s crowded and too much going on at one time. The layout is flooded and cluttered with updates, text, apps. While Instagram is minimal with a clean layout- it feels stress-free and easy to use.

How Social Media is Changing the Beauty Industry:

  • Consumers purchase a vast amount of products based on reviews. Social media provides enormous collections of reviews to sift through.
  • Click and ship. See a product that looks interesting on Instagram? Purchasing is just a click away.
  • All brands now have the means to display their products on Instagram. Ads exist, but Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snap are all free platforms.
  • Beauty brands use social platforms to create their own narrative through images, text, and video.
  • Customer service should be nimble. If someone asks about a product on a brand’s Instagram account, said brand needs to have a dedicated person ready to answer questions. Founders of small brands can handle their own social media customer service and PR while larger brands hire someone full time to post on the platforms.

It’s an Instagram Beauty World

As Instagram continued to rise and cement itself as the top social media destination, so did the popularity of many one-time fashion and beauty bloggers. It used to be that blogs were the online destination for beauty gurus- along with YouTube. Instagram surpassed all platforms with influencers. It became the app to promote yourself at fashion shows and show off a lifestyle coveted by many around the globe. Brands caught on and teamed up with influencers. Beauty brands harnessed the power of Instagram to pay influencers to promote their products. Six digit contracts are now the norm when working with an Insta influencer. Beauty public relations also paid attention. Boxes full of free products arrived on influencers doorsteps in the hopes they would post a picture of the brands PR represented. Even now, in 2018, the power of Instagram in the beauty industry is still going strong, although consumers are now more astute. When discussing Instagram and a beauty influencer’s followers, one must remember how many tweens and teens without their own disposable income follow celebs like the Kardashians and Chiara Ferragni. Influencers continue to peddle skincare and makeup products to the tune $60,000 to $900,000 a post, but it takes an engaged audience with their own bank accounts to convert into sales.

beauty industry and social media

The Influencer and Celebrity Effect

In 2015, Kylie Jenner launched a lip kit and it sold out within hours. A few years later, her older sister Kim, launched KKW Beauty. Like it or not, we can’t talk about Instagram without mentioning at least a Kardashian or two. Even though they are celebrities in their own right, social media played a huge part in launching their respective beauty brands. Without Instagram, they wouldn’t have sold so many products within hours. These celebrities and Insta-style stars are reminiscent of print magazines in their heyday: they produce what people want and many of their followers can’t get enough of their products and social content. It’s worth mentioning there are also a group of Instagram-only stars who weren’t as well known to the world before joining the social platform. These beauty and style influencers also have huge followings and brands are more than happy to fork over 5 or 6 digit payments for them to post an Insta snap or story of a new product. The business of social media is a competitive hustle and the beauty industry is one of the most instrumental in fueling its growth through sponsored posts and paying influencers and celebs.

beauty influencers
Kim Kardashian and Chiara Ferragni

Celebrities and big-name influencers dominate Instagram, but we sense the tide turning and a “sponsored post” bubble burst. The beauty industry is smart if they don’t put all of their eggs in one basket for mega influencers with millions of followers. From our own circle of beauty public relations insiders, friends, and even a sampling of consumers there is growing frustration with big names showing up on their Instagram feeds- they crave more normal and relatable. Let’s face it, the contouring makeup trend looked dated even a few years ago- hello, 1980’s makeup, only now it’s more polished. How many of your friends contour before work each morning?

Celebs and Instagram influencers will always be a part of the social media landscape. The way social media changed the beauty industry is still evolving. We predict consumers will start using social platforms to make their own discoveries when purchasing beauty products. Rather than purchasing what a paid influencer is peddling, instead, they may purchase based on their own searches. Consumers are smart, they know influencers and celebrities are paid to hawk beauty products. Similar to piled on thick makeup trends that aren’t relatable, neither are paid influencers promoting a lipstick or a cleanser. Big beauty brands are awaking to the fact that ROI doesn’t always deliver when paying an influencer or beauty guru to push their products. Beauty consumers aren’t naive; their BS detectors are spot-on. Sometimes we want to scroll through Insta to see cute puppy pics or a friend’s new recipe – not a stream of #spon posts and stories.

Niche Beauty and Social Media

As someone in the trenches beauty public relations, one area of social media I love is the art of discovery, especially within the niche skincare category. Where we once relied on the major glossies at newsstands to highlight the latest launches, or hard to find new skincare lines, it’s now social media platforms which provide that element of discovery. Instagram is a rabbit hole of unearthing the unknown in the beauty industry; we stumble upon many new brands, and also small ones with cult-like followings, there is always an enticing new serum or scrub on any niche profile waiting to be discovered. One could say Instagram is overly saturated with celebrities and influencers and their sponsored posts; from hawking various wares to peddling their own beauty brands, followers are bored and perhaps even feeling tinges of social media fatigue. For several years, celebrities and style stars dominated social media and they still do, but the online world is changing. There will always be a time and a place for the well-known to display their wealth and privilege online, that will never change. However, the average Instagram user is also changing focus. Just as print media morphs and changes, so does social media. Social media is still evolving and continues to impact the beauty industry.

Niche skincare and makeup lines are on consumers radars; they wouldn’t have the same amount of exposure had it not been for an app such as Instagram. Newsstand glossies can only feature so many beauty products a month, and many of those featured belong to large advertisers. Consumers now use their own judgment when searching and discovering new brands within the beauty industry and this sets niche brands apart from behemoths that pay large amounts for sponsored posts. There is something endearingly honest about a small, undiscovered skincare brand that doesn’t pay influencers to peddle their products.

A favorite recent skincare discovery is 320 MHz by Plant Me Botanics based in the UK. Their Organic Rose Otto essential oil is the star of this niche skincare line. It’s one of the best facial oils I’ve come across in years. I use it with a jade roller in the evening. The brand is small, inviting, and they don’t pay influencers to hawk their oils all over Instagram. No one influenced me to purchase their Rose Otto oil. 320 MHz was a glorious discovery all on my own.

facial oil

Less Influencers and Celebs

We predict Instagram will revert to a more egalitarian state that doesn’t rely as heavily on beauty brands spending huge sums for one sponsored Instagram post. Instagram’s algorithms will still churn out #spon posts and stories; they will never banish ads. However, it’s important to point out that social media fatigue is setting in across platforms; users are bleary-eyed and bored with influencers and celebrities dominating their feeds. Beauty brands, both large and small, realize that working (paying) with influencers doesn’t lead to ROI. There are examples of products flying from shelves and wait-lists on websites from sponsored posts via super-influencers peddling products; however, those are somewhat of an anomaly. From our experience of working with paid influencers, there was a far greater chance of selling products this way four or five years ago compared to today. The market is over-saturated with brands of all sizes throwing money at influencers hoping their product(s) sells out. The ROI simply isn’t there to justify the high fees commanded by influencers and fortunately, brands are realizing this.


Within the blushed world of beauty influencers, there is a lot of chatter and eye-opening (even scathing) articles to peruse. In sum, it’s a cut-throat world with a handful of influencers vying for sponsorship dollars and their own lines of beauty products, and then you have the beauty brands themselves stirring to the great awakening. We call it the ‘great awakening’ as beauty brands realize that paying influencers may not be the best social media strategy and it doesn’t always lead to an uptick in sales or ROI. This is a must-read by Vox on the pitfalls and drama surrounding beauty influencers: The shady world of beauty influencers and the brands that pay them, explained.

Also, the aforementioned link provides a very honest video by makeup artist Marlena Stell. We set the video to 4:44 time stamp where Marlena shares enlightening comments about beauty brands being fed up with paying influencers and the lack of ROI:


Beauty brands navigating social media recently discovered that micro-influencers are the new wave of social selling. As more users eschew celebrities and power-influencers on social media platforms such as Instagram, a new breed of peddlers are popping up: the micro-influencer. To some extent, millions of followers are important for an influencer but said followers must be engaged. We also know some followers are ghosts or fake profiles that are often purchased; these have no engagement. And don’t forget to take into consideration the proliferation of tweens and teens with no disposable income on Instagram; they make up a large chunk of a celeb or influencer’s followers.

Micro-influencers have smaller followings and that is where the integrity lies. Social media and the beauty industry (and other industries) are at a crossroads: you have influencers with large followings and then more normal people with smaller audiences. Micro-influencers with smaller, more contained followers, often have a more engaged and honest audience. Beauty brands want engagement; it means consumers or an influencer’s followers are purchasing products, viewing brands’ sites, and discovering more about said brand. Engagement and brand awareness is key if beauty brands, large and small, continue paying influencers; and it’s often these new micro-influencers that have some of the best engagement and interaction with their followers.

It will be interesting to follow the trend of tapping micro-influencers to peddle beauty products and if it results in brand awareness and more specifically ROI. Consumers now seek honesty and not blindly following an influencer with millions of followers who posts a new $3,000 handbag.

Social Media Trends Evolve

Trends online happen at a faster pace compared to offline. Dissecting the beauty industry in the offline world compared to online is difficult since the two mediums are different and change in disparate ways. Online space evolves and changes at great speed and therefore social media’s effect on the beauty industry is evolving; it doesn’t stay the same over a certain amount of months or years. Instagram is the most popular social app for consumers and beauty brands, but in a few months or a year, it could be a different app- something in creation that developers are working on as I type. Social media platforms evolve and trends online morph and change in rapid succession and that’s why trying to pinpoint where and how the beauty industry evolves within the confines of social media is difficult. We don’t know to what extent beauty influencers will still be a thing in 5 years; instead of a human, it may be an virtual models invented in a studio in Tokyo or Hollywood.

What we know is that social media allows beauty brands to distribute their message and content at a faster pace compared to offline and print.

Lil Miquela, above, is a virtual 3D influencer.

Social Media and the Beauty Industry

The print world evolved and then later parts of it dissolved; as this medium of communication changes over time, so will social media. Social media apps and patterns of shopping evolve expeditiously, therefore making it harder to predict how this medium of communication transforms the beauty industry. We feel confident in stating our own beauty industry social media predictions and so we will: Consumers and followers shift towards more ‘normal’ influencers for product discoveries and reviews. As social media fatigue sets in, specifically on FB and Instagram, there is a more egalitarian tone. How many more rich-people on Instagram can we stomach vacationing in Portofino?

Nothing will ever replace September issues; not even the glossiest, most high-end Insta accounts. As beauty publications shrink and bring in less advertising revenues and readers, print beauty editors still must discover unique and share-worthy brands and products. Beauty editors have the power to leverage readers between both print and digital. With social media’s evolution, Beauty brands are learning how to reach new and returning customers via social media and their tactics continue to change. Today we sit in a thick layer of Instagram beauty influencers peddling a rainbow of products. Influencers still are to a certain extent an effective way for brands to promote a new product and convey their message, but now ROI is coming under the microscope.

social media and the beauty industry
Sponsored posts we are used to seeing flooding Insta feeds. #spon lol.

Beauty brands must use social media in the best way that boosts their bottom line. If paying an influencer $80,000 for one Instagram update does not result in sales or major brand awareness, then this way of using social media within the beauty industry will wane- as it should. As stated, smaller brands often know if a sponsored beauty post results in immediate ROI, but with larger beauty behemoths, it takes longer for the numbers to filter up to social media teams and later the CEO. But now, in 2018, billion-dollar beauty brands question whether paying influencers to peddle their newest lip gloss or sheet mask is worth it; there aren’t viable sales leading to their return on investment. The strategy of paying digital influencers to hawk products is cracking as brands realize it rarely leads to an uptick in sales.

Beauty Industry and Brand Awareness

Social media provides beauty brands a platform to share their message in a concise and efficient manner. Even if a brand chooses not to work with beauty influencers, they still use FB and Instagram for sharing on-brand messages, new product launches, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of their inner workings. Brand message and awareness is the top goal as the beauty industry navigates the ever-changing tides of social media. The social media bubble won’t burst, it moves forward and evolves. As more big beauty brands realize paying influencers to peddle their products may not be the monetary solution hoped for, it remains that this social space is here to stay.

(Another important point that needs its own post is the art of listening on all social platforms. Beauty brands do themselves a service when they step back and listen to what consumers are saying. We touched on that sentiment a bit with this post.)

Social media at its least complicated level is a means for the beauty industry and its brands to easily and quickly communicate without waiting for the release of print magazines or catalogs. Social media is transforming the beauty industry through content and as a way for consumers to interact with brands. Who knows what the social media landscape will look like a year from now, but at present, it’s important for beauty brands to continue to create meaningful content in the form of Instagram updates and FB posts which make the consumer feel a part of their world. (Working with the highest-paid influencer doesn’t necessarily make consumers feel they are also included in a brands’ story.) Social media in the beauty industry should be inclusive, not exclusive. So much of the storybook world beauty brands create is for consumers. Beauty brands and beauty public relations should always aim to invite you in and social media provides that welcoming, inviting platform.

Social media, specifically Instagram, is morphing into a new phase. Authenticity, content, storytelling, and dialogue are key for any beauty brand in the digital sphere. It’s not always about who has the highest number of followers or how much money you throw at influencers; we are now at a new dawn of authenticity. As a beauty brand, being authentic and inclusive invites consumers in and lets them know there is a place for everyone in your glossy social media world.