Photo courtesy of Byrdie

The proliferation of information on social media by influencers and self-proclaimed experts has shifted the role of beauty editors — especially since much of the advice shared on social media can be more entertaining as opposed to fact and science-based. Dotdash Meredith’s editors have made it a priority to take responsibility for providing real, valuable, and serviceable information as educated experts for its roster of respected brands. CEW chatted with several of Dotdash Meredith’s top editors to hear how they tackle the new realities of beauty reporting. The participants included:

Leta Shy
SVP and Group GM, Beauty & Style
Dotdash Meredith

Hallie Gould
Senior Editorial Director

Star Donaldson
Senior Social Media Editor

Madeline Hirsch
News Director
Byrdie & InStyle

Pia Velasco
Senior Beauty Editor

Alyssa Sparacino
Editorial Director

CEW: With the rise of social media, how do you feel your roles as editors have changed? What has Dotdash Meredith put in place to adapt?

Hallie Gould: There are more people now with access to an audience than ever before and that opens up the floodgates for misinformation. It also adds to our greater responsibility and opportunity for real, valuable, and serviceable education from our brands.

Our Beauty & Wellness Review Board allows experts in the space — derms, doctors, trainers, psychologists, hair stylists, makeup artists, and others — to fact-check and put their stamp of approval on stories, confirming all the information is correct. Our editorial policy includes an Anti-Bias Review Board that we work with to make sure our content is inclusive, accurate, and respectful for anyone who may be reading it.

Alyssa Sparacino: I would add that there’s an additional layer of expertise for our product recommendations at all brands at Dotdash Meredith, including at Shape. Our e-commerce team is robust in the testing process and is transparent about how long reviewers have tested a particular product and who is reviewing it, so a reader can see why a product deserves their investment, especially in the fitness and wellness space.

Leta Shy: One of the things I really enjoy and was so impressed by when I first started, which was pretty recently, is that there’s a huge amount of resources that are devoted to reviewing and ensuring that experts stand behind the content on our sites. So, it’s not only the actual journalists writing the content, but we employ so many resources — making sure these pieces are reviewed by certified experts, and also people who make sure that we are being as inclusive as possible. All of that is what makes the Dotdash Meredith brands so impressive.

CEW: What are the best things about social media?

Pia Velasco: What I love the most about it, and how I use it as a tool, is that you learn so much from people worldwide, from different ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Whether you’re learning about a new ingredient or a new product from an indie brand, you are learning about where something comes from. It completely changed the game for us.

HG: Social media has allowed for hyper-niche communities to form, which I think has always been a really cool and beautiful thing to watch, especially on Byrdie’s Instagram. Our followers comment to each other, talk to each other, and learn things from each other. Then, as a brand, we can talk to them, too, and learn from them.

Star Donaldson:  You’re no longer just in your little bubble. You’re going to get all types of information, and that is incredibly encouraging. For beauty, there are so many diverse creators making content and getting the attention that they deserve. On Byrdie, we’ve always made a push to promote diverse creators. It wasn’t always well received by our audience, but now people are really excited about seeing different faces, and how beauty can be for everyone.

I really feel like there’s a movement towards authenticity. In the early days of social media, even on MySpace, it was about presenting this idealized version of yourself and everything being perfect. You know, like, “My life is amazing.” TikTok really changed that, and we really did see during the pandemic that people presented themselves in a more stripped-down, authentic way. We’re seeing many more body types, more skin types, more abilities, and just generally peoples’ realities that are different and don’t all look the same.

AS: You’re speaking to beginners in the beauty space, too… people who may not even know how to start a skin care routine or what product they should use on their hair. People are starting to feel like, “I don’t need to know how to do false lashes or contour and all of that,” to be able to be interested in beauty. They know, “I can do it for health or well-being reasons,” or “I can do it for self-care.” “I want to start dabbling and learn more.” Creators and brands are helping to create that open dialogue.

CEW: On the flip side, what are the worst things about social media sites?

Star Donaldson: I think something that we all agree on is there can be some misinformation on social media, especially on TikTok. We report on it all the time. There are so many trends that pop up, like how to get rid of acne. TikTok has a younger audience, so we’ve talked about using things like chlorophyll, potato slices, and even dandruff shampoo for acne. What works for one creator probably isn’t the best for everyone. It’s our job on social media specifically to make sure we’re providing our social audience with all the right tools and information that they need to make a decision that’s right for them.

CEW: How important is it for you to cover the trends on social? Knowing that many are hacks and trends that can be questionable or possibly unsafe, how do you cover them editorially, in a way that prevents the further spread of misinformation or reinforces them with your own expertise? 

Madeline Hirsch: One of the coolest things about the internet today is that your audience actually tells you what they’re interested in, or you tell them something, and they react to it. I get DM’s [direct messages] about a product I’ve tried and written about. It’s really a two-way dialogue. If you are not paying attention to what’s happening on social, you’re not really serving your audience.

The most important thing about covering trends is bringing something new to the conversation. Whether it’s packaging the whole trend together or talking about where it originated, who did it next, and when it finally went viral — we add information in an expert-led way and bring a new perspective. We show how to fake bleached eyebrows instead of just reporting that people are doing it.  We will name and claim trends that haven’t really been packaged.

You want to be really honest with your audience. Just because they’re interested in something that might not work, doesn’t mean you should write about it. I actually do think there’s value in saying…’hey, maybe don’t try the TikTok face tape trend, maybe that’s not something that actually works.’

AS: Shape actually saw a need to hit this one right on the nose with what we were seeing on TikTok and what our audience really desired. They needed to declutter the noise and we really feel like we have the authoritative voice to do that. Part of our mission statement at Shape is that we are cutting through the noise of quick fixes and unvetted fads. Our answer to that was TikTok True or False, our weekly series every Tuesday, where we analyze, with experts, something specific that we’re seeing on a platform. Beauty is a sweet spot for this series because we really found that people do need to know the answers.

CEW: What do you have in place to mitigate the spread of misguided information?

LS: There is much disinformation. There’s a lot from a platform perspective…What is happening? Who can we trust?  I think the best thing that we, as journalists can do is to be really transparent. On each of our sites, we have sections that tell who we are, what our titles are, and what our expertise is. We also post our diversity pledges. We put those things on paper so that people can hold us accountable, and we can hold ourselves accountable. We have information about our review boards, our anti-bias review boards — all of the things that are very important to us. We want people to know it isn’t just a handful of us in a room, deciding we are the experts and writing a 500-word article. We go out, report, and use best journalistic practices.

CEW: What actions are you taking to give credit to the true innovators of trends on social?

SD: We are creating a series that will come out next year that highlights creators. We’re excited to really delve into that next year.

LS: It is also about acknowledging the creators who might not otherwise get the credit.  Using our platform to shine a light on people who might not be getting that spotlight.

HG: There is a greater responsibility for us to not only shine a light on creators but also to talk about some of those same trends in different ways for those who hadn’t historically been included.

“Glazed donut” skin, for example. That trend centered around clear, shiny, taut, wrinkle-less, lifted skin. But not everyone’s skin is like that. So, covering this trend should be inclusive of those with hyperpigmentation or acne scars. Or, how to get a certain hairstyle when your hair texture wasn’t historically included in the conversation around the trend. We have a huge responsibility to make sure that if we’re reporting on trends, we are reporting for anyone who might want to try them.

CEW: How are you tailoring content to your social sites?  

SD: Social media is really an extension of our website, where we have great content. We want our social media to be fun, but we want it to be authoritative and instructional. That’s what we are trying to bring to our social presence. We know that our followers or our readers on Byrdie really trust us and come to us for this heavily-researched information. We want to make sure we’re giving our followers on social a taste of that as well, in a social-friendly package. On Instagram, we have a series called Byrdie Beauty School, which walks our users through beauty techniques.

PV: For InStyle, our tagline is “Everybody’s In,” and we stay true to that no matter what platform we’re sharing our beauty content on. So, on TikTok, we always cover trends that feel accessible to everybody, and we also use various beauty creators to help us share these stories and help us break down these myths.

HG: It is imperative across all of our brands to ensure we’re repurposing our content differently for each platform. Our readers on one platform are different from those on another, and the way they interact with content on those respective platforms varies as well. So even if it is the same information, it will look different or be packaged differently on TikTok than it will be on Instagram.

Learn more about Dotdash Meredith’s Beauty & Style brands here