If you have found yourself scrolling on TikTok looking for beauty and skincare tips to improve your routine, you’re certainly not alone. I’ve spent more time than I would like to admit out loud buying new products I’ve seen online and praying that they’ll create a flawless finish for my skin. From the “best” face primers to contour techniques, I’ve tried it all.
Social media wasn’t always like this, though. Back in 2004, Facebook began as a site for Harvard University students to judge fellow students’ appearances; however, it evolved into a personal network space. For years, social media feeds focused on photos and videos of friends and families.
Yet, social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok grew to become influencer marketing hubs in complete subversion of their original purposes. Now, advertising campaigns and influencer codes fill up recommended content on these applications.
The heart of the matter rests within the beauty industry, whose influencers push products on their audiences to keep up with the latest trends in makeup, skin, and hair. “How-to” videos detailing foundations that look like skin and ways to curl hair overnight leave viewers rushing to buy products they wouldn’t even know they need.
The outcome is the same every time. The viewer buys the product and it may or may not work for them, but before they know it, there’s another product presented by influencers to fix everyone’s lives.
According to Forbes’ 2023 statistics, it's estimated that 4.9 billion people around the world use social media. If social media is a space where people receive their news and other information, it makes sense that companies selling merchandise would turn to these platforms and their influencers. This includes the beauty industry. Typically, influencers hold these characteristics:
An existing following on their social media accounts.
An established personal brand, meaning the ways influencers differentiate themselves on social media based on their expertise and online personalities.
Credibility with their followers, meaning people who trust their advice.
The last point is key to influencer marketing. It’s the reason why companies are leaving traditional advertising behind. Companies could buy advertising space in a newspaper or pay thousands of dollars for a billboard in a major city, but when companies pay an influencer to push a product, it’s a simple and effective way to get that product into consumers’ hands.
The concept has grown in such a short amount of time that celebrities are evolving into influencers by partnering with companies to showcase products that they use or have helped to create to millions of social media followers. Even micro-influencers, who have 1,000 to 40,000 followers on social media accounts, are capable of garnering sustainable incomes.
All in all, career opportunities on social media are desirable to people who are chronically online. As technology increasingly takes over many aspects of our lives and more social media platforms pop up, that seems to be everyone, and we’ve allowed influencing to catapult into viability.
This brings us to TikTok. Although beauty influence began with Instagram and YouTube, influence grew immensely when TikTok went global in 2018 and picked up speed during the COVID-19 shutdown. From PR unboxing videos to makeup tutorials, we can’t blame viewers for getting hooked on tips and tricks provided by influencers all over the world. It isn’t slowing down either. According to a survey conducted by StyleSeat of 1,000 American social media users, 94% of TikTok users see influencers on the app. That same survey revealed that 89% have purchased beauty products after seeing them on TikTok. Although the survey is a small sample of a national population, it is clear that influencer marketing is effective.
Influencer marketing is the answer to the deeper subconscious. The reality is that people want to buy things that other people love — which includes a brand new lipstick or eyeshadow palette.
People don’t want to watch a commercial with a model telling them it’s the best product they’ve used while simultaneously reading the small print at the bottom that she’s a paid actress. They want someone to use a product, rave about it, and recommend it to them like a friend on FaceTime. It means more as a consumer, and it always will because it feels personalized, even though the recommendations tend to be paid promotions.
We’re not focused on buying the things at the front of the store or the first skin tint in the magazine, but rather watch influencers apply makeup and think, “I need that mascara, too! It looks amazing on them!”
Influencers and their teams decide what products to push on social media accounts. Although we like to think that entails upholding ethical standards, it may not, and plenty of international influencers have landed in hot water because they have failed to disclose a brand deal. If legal problems continue to surface, it’s possible the entire business model could be disrupted in years to come.
To mitigate this potential problem, many governmental bodies around the world limit influencers with guidelines about proper decorum in their field. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) produced rules that influencers must disclose their relationship with the company. This means that the content itself must make people see and understand that the
influencer created sponsored content. In India, the Advertising Standards Council issued similar guidelines for disclosure and due diligence.
However, there aren’t any rules in place to deal with the consumerism mentality that springs from influence, especially in a market like the beauty industry. The fickle industry changes what the “holy grail” product is every day, which produces a vicious cycle of buying every product that’s presented to us in search of a “perfect” routine that does not exist. Although the concept of “dupe” products that compare to expensive alternatives economically helps people who want to try products their favorite influencers use, it heightens the concept that we’ll keep thinking we need products we’ve never needed before.
Where does this leave us?
Influencer marketing isn’t going anywhere. Legal and ethical issues aside, companies rely on influencers to advertise their brand’s products now. It’s up to the consumers to decide what to buy, when to trust an ad, and which products are worth it.
It’s increasingly more difficult to separate our online lives from our personal ones, but taking a step back and reassessing why we want the products will help us in the long run. If nothing else, it lets us come to terms with the fact that the beauty industry at large promotes free market economies first and foremost — and so do its influencers.
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