Photo: Instagram / Social & Style
Leanne Ho was 40 when she signed up for an Instagram account. Her first photo was a bottle of SK-II lotion which she placed unceremoniously on her toilet seat cover. It got just a few dozen "likes" at first. But it was enough to spur her on.
Five years and 4,260 posts later, Ms Ho has amassed a following of 60,100 on her Instagram account @loveforskincare, with each post of a beauty product typically garnering between 400 and 1,000 likes. She also has a beauty blog of the same name that grabs thousands of eyeballs a day.
Today she is pursued by hundreds of cosmetics and lifestyle brands. Many offer her freebies or a fee to have their products featured on her platforms. On top of that, she gets invited to write for magazines, sit on beauty awards judging panels, and be involved in product tests and launches.
The fact that she's 45 and a mother of two only strengthens her credibility and appeal. "If I had let age stop me from embarking on social media, I'd have missed a beautiful, enriching journey," she says.
In a landscape awash with teenage and 20-something influencers, Ms Ho is one of a growing number of lifestyle influencers in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond who have figured out how to break into the game. Instead of selling their youth and popularity, these older folks are selling their wisdom and expertise, or simply the "realness" of living, raising a family, holding a job and dealing with ageing. And there are huge swathes of audiences who would rather listen to them than young baby-faced influencers.
Older women who've figured out how to dress fashionably but age-appropriately, fathers struggling to make their children do their homework, or housewives deciding between which brand of soya sauce is healthier - all have the potential to find a following online if they can write well, take good pictures and aren't publicity-shy.
Diah Mastura Roslan is what one might call an "Instamom". At 36, Ms Diah has amassed 41,300 followers on her Instagram account etrangle, which is also the name of her popular blog. Like Ms Ho, she gets paid to feature products and events. Unlike Ms Ho, Ms Diah writes on a whole range of family and lifestyle goods: while she gets to test beauty products, her children get free clothes, school gear, birthday parties and even braces at the dentist. Except for very private moments, most things in her life are not off-limits to her online audience, so much so that strangers often approach them for photos.
She sometimes posts videos of herself disciplining her children. Instead of getting flak, she gets thank-you notes from fans for showing them the realities of raising children. She says: "It's important to be someone whom others can relate to. It's important to show the messy side of life."
Similarly, Kamana Bhaskaran, an American, moved from Washington DC to Singapore almost a year ago, and has used the opportunity to blog about living and working in a new country. She documents her life on all the major platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Being a new mum, she has reorientated her social media sites titled Social & Style to cover motherhood as well. Like Ms Diah, Ms Bhaskaran now receives many messages from women who thank her for showing life from a mother's perspective. Like other older influencers, she thinks it's important to add value to the lives of others.
"My followers make me feel like they are on this ride with me, and I feel their excitement when I share these moments with them," she says. "In fact, I've made some of my closest friends in the US and Singapore through blogging."
Leanne Ho, 45, full-time mum
As a 45-year-old beauty influencer, Leanne Ho feels she has an edge over her younger counterparts.
"As it is, being older means I would have had more time to experience beauty products and see the long-term results of skin care," says Ms Ho, a full-time mum to two teenage boys, who think that she has a cool hobby. "I hope to share and guide others through these personal experiences."
She posts about her daily beauty and skincare routines, products that she uses, and sometimes, on celebratory events in her life.
Ms Ho, started her Instagram account five years ago, and now has 60,100 followers. In 2015, she started a blog, where she writes longer reviews and at times, there is more in-depth sharing of personal emotions.
"It felt therapeutic to indulge in my love for taking photos, styling them, and also sharing my belief in taking good care of ourselves, which in this case, using some skin-loving beauty products," she says, on why she jumped on the social media bandwagon.
With beauty bloggers mostly in the age range of 16 to 30, Ms Ho is one of the older ones, but she sees it more as a group of people coming together based on similar interests, to share and inspire each other.
"Surrounded by younger ones, I continue to learn and gain insights from their perspective," says the former flight stewardess. "If I let age stop me from embarking on something new, I'd have missed this part of the journey."
Beauty brands invite her for launches, and occasionally, she gets requests for further collaborations for campaigns, and to participate in focus groups. Ms Ho has also been invited to be on the jury panels for beauty product awards and as a guest contributor for magazines.
She does sponsored posts too, and her fee can range from "three to four figures, depending on the complexity of the requirements, to compensation for time and props needed for production", she reveals.
Ms Ho doesn't think the trend of social media influencers will die down. "With new launches happening so quickly, both brands and consumers need a voice to cut through the noise, fast," she says. "Influencers help to deliver the marketing message fast, interact with the community, and make connections, through their sharing of personal picks and experiences."
Her day involves caring for her kids, photo-taking sessions, attending events, doing postings on the go, and writing reviews only at night.
She believes that she is popular on social media because she has a real connection with her readers and followers.
"Reflect your individual style and opinion but respects others for theirs too," she says. Whenever followers get in touch with her, she tries to acknowledge each comment. "Sharing regular key updates via photos which express your style and personality also help in establishing a more personal connection," she notes.
She curates all her photos herself, and uses her trusty smartphone for quick snaps, and some lenses for blog shots. For quick videos, she films and edits on her own, but engages a product crew for professional videos.
Her posts are mostly vibrant and happy to encourage, spread joy and positive vibes, says Ms Ho. She shares what works for her and where possible, usage tips to make it work for different skin types.
Ms Ho, however, has no clear answer on how to attract followers. "Perhaps it lies in the focus of the action itself. If the emphasis is on taking a good photo that expresses what you want to say, then the chances of achieving that is much higher."
Her advice is to "work on your content. Create from within, what and how you see it. It doesn't need to be on-trend nor command responses. Don't aim to please but hope to tell a story."
Kamana Bhaskaran 34, director of marketing
Unlike other bloggers or Instagrammers, for whom the number of followers and likes make or break their day, Kamana Bhaskaran, 34, says what she loves most about being on social media is "getting messages from women who tell me I've inspired them to go for their dreams or thank me for creating content they can actually relate to".
Ms Bhaskaran, director of marketing at fashion rental company Covetella, blogs at Social and Style, and also has 16,500 followers on Instagram.
The American moved from Washington DC to Singapore in November 2016 and blogged about living and working in a new country. "So many readers said they were afraid of change, but I showed them how to embrace and make the most of it," she says.
Fashion, fitness, and wellness have been the cornerstone of Social and Style, which was started two years ago, and that has not changed even though Ms Bhaskaran is now a mum to a six-week-old baby boy. She does write and post about her experiences in motherhood.
"As a new mum, I've learned to be a lot more efficient in creating content from writing to photography," she says. She makes the most of her time, in between feedings and prioritises what matters to her most.
Since each post takes about four to six hours to create from conceptualising ideas to writing content, Ms Bhaskaran now posts less often.
Instead, she stays connected to her followers more through Instagram. "My followers appreciate that I share what it is really like to be an influencer and a mother from 3am diaper changes to 5am cuddle sessions with my little one," she says.
She also shares her daily life on Instagram Stories, which she says she can connect with her followers in a more authentic way. "I don't worry about being perfect, I share who I really am, and not just the highlight reel."
Ms Bhaskaran believes that being authentic makes for good online presence. "I only share content when I'm proud of it. Good-quality photos and writing help set your content apart," she points out.
She works with a professional photographer to have her photos taken, because she believes in "quality".
Like most other bloggers, she has sponsors and partnerships. She only works with brands that she believes in, such as The Ritz-Carlton, Marc Jacobs and L'Oreal. Her rates vary between companies and on the content.
She makes it a point to be transparent on her blog when posts are sponsored or products are gifted.
Ms Bhaskaran admits that she sometimes feels affected when she sees younger influencers in their early 20s with a bigger following. "Thankfully, my readers and followers keep me going. Also, many mothers have reached out to say it is refreshing to see a mum's perspective on fashion, fitness and wellness."
She believes she has an edge over younger influences by not sticking to one genre. "From fashion to fitness, I write about what I love and this resonates with readers."
During her pregnancy, she shared her prenatal fitness routine, and received responses from expecting mums who say the post inspired them to stay healthy and fit during their pregnancies too. "Even women who weren't expecting wrote to me saying the post inspired them to live a healthier life," she adds.
Her husband, a business director, is not a big fan of the spotlight, and it took him some time to get used to his wife's blogging and social media presence. This also explains why there are hardly any pictures or posts about him.
"While readers and followers enjoy seeing aspects of my life, there are some things I keep personal, such as my relationship with my husband. I also keep posts about the baby to a minimum," she shares.
Diah Mastura Roslan 36, full-time mum
Diah Mastura Roslanstarted blogging when she was 18 years old. At that time, she simply wanted a platform to channel her thoughts and make new friends. "There was no such thing as an 'influencer' back then," she recalls. "And no one talked about how many 'followers' you had. I was really just a regular girl blogging about random things."
Fast forward 18 years later, and Ms Diah is married with four children. She is also one of the most popular Instamoms in Singapore, with a following of 41,300 on Instagram, 18,000 on Facebook, and thousands of daily page views for her blog etrangle.net. Last year, Influence Asia named her one of the top 15 influencers in the Parenting category.
As an Instamom, she documents online various aspects of her life such as sending her kids to the dentist, planning their birthday parties and getting a new sofa for their home. Some of these activities become opportunities for collaborations with different brands: hence, the sofa is sponsored by a furniture store, her daughter's braces by a dental clinic, and the parties by various party organisers.
Ms Diah is pragmatic about putting her family life online: "I used to work as a teacher, but now I have four kids to raise. Being an influencer allows me to juggle all these domestic responsibilities, while still bringing in money for the family through these sponsored collaborations with brands.
"Besides, a lot of these sponsorships are also good for the family. Who doesn't want what's best for their kids? And judging from the kinds of messages I get from the other mums, they need recommendations for these things as well. So I see myself as offering information that mums can use."
Ms Diah declines to reveal how much she earns, but says there are months when she earns more than her husband, who works in the engineering sector. Like other husbands of Instamoms, he helpfully takes pictures of her and the kids to post on social media. And when the picture requires the whole family in it, their domestic helper pitches in.
Ms Diah admits: "Sometimes photo-taking does stop life in its tracks because you're trying to get the right shot for Instagram. It may seem artificial. But then again, there's so much 'realness' when you're a mother of four. So, a happy family photo now and then doesn't hurt.
"Besides, I do put some of that messiness of family life online, such as my recent video of my children being difficult and not doing their homework. I think it's important to remain relatable for the audience."
Ms Diah gets hundreds of messages from fans, some of whom have followed her blog from the late 1990s. "They grew up with me, and now they've becomes wives and mums just like me. They trust a lot of what I say, and sometimes e-mail me for advice on their marriages and kids. In fact, if they tried a product I had recommended and they didn't like it, they'd contact me first before they contact the company."
Ms Diah has even attracted government agencies that want her to promote specific messages, such as how to reduce food wastage or how to protect your family from dengue. For the latter, Ms Diah photographed her cute children as they sprayed insect repellent on themselves. "Many of the advertising opportunities also become family activities in their own right," she says with a laugh.
Would she want her kids to take a stab at being influencers too when they grow up? "Why not? They have often starred in my blog posts. It's about time I starred in theirs."
This article was first published at The Business Times.