Grabbing a slice of the social-media market

From journalist to pioneering YouTube star to running her own influencer agency here in Jersey, Becky Sheeran has carved out a career in the world of social media. In the first of a two-part interview, Ian Heath caught up with the Nottingham native, who, after starting out telling people about the contents of her handbag online, now counts the Real Housewives of Jersey among her clients

Becky Sheerin at St Brelades Bay..Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30888956)
Becky Sheerin at St Brelades Bay..Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30888956)

FOR most of us, turning a passion or a hobby into a job is a dream. But how many of us are bold enough to take the steps needed to achieve it?

Becky Sheeran walked away from a career with the BBC to do just that and despite being told by those closest to her that she was ‘crazy’, 15 years later she has no regrets.

‘I started out as a reporter going out with a camera, filming, editing and everything. I wanted to get better at filming and editing, so I decided to film a few videos and upload them online,’ she said.

‘I found this site called YouTube, which no one had ever really heard of then and no one was using it. I think it was actually a dating app when it started. I started to just upload content and practise filming, editing as quickly as I could.

‘And after a few months I got more than one subscriber and it just started to grow. Then I had an ultimatum given to me from the BBC, shut all your channels down, stop your Instagram, stop YouTube, you can’t run any of this. The editor said it’s just a silly online blog.

‘So I quit. I left the BBC. I could see this industry that was starting of people going online. I could see this trend of people wanting to watch the news and have immediate things on a whole range of topics. I found it fascinating.

‘I was so nervous at the start because all my friends and family thought it was crazy. But it started to turn into an industry and I slowly started to go from one subscriber to 10, 20, 100, a thousand, a hundred thousand. I eventually got to about 250,000 and I turned it into a job.’

Tapping into people’s interests and passions is the perhaps the key to success in any form of media. And as Becky discovered, the simplest of ideas can be enough to get you started as a social-media influencer.

‘My first videos were literally: “What is in my handbag?” I would open my handbag up and show people what was in it and it had thousands of views and people wanted more,’ she said.

‘They wanted to know what skincare I used, what I ate for my breakfast, what my dog ate. So my dog ended up with an Instagram. Then she got followers and I started featuring what she ate and how I looked after her and the cafés that I liked going to or what moisturisers I used.

‘I also had “hacks” to save money because I was always into saving money. So if I found a really expensive product, I’d try and find one for half the price that was just as good.

‘It was everything, but the first few videos were literally just “what is in my bag?” and it took off. It was such a new industry at the time.’

She added that she thinks the genuine feel of social media is part of its mass appeal, compared to traditional advertising.

‘People were looking for content that was real. They were looking at adverts with, let’s say, Cheryl Cole and the hairsprays they’d never used, but they were looking for real people,’ she said.

‘I ran that as a business. Ultimately, it was just talking about my life and the things that I genuinely love, the places that I loved going to visit and my family.’

One of the key lessons for the fledgling influencer was how social media was increasingly being used as a marketing tool, which remains an emerging field to this day.

‘When I left the BBC I’d had an email from L’Oreal and a couple of other brands, and I could see that there was a way to make money,’ she said.

‘I could see what was happening in a sense of people online, building an audience and brands or companies wanting to advertise with them. I was so fascinated to learn about this industry and I could see how many brands were starting to pay for adverts online.

‘I could see how many views people were starting to get and I knew how the media made their money through adverts. I thought: “Why not do the same online?”

‘Leaving the BBC was probably the biggest risk I ever took. Nobody I knew was working in that [social-media] industry, so there was nobody I could talk to about how to make it work.

‘It was a leap of faith and I just threw myself into learning about how to turn this hobby of literally just having a camera taped to a mirror at home into a business. How could I network and start meeting all these different brands and people?

‘It just grew from there and after a couple of years I was employing about three people, running it as a full-time business. I loved it.

‘I was working with anyone from makeup companies to food and drink, to travel to charity organisations, or really small brands that were startups that I could help get talked about.’

Becky took the decision to relocate to Jersey from the UK and set up Sheeran Perry, which manages some of the Island’s top influencers, such as Jersey cowgirl Becky Houzé, e-commerce guru Aaron Chatterley, photographer/environmentalist Matt Porteous and pilates/yoga expert Grace Hurry.

‘When I got here I realised that there was quite a big amount of content creators here. We live in an amazing place but social media in some ways in Jersey is still quite a new industry,’ she said.

‘I was fascinated by people living here and I would come across amazing people, from farmers to photographers to roller skaters. I thought, what an amazing place to create content.

‘I came together with my business partner who used to work at Twitter, Jo Burford. She knows the brand side of things and I came at it as an influencer and we set up Sheeran Perry. The idea was to formalise what I was already doing with creators and create a management company to help people brand themselves and really try to make their hobby a career.

‘Also there is the consultancy side to help both UK and Jersey companies understand the power of influencer marketing and how to do it because it’s still such an unknown space. You can get a return on investment of 11 times with influencer marketing, but you’ve got to understand it.’

Ever the ambitious businesswoman, Becky made no bones about how she managed to put her client base in the Island together in the early days.

‘Basically, first of all, I stalked everyone. I hunted them all down online and I wanted to meet them all personally and find out more about them and who they were,’ she said.

‘I was looking for a number of things. When we look for creators, number one – we are often looking for them to have a big number of followers behind them already.

‘That tells us that a) they’re creating content that people want to watch and b) they’re able to grow from that content. We’re then able to monetise and help them monetise that content with brands because brands are looking for numbers.

‘The second thing was we have taken on a number of people who actually don’t have a lot followers, but I was able to look at them and think that is such an amazing content creator and with a little bit of help, we can help them grow.’

She explained that the agency aims to develop its influencers to maximise their online appeal and earning potential, which can involve introducing them to new social-media platforms.

‘We’ve moved creators that are on Instagram, onto TikTok. We train them how to create YouTube videos and how to become a creator on there,’ she said.

‘Some of the influencers in Jersey didn’t have a huge number of followers, but we knew that we could help them in this space. It’s really about looking at are they doing something that’s really interesting? Are they doing something that people are interested in and are they doing something that we can help to grow and connect them with brands that would want to work with them?

‘Someone like Becky Houzé is an incredible content creator and she has got such a niche in what she does and yet she’s only really known in Jersey.

‘What we wanted to be able to do is take what she does and put her on different platforms and help her to try to connect her with brands that might be able to help her grow.

‘Becky went on TikTok and within a few months had 2 million views on it and that’s helped her to grow on her Instagram. It’s about taking somebody that actually is doing what they’re doing, doing a really good job of it, but putting them on a bigger platform.

‘She will hopefully go on to be on YouTube, to be in mainstream UK press. And that’s what we’re really working towards – really showcasing her to the rest of the world.’

lNext week: Becky talks about branding and managing the Real Housewives of Jersey.

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