You guys, I am so, SO excited to share with you this interview from the July issue of ELLE Croatia. Mihaela, the beauty editor there (who is also my namesake—Mihaela is the much cooler translation of Michelle) reached out to me for an article she was doing on beauty bloggers. Being an ELLE alum myself, of course I said yes!
She sent me such thoughtful questions that I had loads and loads to say—and they ended up including all of it in the magazine!
Since I'm guessing most of you can't read Croatian, I thought I'd share the English version, which covers my thoughts on the state of beauty blogging, how I got here and my best advice if you're thinking about a similar career.
We're flipping the tables and making ME the interview subject today! Enjoy...
Q: Since you launched your blog five years ago, you’ve developed it into one of the best-looking and the best-written beauty platforms in the world. Besides the first-hand information, your posts also have a very witty style, warmth and humour, which are rare to find in cyberspace.
Why did you decide to let go of the position of beauty editor at ELLE Canada to become a self-employed blogger? Was that a risky business move? Did you have some special financial back-up plan?
Thank you so much, that means a lot!
Actually, I didn't leave my position at ELLE Canada to become a full-time blogger. My goal was simply to become a freelance beauty writer and have my work published in a variety of magazines (including ELLE Canada, where I continued to be a contributing editor).
At the time, blogs were nowhere near as popular as they are today, so I only started Beauty Editor as a fun side project for myself, to experiment with the medium of blogging. I never dreamed it could become a full-time career until quite recently. These days, I spend most of my time working on the website and only occasionally do magazine stories that I find interesting. The gradual transition from magazine writing to blogging made it a less risky move and more financially viable.
Q: Two or three years ago, you upgraded your personal blog into a more ‘serious’ portal. How did you mange to do that? Can you explain that upgrade to (me and) our readers, who are eager beauty and fashion bloggers?
I think the evolution from a personal blog to a broader “beauty portal” has happened very naturally. I’ve never been one to over-share on the internet, so documenting the details of my private life hasn’t been a part of the blog that I had to reign in.
Instead, I think the personal nature was just the conversational way I have of writing—I try to make the readers feel like I’m their friend (which is how I think of them, too!). I’ve worked really hard to keep that voice, even as the blog has expanded and I’ve added new contributors.
It’s really important to me that my readers feel like they know the other writers, too (which I think is the case, as I’ve carefully selected people who feel the same way as I do about beauty, and they’ve been contributing for a long time). I never want my website to feel big, impersonal and corporate. I don’t believe “bigger is better” in the blogging world at all; some of the most successful websites in the world are run by individuals instead of companies.
Q: We know that print media still have much bigger revenue than their online versions (not to mention personal beauty or fashion blogs). Do you find that frustrating? It seems unfair to me that hugely-visited beauty blogs still can’t earn a tenth as magazines. For example: even though Allure is losing its readership, I’ve found the information that its revenue from ads was $33 million in the third quarter.
We’re definitely seeing a shift, both editorially and in terms of ad budgets, from print to online. So I think that’s very, very positive for those of us making a living on the internet. I don’t look at it negatively; I feel fortunate to have done campaigns on my blog with most of the big players in the beauty world: P&G, L’Oreal, Revlon, Unilever and more. It’s quite possible to monetize a blog in a number of ways, and compared to having a set salary as a magazine staffer, the sky is the limit in terms of earning potential. I look at it as being in charge of my own small business—it’s a wonderful challenge.
Q: Paradoxically for bloggers, you can’t survive without ads, but if you have too many then your independence and trustworthiness becomes questionable in the eyes of the readers (even more among the other bloggers). Do you agree with that statement? Or do you think it's ‘the survival of the fittest’ in the blogging scene? What was your key of survival and then success in beauty blogging sphere?
Yes, it’s crucial that a blogger has the trust of her readers. Without that, you have nothing. I’ve monetized my blog from the start, so I don’t believe that just having ads means you’ve “sold out” and are not to be trusted. We’re in 2014 and most people understand that monetization through display advertising (for example in your sidebars) helps you keep the blog running, pay your server costs, etc.
Sponsored content is a bit trickier, but I think there’s a way to do it without losing the readers’ trust. I choose to work with reputable, blue-chip brands, and the company looking after my ad sales is absolutely fantastic about creating campaigns that make sense for my readership. So, I’m never told what to say, and I write all the sponsored posts in my own words with my own opinions. If I don’t love something, I’ll never pretend that I do. I also think it’s important not to run too many sponsored posts within the same time period, otherwise readers feel like they’re reading too many ads.
I would say that you build the trust first and foremost through your own content. If readers know that you’re going to give your honest opinion no matter what, then that will serve you well through the time periods when you also run paid content. I don’t moderate comments either, so if people disagree with me, I let it stand. Being able to handle dissenting opinions goes a long way towards building trust, too.
In terms of "survival," I’ve never looked at blogging as a competition. My philosophy has always been “if I build it, they will come”; “it” being great content. There is room for many great websites about beauty, and just because someone else’s site is fantastic doesn’t mean her readers won’t come to your site as well.
My "key to success" is to just be myself and share my personal views and opinions on beauty. I don’t think you can ever become a successful blogger by imitating someone else who is already out there.
Q: What is your stand on beauty samples (I wouldn’t call them gifts) that cosmetic brands send to every beauty editor in the world so we can review them? It seems that ‘gifts’ among fashion bloggers are the main issue/stumbling stone that causes constant questioning of bloggers’ motives. In the words of Leandra Medine, “... it is the cynicism and skepticism that has made a home for itself in the field of blogging.” Are cynicism and skepticism only "child diseases" of blogging as a young medium?
Yes, I agree that the spotlight is on blogs because it’s a young medium. Everybody talks about the new FTC disclosure guidelines for bloggers, but does anyone mention the vastly larger number of freebies (far more extravagant than just product samples) that are sent to print publications? I’ve been there, and those things do heavily influence the coverage decisions—editors get trips, designer bags, spa treatments and more. Yet, people are freaking out because a blogger gave a positive review to a free lipstick she was sent?
That said, of course there are bloggers who will only write positive things about a free sample, because they hope to get more. I think this becomes very obvious to any serious reader, so I don’t know how disclosure makes much of a difference. Personally, I make it very clear that I’m coming from the world of magazines before I got into blogging, so receiving free samples is just a normal thing for me. It doesn’t even cross my mind that just because I was sent a freebie, I’d be obliged to cover it at all, let alone only say nice things about it. That’s the way editorial consideration works and brands should aways respect that.
The other thing I always say to new beauty bloggers is that you don’t need to be on any press list, getting free products, in order to have a great blog. Beauty writing can be about anything—your own tips, observations, cultural critiques, etc. Products are only a small part of it. I actually find reviews quite boring and feel there are far too many review blogs out there. I’d love to see more creativity and originality in the world of beauty blogging.
Q: As an experienced beauty editor and journalist in print and online media, how do you think the blogging scene has influenced traditional journalism and vice versa? Are there some themes or approaches that are more appropriate to one media then another?
I’ve noticed more and more that magazines are using a conversational tone in their print and online publications. So the voice has definitely changed and become a bit more casual, reflecting the blogging generation.
In terms of content, I haven’t seen traditional media do much in the way of in-depth product reviews, but I’ve noticed they’re including the editors’ faces more often in stories, to add that personal element. (So for example, it could be the editor’s own personal account, or a round-up of each staff member’s top picks, etc.). It used to be that the magazine editors and writers were only to be seen on the Contributors page at the front.
As for blogs taking influence from traditional media, that’s happening very much in terms of design and photography. Whereas blogs weren’t that well-designed a few years ago, now, there are many that rival the corporate media sites—and some, like Into the Gloss, are even more aesthetically pleasing. I think bloggers have really stepped it up in terms of design to add credibility to their individual platforms and the profession as whole.
Readers have also inspired an elevation in the quality of photography, in order to see the products and (in beauty) how they perform on the skin. Many beauty bloggers have become product photography experts, investing in DSLR cameras, light boxes and special lighting to take close-up shots, as well as creating setups for videos and makeup tutorials.
I don’t see the in-depth, long-form magazine stories taking off in blog form though, as people have a lower attention span online and I’ve found the information has to be broken down into shorter, more digestible pieces.
Q: Today, it seems that there is no difference between print/online journalists and bloggers. Everyone is trying to give the impression of ‘intimacy’, which was once inherent to bloggers. Do you agree with that or do you still see a difference between the two styles/approaches?
Yes, I’ve noticed my magazine colleagues increasingly starting to embrace social media, including Twitter and more recently, Instagram. Eva Chen really led the way in this respect. I think the difference is that most trained journalists (at least that I know) still feel a bit uncomfortable with it; to me, it feels a little narcissistic at times. I personally use my social media channels to share my blog story links and any news about products I think are interesting (usually a “sneak peek” before they launch). Sometimes I’ll do social posts if I’m at an interesting media event, or if I meet a cool spokesperson.
Q: What is the main difference between the information/text when you post it on your blog versus when you write it as a freelance journalist for print media?
The tone is completely different; when I write for a magazine, it’s in a neutral, third-party voice that I never use on my website. It’s also as impartial as possible, whereas I do my best to inject my personal feelings and views into every blog post; that’s what makes blogs interesting. When I’m commissioned to write a piece for a magazine, it’s not because they want to hear my opinions, it’s because they want a well-researched beauty story that presents all sides of a topic.
I almost always interview multiple sources for a magazine article, and use the quotes in the text. On the blog, I’ve found that interviews don’t necessarily resonate well with readers, unless it’s something like an in-depth profile of a makeup artist or other expert, and she’s sharing exactly which products she uses and her best tips. Otherwise, people don’t really want to read quotes online—they are there because of the blog author.
In general, I’m a lot more informal and creative with the material for the website.
Q: How do you see the future of personal style blogs, with their egocentric, “look at me”/selfies approach? Is that a passing fad or a trend to be reckoned with?
Coming from a traditional magazine background, I’ve been uncomfortable with the whole “look at me” aspect of blogging and social media. I certainly wish that would go away, but I don’t see it slowing down anytime soon. One of my favourite websites to read is Get Off My Internets, which pokes fun at blogger narcissism, and there is no shortage of material! I hope that as the medium matures, we’ll see a more serious approach that combines the personal element with legitimate reporting, not just selfies for the sake of showing off.
Q: What would you advise to those who are entering the beauty waters as bloggers or journalists? Is a love for (sometimes even an infatuation with) the beauty universe enough to succeed?
Passion counts for a lot! In fact, I would say it is the main thing you need to succeed as a beauty journalist, because that will carry you through all the ups and downs of this unpredictable industry. However, rather than a passion for beauty specifically, I think it’s best to have a passion for writing and media (specifically female-centric media). When I started my career in magazines, of course I loved all things fashion and beauty, but I would have been happy to do any job at a magazine—it was the medium itself that I was obsessed with. (When I was a little girl, I used to create my own miniature fashion magazines and write all the captions!) I think a love for the medium is essential because the job is far more about writing and editing than it is testing beauty products. I’ve seen interns with makeup backgrounds (makeup artists) get disappointed when they realize this; I’ve also seen interns who expected to be doing what they think is “serious” journalism get disappointed that they have to write about mascara! So first and foremost, it’s critical that you understand what a beauty editor’s job is about and love it. It looks glamorous on the surface, but that’s only a small part of what we do.
Other things that help in the traditional print world include a tremendous attention to detail, the ability to find the interesting angle for even the most boring subject matter (like the tenth mascara you saw that day), and always being humble. At least in Canada, media circles are very small, so having a good attitude counts for a lot!
I don’t think there is any set path to follow to succeed as a blogger, although I’ve noticed that a fair number of us are coming from print backgrounds, which I think helps because we’re used to the daily ritual of writing. I would tell any aspiring bloggers to find their unique voice and point of view; since blogging is so saturated now, you really need to bring something different to the conversation. I think a lot of bloggers would benefit from the experience of being edited, because that’s the only way to learn and develop yourself as a writer. My blog probably wouldn’t be worth reading today if I hadn’t had the years of experience working on staff, and learning from my editors and colleagues.
And above all, I think it’s essential that no matter what the medium—magazines or blogging—we all keep in mind who we’re writing for, our readers!
Have Your Say
What's your take on the state of beauty blogging?
What is most important to you as a reader?
What do you wish beauty bloggers (including me!) would start/stop doing?