Under the influence - the social media players
Their fashion and beauty posts have been dominating the media, but why should we listen to online personalities
'Influencer' is definitely one of the buzzwords of 2016 in Ireland. You might have witnessed a burgeoning breed of celebrity it seemed difficult to categorise of late - not just bloggers, not quite stylists, not exactly models - these are the social media influencers, a new category of IT girls and guys building popularity and making headlines around the country.
To influence, by definition, is to possess the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behaviour of someone or something, or the effect itself. In more basic terms, these are the people whose online personas have become so popular, that other people want to be just like them - wear the clothes they wear, use the products they use and live their fabulous life. And for some, being influential has become their full-time job; they earn money by working with brands, hosting events and having their blog and social-media posts sponsored.
It's not a new trend; bloggers like Suzanne Jackson of 'So Sue Me' and Erika Fox of 'Retro Flame' have been influencing their readers for years. However, now it is at fever pitch - the very act has been given a title, the numbers have sprung up and more people are realising that this is a new career path of sorts for aspirational millennials.
This week, Irish website goss.ie published a list of the top 100 influencers on these shores, and while many were thrilled to be included, it also saw a bit of a backlash online. Perhaps it's to do with the Irish mentality of "notions", but many wondered why the general public would choose to listen to someone being paid for endorsements, and also about the transparency of such advertisements.
Model agent Andrea Roche says she saw a gap in the market here in Ireland, and since last year has been working to sign the most popular personalities to her Influencers division.
"I always keep an eye on other markets in other countries to see what other agencies abroad are working on and what they're doing. I could see that the influencer trend was huge in London, Paris, LA and Hong Kong, but here, there wasn't any agency representing these people, and I knew some clients of mine and bigger media agencies wanted to work with bloggers."
So she took a punt and says that so far, it's going well. Andrea has around 40 influencers on her books, from fashion and beauty bloggers, to foodies, fitness enthusiasts and travel vloggers.
However, Andrea says her influencers are very clear about their paid-for content in line with Irish regulations, and they're fussy about who they work with.
"These people aren't in it for a quick buck, and it's really important for them to stay true to who they are, because that's the reason they have the followers that they have. On many occasions, they might be offered a job and they'll say no, sorry, it's not for me."
Andrea is also keen to stress that not every post means a big pay day for an influencer or for her agency.
"There's a lot more work involved from my point of view because it involves creative content and really selling an idea to a client. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes work involved. The industry here is not on the level of abroad and it's early days, but it can be a decent living.
"Paid jobs for influencers come now and again, and it is a full-time job because this content takes time to create. But I think people spend most of their time on their mobile, and they want to look at people they relate to," says Andrea.
Rosie Connolly was Andrea's first signing; with over 200,000 followers, her fashion and beauty blog is hugely popular.
"My following grew when I was pregnant with my son Harry back in 2014. I shared how I dressed my bump each day while working in the fashion industry as a personal shopper. I was 24 at the time, and there were young women who were also pregnant but didn't want to have to wear the very limited selection of maternity clothes available; I would show how I would take regular high-street clothing and make it work for the bump.
"I'm also a qualified make-up artist so people would ask me for beauty and make-up advice," says Rosie.
The now 26-year-old says the side of blogging people don't see is the amount of jobs she turns down. "You have to be loyal to those who have followed you and make sure to only bring them content you know they want. It's better for the client too."
Rosie says that while anyone can start a blog, it takes a lot of time and effort to really build a trusting relationship with followers.
"I think [influencers] have mastered the art of making our careers look fun and easy, but there is a tonne of hard work that goes on behind the scenes. It's a 24/7 job."
Darragh Rea, a director at PR firm Edelman, says that over the last few years, company research has shown a huge change in the sources people use to form their opinion about brands.
"It's shifting away from traditional media and authority figures, and people are putting more trust in their peers instead. Our findings show that 'a well-known online personality' is more trusted than celebrities and that trust has risen 7pc in Ireland over the last year, now 32pc."
So it makes sense for Irish marketeers to work with these personalities.
"From our perspective, the most important factor to consider in working with an influencer is whether the person is a good fit for the brand, and whether they can credibly and authentically contribute to the conversation."
However, Darragh says it's important to note that not everyone is getting paid to promote something. "The most powerful endorsements come from people with a passion for what they are talking about. If there is paid promotion involved, then it's very important that the influencer and brand are fully transparent about it - it's illegal not to declare it."
Ciara O'Doherty, 27, from Galway, has been lifestyle blogging for five years. She says her success is down to her content, which she works hard on, and the fact that she's always very "real" with her followers.
She signed to Andrea's agency earlier this year. "When we started working together, I was already well-versed in negotiating fees, valuing my work, and standing my ground with contracts, but the best thing about working with an agent for me is that it allows me to focus more time on making content."
Ciara says that her followers are fine with sponsored content "here and there" as long as she's honest about disclosing when something is paid for, and she thinks that's because she has a very clear idea of her brand and what works with it.
"My followers are always happy for me when I announce I'm working with a brand, and I think this is because they know how much content I create for them each week, and 99pc of it is completely unsponsored," says Ciara.
"They also know that when I feature sponsored content, it's of the same standard so they're still getting the same value from it.
"It's a delicate balance. You hear bloggers talk all the time about getting hate from their followers, but I honestly have never had a problem with that, and it's not luck. Once an influencer loses their readers' trust or respect, it's very hard for them to get it back."
Ciara also says that to her, being a social influencer is just as viable as any other career in the media.
"It's evolving so quickly, but in my personal experience, it is definitely a lucrative business. I built my business carefully and slowly, and in the past two years it has exploded.
"I put my heart and soul into it, invested time, money and all of my skills in to my business, and I have absolutely no shame in admitting that right now, business is booming," says Ciara.
So what makes a good influencer? According to Andrea, it's somebody that "doesn't sell themselves out". "It's not about taking every paid job that comes, but about taking the time and effort, being authentic and doing something they legitimately love.
"It's not about perfection, it's about reality, and being genuine is what performs best," she says.
Vicki's top Irish influencers
A former PR executive, James is slightly unusual as his domain is Snapchat, rather than a blog. He's left his job to focus on starting a food business with his boyfriend William.
Known as the Make-up Fairy, Joanne is a make-up artist that's gained a massive following. She released a book last year.
A Snapchat star and menswear blogger, James is known for being funny online as well as his snappy dress sense. He's now working MCing events for brands.
Make-up vlogger Grace had a following for her beauty tutorials, but now she's pregnant, other mums-to-be are tuning in to her channels.