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Clicks, Likes, Cash: How YouTube Beauty Stars Threw the Industry for a Loop

ItsMyRayeRaye, one of BeautyCon's panelists.
ItsMyRayeRaye, one of BeautyCon's panelists.

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This Saturday, some 5,000 women will flock to New York City's Pier 36 for BeautyCon. Like ComicCon (minus all the fun outfits), the event brings together the power players behind the beauty vlogging industry. Take Michelle Phan, multiply her by a few thousand, and add a tremendous amount of foundation.

Now in its third year running, the event is geared toward "Generation Connected," or "Gen C," what the BeautyCon creators have dubbed avid YouTube fans. At the day-long event, aspiring beauty vloggers can shop new makeup products, listen to panel discussions on the future of fashion and makeup, and mingle with their favorite YouTube celebrities.

"BeautyCon is empowering the digital fashion and beauty community," Moj Mahdara, the event's CEO, explained. "We knew this audience had been neglected and that nobody had created anything like this before, where digital influencers, brands and fans could congregate and exchange ideas. Generation C understands the value of their opinion and the power of their voice. They understand content, media, communication and the power of creation. They are superior communicators."

Amy Pham, who hosts YouTube show "The Fashion Statement."

"Last year, I DJ'd at Beautycon in LA and I could not believe how many people showed up—the line was three blocks long!" Amy Pham, a vlogger and BeautyCon guest panelist who hosts YouTube show "the Fashion Statement," told Racked. "A lot of people from the industry are there too, looking for people to represent their makeup brand."

Social Media's Appetite for Beauty is Enormous

When people think of successful beauty vloggers, they probably picture Michelle Phan or Bethany Mota, famous faces YouTube is pushing hard through advertising campaigns. But there are over 45,000 non-brand-related beauty vloggers on YouTube, many with followings just as strong as Phan and Mota, and some who are even more influential.

About 75 hours worth of beauty content is uploaded to YouTube every day, and makeup how-tos are the most frequently searched item on the platform, a YouTube rep told Racked. In 2010, beauty videos on the site averaged 300 million views a month; as of last year, beauty videos got 700 million views a month.

Vlogger Michelle Phan, whose videos rack up millions of views.

YouTube analytics firm OpenSlate's beauty and style analysis survey used a system mixing subscriber and view numbers, as well as audience engagement, to determine these vlogger's overall influence and found some have more social "influence" on viewers than Phan and Mota. For example, 28-year-old Bunny Meye, who vlogs under the name Grav3yardGirl, generates around 28 million views a month and is more influential than Phan, as well as 25-year-old "missglamorazzi" Ingrid Nilsen, who has 8,874,270 monthly views.

"This is one fad we can only expect to continue to grow," one major beauty brand employee said. "These vloggers have taken the Hollywood feel out of celebrity and made it accessible to anyone out there. Girls as young as 13 realize they can be a star on YouTube."

A snapshot of Open Slate's scorecard of influential beauty vloggers.

Vloggers Have Better Audience Access

These days, vloggers have even more influence on customers than the makeup companies they use, causing a total shift in the beauty industry. Fans see beloved vloggers as their friends, or even sisters, while they don't necessarily trust the content provided by their favorite makeup brands.

"I like to be as real as possible. I like them to feel like I'm their sister or cousin. They see us as celebrities, but that is not the way I want to go," said Missy Lynn, a 24-year-old Louisiana native who beauty vlogs while enrolled in the US Air Force. "I want them to know that I'm human, that I have flaws, and I want to be relatable, which is why I still film in my bedroom and haven't upgraded to a studio. I want them to feel like we're having a sleepover."

"There is a relatable quality to beauty vloggers that is incredibly appealing, especially to younger girls," Allure Magazine Beauty Director Patricia Tortolani wrote to Racked over email. "Because while there is a time for aspirational beauty—a gorgeous magazine editorial, a flawless backstage creation—there are also those times when you just want to see someone that looks like you struggling with the same beauty concerns that you struggle with: frizzy hair, a zit, or patchy brows. And many vloggers are self-trained makeup artists, so they are just like you, only with a little more skill, and a whole lot more products."

Vloggers Have One-Upped the Brands They Love

Lynn said she started vlogging three years ago as a hobby, and was eventually signed on with YouTube's fashion and beauty network, StyleHaul. Her videos, which rack up hundreds of thousands of views and clicks, translated to big paychecks (though she would not disclose exact figures).

"It's crazy how times have changed. Successful makeup brands have been around for decades and now they are trying to figure out how to be as popular as YouTubers. We have the beauty consumers' attention, and that's something commercials and ads don't have," Lynn went on. "Brands can spend $20,000 on a billboard, and that can't even guarantee them sales, but when you have a real person telling you the pros and cons of products, and actually showing you how to use them, you can see the impact."

One key strategy Lynn attributes to success is audience engagement. She said she tries to answer all her comments. Meanwhile, a YouTube beauty industry report by Pixability said major beauty brands are failing to engage their audiences. According to YouTube stats, beauty vloggers get 115 times more subscribers on social media and 2,600 percent more comments than the average beauty brands. Take Phan, who signed with Lancôme in 2010. The beauty brand hoped the deal would transfer some of her social success, but while Phan has 6.4 million subscribers, Pixability ranked Lancôme as the 12th beauty brand channel on Youtube with just over 20,000 subscribers.

Beauty vloggers have also helped expose lesser-known makeup companies. According to Pixability, only three percent of YouTube video views belong to major makeup brands. While many bloggers use popular companies like MAC, Dior, and Stila, vloggers also highlight the likes of NYX, as well as cheaper options that most magazines don't promote.

A page from Pixability's beauty vlogging report.

"Beauty vloggers have increased awareness of drugstore brands. The amount of makeup these girls own and use is astounding, and they are going to stores like Duane Reade and CVS to buy it all of it themselves. Many are relying on less expensive brands like NYC, ELF, and Wet n Wild," Allure's Tortolani added.

YouTube obviously understands the power of this industry, offering specific resources to vloggers to help them grow their followings. Once a vlogger hits a certain number of views, they become a YouTube partner and the site provides manuals as well as free classes on topics like metatagging, annotations, and DSLR. Additionally, YouTube partners are allowed to use their professional video studios for recording in cities like New York, Tokyo, London and LA.

A Rush to Capitalize on YouTubers' Success

Many major beauty brands are now incorporating YouTube vloggers into their marketing strategy. NARS' marketing team, for example, scours YouTube looking for power players to send products to.

"Since anyone can have a blog, we make sure the people we work with have a real audience. The team researches to figure out who is influential in the beauty category," said Heather Park, NARS' Digital Media Director. "We look at overall channel views as a good gauge as to who is relevant, but from a qualitative perspective, we look at the comments because we want to work with people who have engaged viewers."

"What we've learned is with photos, there's always Photoshop, but with video, you can't finagle around too much," Park added. "Five years ago, blogging was the new thing, but we've evolved and video is the important medium: look at Instagram and Vine. It will definitely continue to evolve."

Vlogger Rachel Martino.

Rachel Martino, a panelist at this year's BeautyCon, was hired as an intern in 2010 by Avon to to research the social community and find beauty vlogging stars the company could work with. Inspired, Martino decided to start her own vlogging endeavor. Several million views later, Martino is able to pull a nice paycheck from her hobby while also maintaining a job at Estée Lauder.

"It's harder than it looks. Only one to five percent of bloggers can really make a big salary doing this full time, but there's room to do it part time," Martino said. "I kind of came into it through the back, because I was researching it from the business side and saw it as a cool opportunity. [For my job] I was contacting 16-year-old girls who had Hollywood agents and it seemed like a huge deal."

How and Why This Happened

The rise of YouTube stars can be attributed to shifting attitudes among generations. According to a study by the IC2 Institute at the University of Texas that was published in yesterday's National Journal, millennials— that is, those born between 1982 and 1996—don't trust anyone but themselves. And not only do they only trust each other, they all want to be entrepreneurs.

A beauty look from ItsMyRayeRaye.

Comparing generational differences, the study found that 46 percent of millennials said they'd "very seriously" thought about going into business by themselves and 53 percent didn't think that a four-year college degree was something that paid off. Older generations, like the parents of millennials, were less likely to have entrepreneurial goals. The study attributes a lot of this to the fact that millennials hit adolescence during the economic downturn, and have less faith in how our economy rewards those who work hard.

"This is something new and fresh that everyone wants to be a part of," said a 23-year-old vlogger who goes by "ItsMyRayeRaye," also a panelist at BeautyCon. "I feel like it was easy for me to build an audience being that all I had to do was be myself and share my personality with my viewers."