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WWD Digital Beauty Forum: Celeb Makeup Artist Michael Ashton on the Evolution of Influence

The celebrity makeup artist shared his strategy for what's working on Instagram — and why.

Celebrity makeup artist Michael Ashton’s insights on the influencer scene are as sharp as the signature winged eyeliner he created for Adele. During a wide-ranging conversation with WWD’s digital and prestige editor, Alexa Tietjen, Ashton shared his content strategy and how he has successfully parlayed his role as an in-demand makeup artist into a broader reach that spans everything from consumers to retail counters.

“You have to work on your voice and tone and what your angle is,” said Ashton. “I’m very professional. I’m not an over-sharer. I’m about products, education, what works, ingredients, and being consistent. If you jump around too much, it’s like you’ve had a personality transplant.”

Moreover, he’s learned that quantity doesn’t always equal quality. “Influence isn’t about the largest number of followers. It’s important to know the key performance indicators for a campaign — do you want it to drive brand awareness or drive sales?” said Ashton. “Most influencers are more adept at driving either one or the other.”

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Ashton has been on social media since the days of MySpace, when as a young makeup artist in New Zealand he used the platform to connect with designers, photographers and stylists to gain entrée into London’s style scene. He used Twitter as a platform to develop his voice, but over the last four years, he has primarily focused on Instagram. “I look at my main feed as a curated portfolio,” said Ashton. “People are following me for my artistry, but are also interested in me as a person. Instagram Stories works well when I’m working with brands, and for IGTV, shorter-form content does better.”

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In terms of content — artistry, tips and tricks and behind-the-scenes content is what appeals most to his audience of 40,000 Instagram followers, 80 percent of whom are 18-to-40 years old and live primarily in the U.S., U.K., Brazil and New Zealand. Ashton’s celebrity clients range from Adele to Courtney Love, and he takes their lead when it comes to sharing. “Some clients are incredibly private and others see it as an extension of their career,” he said. “My audience likes to have that access that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

When it comes to products, although he is a global ambassador for Marc Jacobs Beauty, Ashton features a wide variety of brands on his social media. “My contract is not exclusive,” he said. “Brands are realizing that when you partner with an artist, it’s better not to be exclusive — I’m a makeup artist who works with a lot of different products, and it is natural for me to share everything.”

What is more difficult, though, is gaining eyeballs on an incredibly crowded platform, a problem exacerbated by the algorithm changes implemented by Instagram. “One challenge is how do you get your content in front of a larger audience if they don’t get post notifications,” said Ashton.

Going forward, Ashton will try to crack that code, as he prepares to launch his own product line. When asked if he has aspirations for his own brand, Ashton said, “Yes — I’m currently in the kitchen cooking a few things up. I’ve always had a strong point of view when it comes to product, formula and innovation.”

“To pour my 20 years of experience into products that will make people’s lives easier is truly exciting,” he said. “So watch this space.”