Relatable middle-aged women are the most influential new tribe on social media.
Five years ago, Kat Farmer was a 39-year-old stay-at-home mum. A former head hunter who had swapped city living for country life, she found herself on the cusp of 40 with her youngest child about to start school and suddenly a lot more time on her hands. So she did what a lot of women her age do these days, she started a blog — called Does my Bum Look 40 in This? — then set up an Instagram account. Today she’s a hugely successful one-woman brand with her face on billboards, who has lucrative deals with M&S, House of Fraser and the like, and more than 49,300 Instagram followers to her name. In short, she’s the hottest new trend in social media — a midlife micro-influencer.
“If you’d told me at the beginning how much money I’d be making, I wouldn’t have believed you,” says Farmer, 44, who declines to tell me how much exactly that is. (Bloggers are notoriously secretive about what they get paid.) Farmer started the blog as a hobby and in the past year has seen her Instagram following double. “The whole premise of Does my Bum Look 40 in This? is based around what I want to wear. I wanted to show that just because I was 40, I didn’t have to look ‘classic’ or ‘practical’. Why couldn’t women in their forties look modern?”
Name: Kat Farmer, age: 44, handle: @Doesmybumlook40, followers: 50.2k
Farmer is one of a number of women in their forties who have turned good taste and an engaging personality into a well-paid career as a digital influencer. Erica Davies, 40, is another. A former fashion editor, Davies has 48,900 followers on Instagram, an agent and a salary generated through partnerships with labels such as La Redoute, M&S and Boden. “I started the blog in 2012 after a conversation with a PR who was working a lot with mummy bloggers. I didn’t want to be a mum blogger, but I did want to talk to people like me who had children, but still wanted to know about interiors and fashion,” she explains. Initially writing the blog in tandem with her job at Look magazine, Davies took the plunge into full-time blogging as her following grew and she was approached for projects that she couldn’t do because she was working. “I’ve been a full-time blogger for three years and my salary has gone up by a third each year.”
Not so long ago, to make money through social media you had to be young, hot and have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of followers. It was an industry populated by models, girls who looked like models and high-profile fashionistas (who probably also looked like models) whose appeal was aspirational and inspirational, but not in the least bit relatable. The next wave of success came with the mummy bloggers and the wellness bloggers, the equally model-y Deliciously Ellas and Madeleine Shaws, who carved out careers sharing their photogenic lifestyles to huge numbers of followers on Instagram. These days it’s also approachable women in their late thirties and forties sharing their style with relatively small followings on social media who have found themselves becoming stars.
I’m a size 12 to 14. People may think, ‘That would look OK on me.’
“It used to be that brands were just focused on how big the numbers were, how many followers someone had,” explains Katharine Richardson, the creative solutions director at WaR, an influencer marketing agency that represents Davies. “Where once you needed more than 200,000 followers to make an impact, that’s becoming less relevant.” A micro-influencer, someone who Richardson classes as having fewer than 50,000 followers on Instagram, is now just as likely to be courted by a brand as someone with hundreds of thousands of followers.
It sounds easy — have phone, take selfie, post picture and Insta-stardom is yours — but it’s not. “Part of the reason why older bloggers are successful is that they work hard and they’re professional,” says Anna Hart of One Roof Social, an influencer media management agency that matches brand campaigns to bloggers. If you think that they’re just a bunch of bored housewives playing around with their phones, then think again. “Creating a successful feed takes a lot of dedication,” confirms Fran Bacon, 42, of @thefashion_lift (39,300 followers). A former buyer for John Lewis who, like many of her contemporaries, began her blog when her children started school, Bacon emphasises how much time goes into what has become her daily occupation. “Even those successful influencers whose feed looks completely natural have spent hours creating that look,” she explains. “I spend hours researching and writing posts, scouring online and on the high street for best buys, meeting with brands to discuss projects, and viewing the latest collections. Time off is rare. Instagram never sleeps, so I need to post consistently to retain readers’ interest. Instagram moves fast and you have to keep up.”
Name: Erica Davies, age: 40, handle: @erica_davies, followers: 49k
“The tipping point came about 18 months ago,” says Hart. “With the poor state of the retail industry in Europe, brands had to do more, but had less budget to do it. Ultimately if you have only got £5,000 to spend on marketing, it can buy very little in terms of traditional advertising. However, you can afford to pay five influencers, each with a highly engaged following of 20,000 people. You can literally have someone on their phone, in their living room, looking at their favourite influencer and learning about your product. It’s a very powerful form of advertising.”
It’s being able to engage with readers that has made influencers such as Farmer, Davies, and Bacon successful. They don’t simply post a picture of themselves wearing something and say, “buy this”, they create a story around that picture, answer followers’ questions (Farmer and Davies receive hundreds of messages a week), engage in conversations and share snippets of their lives with their readers. “The 35-year-old-plus audience is very loyal,” says Richardson. “At that age you tend to follow someone who you genuinely like and who you feel has a similar style. You really do look at what they’re wearing and think, ‘I might go and get that.’ ”
Amanda Start, 47, of @OnlineStylist (17,600 followers) agrees: “If one of my followers has a question and leaves a comment, then they’ll get a response from me, whereas they’re not getting that from someone like Kim Kardashian. It’s like that friend who you go shopping with, but you’re doing it in an online world.”
Erica Davies adds: “I’m a size 12 to 14, I don’t look like a model, so when I wear something people might think, ‘That would look OK on me.’ Women my age tend to have more disposable cash, but less time to spend it. So if they can trust someone whose style they appreciate, who are effectively doing the shopping for them, then that makes a massive difference. It’s like having a virtual personal shopper.”
“It all comes down to that key thing of influence,” Richardson explains. “With a micro-influencer you’re likely to have more of that magic engagement because you have a greater following in terms of loyalty — the people who are following you are particularly invested in who you are. Ultimately if you have an influence over your audience then that is of value to a brand.”