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How Fashion Journalists Are Building New, Engaged Followings on TikTok

They may not be quitting their day jobs, but editors are increasingly finding success on “the one app where it’s possible to blow up overnight.”

For the last decade, as the digital age began rendering print magazines obsolete, journalists have been told to pivot. We’ve been instructed to build audiences on new channels, only to watch those same channels ultimately crash and burn — or worse, fizzle out. (Remember those Snapchat-only publications, like Sweet? Remember Clubhouse?) 

Staying nimble isn’t just our responsibility as editors: Somewhat grimly, it’s also our meal ticket, should once-steady employment go south. Self-promote or die.

In the dynamic realms of fashion and beauty, some of us are taking it one step further, becoming full-fledged content creators and amassing engaged followings that rival those of certain publications entirely.

“When I first started in the industry, writers were told that an online presence was essential, given that publications were going digital,” says Bella Gerard, a freelance fashion writer and editor who moonlights as a content creator on her own personal accounts. “It’s always made sense to me to join new platforms and post, even if no one was seeing it in real time.”

Like so many editors, Gerard posts regularly on Instagram, highlighting various snippets of her life working in fashion in New York City. But it’s her TikTok that has become more lucrative: Gerard began posting there in the summer of 2020 and was surprised to find that she quickly surpassed her Instagram follower count.

“I found that growth came in spurts,” she remembers. “If a particular video popped off, I might grow 10,000 or 20,000 followers a night. Then, there could be three-month blocks of hardly any growth.” Today, Gerard’s TikTok following — nearly 120,000 — is roughly eight times that of her Instagram. And while she may be posting about work on both, she makes more money on TikTok, where the majority of her sponsored content lives.

Now, TikTok may not be the be-all and end-all of a career path in journalism, be it in fashion, beauty or any other sector. But with an average of 650,000 new users joining daily, we can’t deny what the platform offers its creators: that ever-so-crucial audience, which can take off like lightning in a bottle.

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So, what does TikTok offer its fashion and beauty editors that other channels don’t? As Gerard explains, a perfect person “trying something on and looking amazing” — on Instagram, perhaps — no longer holds a follower’s attention. On TikTok, though, the more colloquial the content, the better it performs. This doesn’t just make for inherently more interesting content (which, well, it does), but this emphasis on imperfection, if you will, lowers the barrier to entry for users looking to break into the platform, journalists or not. That said, having already built a career in the field about which you’re speaking can give you a sense of legitimacy.

“My followers, much like my readers, have more trust in me than they do a paid celebrity spokesperson for a brand,” says Gerard. “It’s that authenticity and ‘real-person’ perspective that I believe makes fashion and beauty content so effective. Who would scroll past a video of someone who looks just like them, trying on a pair of pants they’re hoping to buy?”

Indeed, Gerard is just the sort of editor who thrives on TikTok. Her content is sharp, approachable and, best of all, fun, replete with vlog-style clips that invite followers behind the curtain of a famously exclusive business. From a technical perspective, too, she’s a natural: She grew up a fan of video editing, so the functionality of TikTok was one she already understood. This, as it happens, is a skillset that can make or break someone’s ultimate success on the platform.

“You have to not only have experience with video production, but you also have to have experience selling yourself,” says Rebecca Jennings, a senior correspondent at Vox covering social platforms, influencers and the creator economy. “It’s double-duty in a way that’s a lot more work than people think it is.”

For a lot of editors (“myself included,” says Jennings), TikTok may not offer that baked-in ROI that makes the time you spend fiddling around on CapCut worth it in the long run, financially or otherwise.

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By the time beauty reporter Kirbie Johnson posted her first TikTok (a holiday-season tour of the Grove’s just-reopened Sephora store) back in 2019, she had been producing video content for nearly 10 years. She’d scaled Popsugar‘s beauty video vertical as its on-camera host and producer, and implicitly understood how people consume video content. Why should TikTok be any different?

As it turned out, it isn’t. Johnson — whose TikTok follower count exceeds 90,000 — first found virality ahead of the season two premiere of “Euphoria.” As the only journalist allowed on set, Johnson took to TikTok to share “anything and everything” she learned from going behind the scenes, including the exact products used on the actors and other details that viewers likely wouldn’t know or hear about otherwise.

“This is when my platform blew up,” says Johnson, also the co-founder of beauty podcast Gloss Angeles. “I gained a huge amount of followers in one day — like 35,000 in 24 hours — and from there, I became known as the ‘Euphoria’ insider. I had people with millions of followers blatantly stealing my content. I sold out products from the brands I featured. It was wild.”

At this point, Johnson says, she only posts when she can speak directly to the hair, makeup or special-effects teams herself, which means she may not be posting every day, or even every week. And though those types of conversations may result in a one-off video, Johnson more frequently looks to maximize content by writing a story first, then filming content that drives viewers to read the bigger story. If an outlet doesn’t have the budget to pay her to write the story, Johnson will take matters into her own hands, reaching out to the experts on her own to tell their story on her personal channels.

Her videos highlighting special and visual effects — how they made Millie Bobby Brown’s realistic shaved wig in the latest season “Stranger Things,” for example — have more payoff. (The aforementioned video, for example, remains one of Johnson’s top-viewed TikToks at 8.9 million views.) “But exposure doesn’t pay the bills,” laughs Johnson. 

Lately, she’s deviated from Tiktok content to prioritize Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, where she finds she has a stronger follower base with inherent trust. As part of the YouTube Shorts Community, she makes money on her views, too. 

TikTok’s own Creator Fund, aimed at rewarding creators for popular videos, has drawn criticism for low payouts, among other concerns. In February, TikTok announced plans to launch a revamped fund, called the “Creativity Program,” designed to generate higher revenue.

With more than 45,000 followers on TikTok, Erin Fitzpatrick, Who What Wear’s associate director of fashion news, joined the Creator Fund in 2022 to gain monetary support for her educational, often reported-out videos. Between March and April alone, Fitzpatrick has had three videos surpass the million-plus view count, including one (“5 things royals never wear”) in the three-million range. 

At press time, Fitzpatrick had earned $870 across all her content. And though she hopes to expand her platform’s financial earnings, she says, her growing audience may get her there well before the Creator Fund steps in. She recalls accumulating 10,000 followers in the immediate aftermath of just one post — and big numbers like that can ultimately be lucrative for editors.

“That’s what keeps TikTok so addictive: It does reward you more than Instagram,” says Fitzpatrick. “I mean, how many followers do I have on Instagram after years of attempting to build a following there? It’s just so much easier on TikTok.”

As Jennings says, “It’s the one app where it’s possible to blow up overnight.”

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Hannah Oh, the assistant fashion editor at Seventeen, began posting regularly in January 2021, with her first viral video — a roundup of trendy hairstyles like bubble ponytails and micro-braids — clocking 2.8 million views. Her videos steadily receive view counts in the tens of thousands, if not hundreds.

“You almost have to wait for the algorithm to ‘choose’ you, which makes going viral seem semi-unattainable and random,” says Oh. “But on the other hand, TikTok has democratized the process of growing a following in that it could happen to literally anybody, no matter how regularly they post or what their previous videos were like.”

For Oh, it became clear quite quickly that the algorithm favored trend content that pushed consumption. She explains that her seasonal and yearly trend videos far out-performed any other posts, partially for the value that they provided, but also because they were more divisive than other videos. People flock to the comment section to debate trends they deem as “old,” “ugly” or “weird,” she says; that engagement fuels the algorithm to push the video out even further.

“In one sense, this is how the cycle of micro-trends is perpetuated and pushed to the extreme,” says Oh. “TikTok users interact with the videos that promote the craziest, wackiest, newest trends, whether they love or hate them, and those videos continue to grow more and more viral until a new trend is born from that online discourse.”

Yet adverse discourse — which is to say, comment-section infighting — is still discourse. On TikTok, discourse builds engagement, and, if you’re lucky, audiences. And isn’t that what journalists are being told to seek out in the first place? Apparently, our employment potential depends on it, be it on TikTok or elsewhere

“Like so many editors, being an influencer was never a part of my master plan, so I don’t see it as my end goal going forward,” says Gerard. “I think most of us want to do something more with our platforms.”

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Source: Fashionista.com

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