Followers Are the New Currency: How Social Media Has Changed the Celeb Glam Squad Game

“Social Media…it’s honestly completely changed my life,” celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkin told me via phone from Ojai, Calif., in late August. She was taking a mini vacay with her husband, which I knew because I, like millions of other people, watch her Snapchat daily.

“I was an early adapter to it,” she continued. “I just thought it was an opportunity to share my day at the time. It wasn’t as promotional, it was more just storytelling and I feel like that’s one thing that’s definitely changed. Now people are really starting to realize the power of Instagram and Snapchat and are using it in smart ways to promote business.”

Indeed, social media has rapidly and irreversibly changed the beauty business and Atkin is arguably the most famous celeb glam squad member to turn her personal photos, videos and ideas into a digital empire.

Currently, the hair pro has her own name-brand accounts on all the major social platforms (Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook) as well as equally active accounts for her newly launched hair care line, Ouai, and her passion project, Mane Addicts, a community for hair pros, enthusiasts and novices.

But not all celebrity makeup artists and hairstylists have been swept up in this sea change. In fact for many, social media can be a sensitive subject.

To understand why this technology is almost taboo you have to understand the history of the glam squad.

Since basically forever the celebrity beauty industry was, like the Hollywood industry it serves, nearly impossible to break in to. If you got in, you would assist for years to prove yourself and build a reputation. Along the way, a critical lesson to be learned was set etiquette. And perhaps the number-one rule when dealing with celebs was: Privacy above all and no cell phones.

“I had [legendary photographer] Steven Klein holler at me because I pulled out my phone to exchange a number,” celebrity makeup artist Fiona Stiles remembered.

And even if you did somehow get a rare photo, sharing it was a copyright nightmare. “At that time any images I had, I would never post because I had to get model rights, photographer rights, I didn’t own the content,” explains Benefit Global Makeup Master Jose Rivera. “And taking a picture with a celebrity? You would never do that! It was bad business – you would never ask a celeb for a photo.”

How things have changed. Today there are almost more images of celebs prepping for a shoot or red carpet than from the event itself. Even more notable is that these special BTS images are becoming essential to an artist’s relevance. Because nowadays, if you don’t Instagram it, did it even happen?

“If you don’t take a picture yourself or get a picture from Getty Image, Wire Image or from the pap and post one, you weren’t a part of it. You’re not working. It’s kind of this way of showing that you’re thriving and working, and there’s pressure…if you play that game. Not everyone is playing that game,” explains celebrity makeup artist Pati Dubroff.

Take Stiles, for example. “Even people I’ve known for 10 years I don’t take pictures with them—I’m old school in that way, I’m not comfortable with that,” she says. “And when we first started [using social media], some publicist wouldn’t allow you to publish photos of their clients on the red carpet because they felt like you were being self-serving and self-promoting and doing a disservice to their client. That has definitely changed.”

Another change? Status. Today, celebrity glam squad members have become almost as famous as their clients. So not only has the backstage world of beauty been pushed front and center but these artist themselves have been thrust into the spotlight.

“The new version of success is you are the star of your own sort of reality show of being a makeup artist or hairstylist,” Chanel makeup artist Rachel Goodwin explained. “There are lots of really cool people doing this job, there are really interesting, compelling individuals doing this. Are they all brands on feet, walking reality stars? Maybe not. Are they incredible talents? Yes. It was so hard to earn your place before because it wasn’t about that. It was about being subtle and having an understanding of your role, and being intuitive and sensitive was a key component to this collaborative art.”

Adds Dubroff: “I know that more people know who I am than ever before but that is never, ever going to jeopardize me taking care of and putting the focus on the client that I’m there to support. I’m there to serve the person that’s hired me. If you take that away and make it all about you, then you shouldn’t do that. You should go do something else.”

For this article I talked to nearly 20 celebrity makeup artists and hairstylists on-and-off the record and while opinions on social media varied more than thoughts on contouring, everyone agreed that social media has created a new division in the profession.

“I always look at it like there are different tiers of people,” explained celeb hairstylist Sarah Potempa. “You have the icon stylists that have been around for 30 years, who most of them don’t have social media. Then there’s my group of people: Me, Mark Townsend, Hung Vanngo—we all came up assisting the icons and made it to the point that we were busy and had success without social media. Now there’s a new tier of people who started when social media was around. And that’s when it becomes a totally different game because it’s like