For several years, I have to various degrees followed beauty boards and blogs. For me, the primary reason has been to get “honest” reviews on products I would like to buy, as well as to learn about different products on the market. However, these beauty forums and blogs serve as much more than just a aggregation of reviews.
One such forum I have followed for some time is EMakeMeUp/Beauty Grapevine. This site features product reviews as well as a forum for chatting about beauty and other topics. There is a noticeable set of “established” users who have been on the site for years, have distinct personalities and make the website feel like a real meeting place for friends. Far beyond makeup, these women discuss their daily lives, families, work and more. Furthermore, these e-lives sometimes spillover in real life, with annual meet-ups and gift exchanges.

One interesting feature I have noticed is how many of the most popular and established users have created their own blogs. In general, there has been a dramatic increase of personal beauty blogs, and they have come to be a key part of the beauty market.

For this travelogue, I wanted to study the trajectory that beauty bloggers make, from establishing their personality on a forum, to using that momentum for creating a blog, to breaking through in the blogosphere.

I decided to survey current forum and bloggers about their experiences. I hoped to understand what they use the beauty forums and blogs for, and if there is perhaps a growing shift away from forums to a more blog-intensive online beauty world.

I decided to focus on qualitative interviews, generally conducted via email. The questions I asked generally began with the following questions. Some users were given slightly different questions based on their initial responses, for clarification or a more in-depth explanation.

  1. Can you please tell me a little bit about your background? Did you have prior beauty-related experience or have another blog before?
  2. Have you ever used a beauty-related forum or chat room? If yes, how would you consider that experience as compared to blogging? If no, was there any particular reason why not?
  3. If you blog, when and why did you decide to start blogging?
  4. Can you tell me about your approach to beauty blogging? Do you only write about products you have purchased yourself, or do you also accept PR samples? Do you disclose to your viewers if you are writing about a sample? If you don’t blog, how do you feel about the fact that many bloggers receive free PR samples?

One user I interviewed goes by the name Grace, and is the author of London Makeup Girl, a beauty blog she created about 2 years ago.  She is a “thirty-something” professional who lives and works in London. She does not have a beauty-related background. She used to contribute frequently to EMakeMeUp/Beauty Grapevine, often posting reviews and asking and answering beauty-related questions. She wrote, “I’ve been a member of (EMMU) since 2004 and I’ve been a member of (MUA) for a similar length of time. Makeupalley is busier, has a more commercial approach and tends to have more transient posters (and also tends to have more, um, robust exchanges of views on the boards from time to time.) Members who post there regularly have buttons that they can flag up posts with inappropriate content, including people who post on makeup boards purely to promote their own goods, services or site (what’s known as shilling.) EMMU is more closely monitored by the moderators for unkindness, as well as for shilling. It has a smaller, more family/friendship feel to it.

When asked about why she started blogging, she wrote: “A board is like an interactive letters page, where a blog is a column. There’s room in a newspaper for both of those. With respect to the third question, I started my blog because I like writing, and I didn’t want to be that person on a board who is always talking about herself and her purchases (on my blog, I feel like I can do that! I can also write longer posts on my blog than I would on a board.) As I’ve written before, I’m in the fortunate position where I have disposable income that I can choose to spend on quite expensive items. If a board is just filled with posts about expensive brands it can sometimes inhibit people from sharing their thoughts on less expensive brands, and there has to be room for both on a board.”

Regarding gratis PR samples she said, “On the one hand, PR samples enable bloggers to write about more products, but on the other, if there isn’t full disclosure it gives a false view of what the actual (consumer) purchase of products is, and leads the reader to believe that it’s normal to buy every single product from every launch. (See? There’s that manipulating you to buy more). I do accept PR samples for this blog if it is something I’d have bought for myself, and I do always disclose PR samples.”

Much of what Grace said was echoed by other users. Here is a selection of some of the responses I got:

“I do both, I like to have my own place where I can talk extensively about a subject I pick, but I like to be on forums for more interactivity and quick answers. I’ve been on MUA for a few months only but there are people who are there every day and are very funny and friendly” – MusingOnBeauty

“Bloggers have more freedom to write what they want, and I see them as a valuable resource. Although I have to admit once that FTC rule kicked in and I found out how many bloggers were getting free stuff, it was very disheartening. I still appreciate the value of their own reviews, photos and swatches, but getting things for free is completely different from purchasing things with your own money.” – Lina

“I don’t blog but I love reading them and I do agree that bloggers should credit their sources. Much the way posters do when they find something interesting in a blog. It’s the courteous thing to do.” – Ammie

“I definitely feel that there is a place for both blogs and boards. I use the former to discover what’s new, the latter to have a place to discuss and share opinions interactively. I used to visit blogs more, but after peering “behind the curtain,” so to speak, and reading how many products are acquired for free and how many bloggers use affiliate linking to make money, I’ve dramatically cut down on the number of “for profit” blogs I visit. You can tell the day MAC sends out press releases and samples as every blog will post them almost simultaneously.” – SB

“I like the community feel of EMMU and also the thoughtful appraoch of many members. They tend to know or remember the likes/dislikes of other members and really give thought out answers to questions. The Board at MUA moves so fast is is great for quick response to an urgent question. I also use the pictures on MUA all the time as a reference tool to find a color or get a peek at something. As for blogs – I love to read them for in depth focused opinions.” – Greengirl

I have several other in-depth interviews to draw from, but generally what I have been able to conclude so far is this:

- Many people who enjoy beauty products often begin by looking at forums and blogs for information about beauty products.

- Generally, they then split either into “lurkers” (that is, people who only read information but do not post) or “contributors,” (people who both read and post).

- Some contributors decide that the limitations of the board (space, size of community, topics of the board, etc.) merit creating their own personal blog, where they can write at any length about whatever topic they choose.

- Many bloggers accept PR samples, and this trend is on the rise. However, most feel that it is important to disclose when something reviewed was a free PR sample.

2 Responses to “Draft: Beauty Puts it’s Best Face Forward”

  1. lizcullen says:

    I really like this idea for a travelogue since it’s unique and different. I also like the way you made the connection of different media outlets from discussion board to own personal blog. I know that more famous fashion bloggers are even able to make a living out of it or get a lot of free stuff from clothing companies. Is this the same for beauty bloggers? Is there a certain incentive to start a blog, and become a more “established” user. What does the community think of these ‘established’ users? Do blogs provide a certain fantasy for their creators? What do they get from having lots of followers and fans? It’s also interesting that these women choose to cross over the cyber threshold and meet-up in real life. What sort of support system does the internet have for these women I wonder. Good work!

  2. chelseachristensen says:

    I agree with Liz! I am definitely interested in this subject because if I’m looking for a new makeup brand or item, I don’t want to go and buy 10 of them before I figure out the best one. Kind of building off Liz’s comment, I have also heard of the really popular bloggers and YouTubers getting free cosmetics sent directly from company’s. What I would be interested to know is if, because of these freebies, does it have an effect on what the bloggers say about the product? Have some of these bloggers become endorsers for certain products because of the pressure from a company, or are they still objectively looking at the beauty items? I have just never actually followed a beauty blog, so I wasn’t sure how it worked.

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