Sarah James of Whoorl: She’s Fortysomething, Fabulous, Forthcoming And A Formidable Social-Media Force
There’s a very practical reason why Sarah James keeps well-maintained bangs. “As long as I have them, I’ll never need Botox,” quips the blogger behind Whoorl. The comment is quintessential James, whose attraction is a blend of aspiration and accessibility. She’s the gorgeous friend you can’t hate even if you try. Her family is cute-as-a-button, but she’s open about the struggles of being a human mother in these go-go times. She’s big on yoga, but admits to pain while doing it. She’s banked on her enviable tresses, but has been embracing the grays that appear with age. Perhaps her wisdom and honesty are due to experience because, in the world of social-media influencers, she’s about as veteran as they come. She began her blog a dozen years ago and is now demonstrating how to command digital content as a fortysomething. Beauty Independent caught up with the lifestyle maven to uncover her secret to staying relevant despite the rise and fall of various platforms, what makes a winning partnership with brands and the advantages of having a long history online.
What spawned your blog?
I’ve always loved to write, and 2005 was the year I started to read blogs for the first time. The blogging community was this exciting new space where people were sharing opinions and building online readerships, and I was so intrigued by the notion of it all. Keep in mind, this was pre-Twitter and Instagram, and Facebook was in its infancy. Social media wasn’t a thing at that point. I started writing my blog as nothing more than a hobby, not really thinking a soul would read it, but, within a couple of years, it grew into a profitable website, and I was able to quit my full-time pharmaceutical sales job to devote my career to blogging.
Tell us about your path to becoming an influencer.
A large part of Whoorl’s success early on was a weekly series called Hair Thursday I did on the blog from 2007 to 2010. I would take readers’ questions about hairstyle choices and help them to find a new look with the help of my community via online polls. Once again, I didn’t have much of a plan that early in the game – this will become a common theme, as you will see – but, within months, I had a year-long waiting list, a feature in the New York Times, made appearances on talk shows like The Rachael Ray Show and, ultimately, became the national commercial spokesperson for Pantene. Obviously, this was before my foray into green beauty. Talk about a whirlwind. At this point, it became clear that I was viewed as an influencer, and I never looked back.
Can you pinpoint when you started making a conscious effort to buy from smaller, more thoughtful brands?
I can’t really pinpoint the moment, but, as I approach my mid-40s, quality over quantity has become absolutely paramount, and I’ve found that using and working with smaller brands, especially in the green beauty realm, is incredibly rewarding. These types of brands have so much passion and so much invested in their companies, and it’s really a breath of fresh air to work with such driven, transparent peers.
Have you always been interested in the beauty industry?
Absolutely. I’ve adored all things beauty since I was a little girl, especially cosmetics. There just is something about being able to temporarily transform your look with strategically placed color here and there. I’ve always been a proponent for highlighting everyone’s God-given beauty, celebrating our uniqueness and drawing attention to our most-loved features.
How have you evolved your content on Whoorl?
My content is ever-changing, and I’m sure it will continue to be because my number-one driving force has always been telling my truth. I write about things I love and am fully interested in. Period. And that looks like a lot of different subjects over time. When I started my blog as a newlywed, I wrote about the early years of marriage. When I became pregnant with my two children, I wrote about pregnancy and parenthood. When I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression, I’ve written about that. Capsule wardrobes. Green beauty. Whatever I’m focused on in the moment, you can bet I’m writing about it. Ultimately, it’s never been about numbers for me. And it never will be. It’s about building trust, sharing ideas, and gaining perspective from my readers.
Your Odds and Ends posts are fan favorites. Do certain product types get better responses?
This is a such an interesting question. I don’t know if a certain product type is more popular, but what continues to surprise me is that a brief product mention in my Odds and Ends posts will usually do better than an entire dedicated post on a product. My product mentions in my Odds and Ends posts always have a huge response. As micro-blogging continues to grow and attention spans become shorter, it seems the majority of readers much prefer bite-sized pieces of information opposed to long-form.
Your content covers quite a few platforms. Can you fill us in on them?
My blog, Whoorl.com, and all of the social media platforms that go along with it: Instagram, Facebook page, Twitter. In September, I launched Selfie Podcast with my friend and fellow blogger Kristen Howerton, which is all about self-care in modern society, and how we tackle the tricky and often elusive aspects of caring for ourselves. We have had so much fun with this, as we are definitely taking a vulnerable and often humorous look at body, mind and spirit.
How do you balance being an influencer with family life?
Balance? What is this word you speak of? I have no idea. Seriously. Someone help me. I have more self-help books that I care to admit.
Do you schedule your content, and how many posts do you do on Whoorl per week?
I loosely schedule my content. I always have a working calendar with collaborations scheduled about a month in advance and, on the blog, I aim to have one lifestyle-type post a week as well as my Odds and Ends posts on Friday. Otherwise, it’s a free-for-all.
What is your favorite way to discover new brands?
My favorite bloggers and influencers. We are constantly sending each other messages and sharing information on new products and brands.
How do you prefer to be contacted about a potential opportunity?
I prefer to be emailed at email@example.com, although I don’t mind being direct messaged on Instagram.
What do you wish brands knew about working with Influencers?
If I push back on a marketing idea, it’s not because I’m trying to be difficult. I’ve been doing this for a very long time, and it’s granted me the ability to keep my finger on the pulse of what my readers like and what they don’t. It is a confidence that comes with time and, when it comes to my platform, I know what will resonate the most with my followers, and sometimes that isn’t exactly what the brand wants. But, ultimately, I want success for everyone involved, I’m willing to compromise in creating a seamless partnership.
What are some ways you work with brands?
Honestly, every project is completely different. It’s all about weaving in organic content without looking like I’m making a product pitch while still providing excellent branding and inspiration for consumer purchases. In the current marketplace, there are so many different ways to achieve it: sponsored posts, Instagram content, videos, affiliate partnerships, 60-second advertising spots on the podcast, these are the most common. But, many times, I just love a product or brand and want to spread the word to my readers.
What have been your most successful brand partnerships?
I would have to say Levi’s and Pantene stand out to me because they both involved video content and, personally, I really enjoy being in front of the camera. Ultimately, I think adding that extra layer of personalization takes partnerships to a whole new level.
Do you think the Whoorl audience would be upset by a sponsored post?
No. Although, I will say, I’m incredibly picky about sponsorships and haven’t been doing that many as of late.
Who is your audience?
Incredibly smart and savvy women, mostly aged 30 to 45.
Which posts seem to get the most attention?
Posts about personal routines are always well-received: morning skincare routines, hair tutorials, etc. Posts involving video are very popular. Once again, it just adds another dimension to blogging. You’re not just that person typing on the other side of the screen, you know?
You’re very open about your family. As your audience grows, do you have any reservations about being so open?
This has been a cyclic issue for over a decade, up and down, back and forth. When I started blogging, no one used their real name, and everyone had monikers. In fact, up until a year or so ago, people knew my two children as Whoorlito and Whoorlita online. Now, I’ve relaxed a little bit, although my kids’ privacy is the of the utmost importance. I think about it a lot.
What differentiates you from other influencers?
I just love the beauty influencer space right now. So many smart, unique people that each put their own special twist on the beauty industry. For me, the one thing I’ve heard time and time again when I meet readers and followers is that, “I’m exactly like they imagined.” My writing style is very similar to how I actually speak to others, and I think that combination of originality, expertise and approachability is what keeps me in the game. And, as for the independent beauty realm in particular, I don’t think there are a ton of influencers over 40, and that is going to be a main focus for me in 2018. Ladies over 40, let’s do this thing.
What trends do you see on the rise, and which ones do you wish would go away?
Loving what I’m seeing in terms of aging and beauty. There are so many women celebrating the character that comes with aging – smile lines, gray hair, etc. – instead of trying to hide it. I definitely hope this isn’t just a trend.
How has the social media landscape changed over the course of Whoorl?
There wasn’t such a thing as social media when I started, so the change has been enormous. However, I’ll just continue to ride the wave. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the past 12 years, it’s to stay fluid. Don’t get too attached to the way you do things because change is bound to happen.
What are your goals for Whoorl going forward?
I really want to bring more awareness to beauty over 40. I would love to see more women in that age group being the faces of brands. I feel a wonderful shift of women owning their age and all that comes along with it, and I want to lead the charge.
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