These Irish women have turned blogging into big business - so how do they make their money?
Published 10/09/2015 | 02:30
Forget celeb endorsements to plug a product, there are new influencers in town, on a digital device near you, writes Eva Hall.
When Leanne Woodfull set up her blog Thunder andThreads in 2009, aged just 16 and in fourth year in school, she had no idea her posts about the fashion and make up she liked would catapult her into the digital mainstream, attracting nearly 70,000 followers on Instagram, and allowing her command big bucks from brands like Topshop, Missguided and Boohoo.
Likewise, when photographer Anouska Proetta Brandon, now 25, started her blog Anouska.net in 2011, she could only dream of being whisked away to Berlin and Monaco to share them on social media - now her full-time job.
Leanne and Anouska are just two of the growing number of Irish girls blogging and Instagramming their way to the top of the 'digital influencer' market.
These influencers are not only changing the way we consume our fashion and lifestyle news, but the way brands get their product out there - and they're making a pretty penny while doing it. These multi-platform content creators are now big business, with product placement, sponsored content and affiliated links all replacing 'traditional' advertising.
Dublin girl Leanne, now 22, has left her steady job in retail to focus on her digital career full time.
Between blogging and updating her Instagram, where she has 67,500 followers, and Twitter, with 22,600 followers, Leanne says she earns the same from four social media posts as she would for an eight-hour day in a clothes shop.
"Two years ago agencies basically started copping on to the fact that there was a lot of work in Instagram - a lot of money to be made.
"Similar to PR companies, they get brands and choose the 'fit' blogger. If a brand wanted a tattooed blogger, they'd choose me.
"In 2013 I was approached by the first one, and every single day I get emails from new ones."
Leanne posts photos of herself wearing an item of clothing from that brand, and gets paid a commission for the advertising.
"It means I've more of a regular income. When I was just doing blog work I could be broke for months, now at least I get monthly work.
"Some people just work on a social media basis, instead of doing a blog collaboration. You'd agree to do two tweets and two Instagrams so you're solely just working on social media platforms.
"Then there's me who blogs and does social media. I sometimes do jobs that are completely separate to my blog, so I had to start defining myself as a blogger and a social media influencer to show companies that I don't just stick to blog work," says Leanne.
When we spoke, Leanne was booked to fly to Berlin for the launch of the Huawei smart watch to cover it on social media. "Usually when I do blog posts I'd work for a fee with the company, that would include tweeting and Instagram," says Leanne.
Events such as these are common in the digital influencing world.
Recently, ice-cream brand Magnum held an event where some of the most popular tweeters and Instagrammers were invited to post pictures of themselves with the newly launched ice cream.
Models Holly Carpenter, who has nearly 63,000 followers on Instagram, and Daniella Moyles (just shy of 15,000 on Twitter) gleefully uploaded selfies to social media holding the ice creams, for a hefty commission.
Danielle Byrne, account manager at youth communications agency Thinkhouse, was responsible for the "style recruits" link up. Using 'digital influencers' like Holly and Daniella is more cost-efficient than traditional media, she says.
Thinkhouse has a number of influencers on their books, making up a fashion list, a beauty list, and 'high clouders' - those who can command the most money per social media post.
"It's just about finding the right fit for the brand - who is the right girl, or style recruit, for your product," says Danielle.
"It's really important if they're a fan of the brand. Product placement is just as valuable as getting a blog post [for the brand]. The likes of SoSueMe (Suzanne Jackson) can command a higher rate because they have such a large following."
Product placement, in the traditional sense, has always been a lucrative game. But even big-budget TV ads are held up to strict regulations and are required to show a 'PP' on screen when a product has been paid for.
There are no strict guidelines for bloggers and influencers when featuring sponsored content, but according to the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland, sponsored online content "must clearly state that the material is a marketing communication".
Section Code 'Recognisability' 2.57 does not specifically refer to the use of hashtags, but a spokesperson said: "some references currently used by advertisers are 'promoted by' or 'sponsored'."
With sponsored content one of her main money makers, Leanne says she includes it in her 'Disclaimer' section on her blog when she's been sent an item of clothing for free or if she's been paid to promote it.
Kerry-born Erika Fox, currently based in New York working full time as a social media manager at US brand Vince Camuto, says sponsored tweets are her main income, but she isn't just a tweeter for hire.
"I'm fussy about what I take on. I wouldn't just fob something off that's not me."
Erika refers to herself as a business woman: "Having a blog is a business - it's a full-time job. People think bloggers just prance around in nice clothes - they underestimate how much work actually goes into it.
"My day consists of getting up early and checking emails. I make sure I've an Instagram post up first thing. On my day off [from Camuto] I prepare blog posts - often three at a time. Then I could do a shoot, get stuck into the editing process and posting."
One Dublin-based influencer, who wished not to be named, and boasts a combined 70,000 followers on social media, says she's offered hefty fees to promote products daily, but has to turn them down as they don't fit with her ethos.
"I'm constantly asked to promote slimming supplements and juice cleanses. Someone offered me €500 for three posts - a before selfie, an after selfie, and a product post.
"I turn things like that down all the time. Mainly I charge €150 per post," she says.
Erika, who has signed to a blog agency in New York, said the industry overseas is a different ball game to Ireland.
"Brands take bloggers so seriously in New York. Seeing the budgets brands have for bloggers over here was a real eye opener."
As well as sponsored content, bloggers are also using affiliated links, where readers can click directly on an item and purchase it from the shop. The blogger gets a commission from the sale.
Veteran blogger and influencer Anouska, who reaches more than 77,000 followers on Instagram, says: "The whole point of this system is that the blogger has referred you to that product, so essentially bloggers are acting like personal shoppers. Personal shoppers get a percentage of all their sales, so it's just an online version that's fair for bloggers."
One company in particular that is driving the affiliated links market is US-based rewardStyle. It's an invite-only programme - Leanne, Erika and Anouska are all signed up - that has generated at least $20,000 a month for some of the world's top bloggers. Bloggers can make between 5 and 15pc commission on sales. In 2014, rewardStyle made $270 million in sales for its 4,000 retail partners, which include Nike and Topshop.
RewardStyle is also the company behind Liketoknow.it, another affiliate program tailored especially for Instagram - which has a no-links policy. Liketoknow.it sends you an email if you've 'liked' a post which had featured content in it telling you where to purchase it. If the sale goes through both the Instagrammer and Liketoknow.it get a cut.
The company's co-founder Amber Venz is just 27-years-old. In fact, everyone interviewed for this article was under the age of 27. So if digital influencing is a young person's game, how sustainable an industry is it?
The industry has grown at such a rapid rate no one is measuring its potential, and new platforms are emerging everyday. Snapchat, launched in 2011, gained major traction in the last year. In 2015, 70pc of 16-18 year-olds said they use Snapchat at least once a week, according to a Thinkhouse survey.
"Even the term 'blogging' is slightly outdated," says Danielle. "At the minute I can only see [digital influencing] growing.
"Snapchat is the one that's going to take over - we can't measure its growth right now, but it's growing at a phenomenal rate."
Erika says: "I'm focusing on Snapchat now. Twitter and Facebook aren't as big as they were. You can be raw and real on Snapchat, people get to know the real you.
"[The end of blogging] will happen one day. I don't think anyone really knows where it's going to go. But I'm business-oriented, I'm thinking of projects away from the blog now."
Anouska also has her sights on the next big thing: "I am doing vlogs at the moment and will be doing a lot more video content in the coming weeks as it's something my readers have been asking for."