Women of Influence 2018: the power of social media

Former model and fitness trainer Emily Skye launched her business with a Facebook page and a blog. Photo: Paul Harris
Former model and fitness trainer Emily Skye launched her business with a Facebook page and a blog. Photo: Paul Harris

Launching a business in 1985 involved being handed a family company, buying someone else's or getting a bank loan to start your own. When she launched her fitness business, Emily Skye did none of that.

The Gold Coast former model and fitness trainer founded Emily Skye Fitness with a Facebook page and a blog. Today more than 15 million people follow Skye on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and last October she made her debut on the Young Rich List with an estimated wealth of $32 million. Earlier this year Skye, 32, sold a stake in the company to Quadrant Private Equity.

Social media has made it easier for entrepreneurs to spread their influence – in particular women, who tend to dominate in fields such as health and fitness, beauty and fashion, where followers (customers) can be gained on image-focused platforms such as Instagram and YouTube.

"I've been able to create a community of women who all have similar goals: to create a healthier and more active lifestyle for themselves," says Skye. Social media has made it easy for her to also expand her reach globally, she says.

Social media is not the only tool available to individuals seeking to make a difference. Women who are looking to make a difference in their communities, and beyond, were invited to enter The Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence award, presented by Qantas. The winners will be announced on September 4.

Irene Falcone, founder of Nourished Life, says if you have a good idea, service and product, social media can do the rest. Photo supplied

Irene Falcone, founder of Nourished Life, says if you have a good idea, service and product, social media can do the rest. Photo supplied

Aside from socially savvy fitness gurus and fashionistas, social media has enabled mums to start a business at home with as little as $100. Irene Falcone, a mother of four and the founder of toxin-free, all-natural beauty site Nourished Life, is proof of that.

In 2012 she spent $100 on 100 lip balms bought from the US, which she sold online for three times the price. In her first year she turned over $300,000. Nourished Life was bought last year for $20 million by ASX-listed BWX Limited.

"In the nineties we read magazines and that's where we got our information. Now we read social media, which is exciting because it's current, up-to-date and live. People can comment and say if it really works," says Falcone, whose loyal followers post reviews – positive and negative – of products she blogs about and sells through her site.

She believes if you have a good idea, service and product, social media can do the rest. "And you don't have to spend $3 million marketing it," she says. "You can put some posts on social media and the audience will do the work for you.

The secret to success is having a unique and authentic voice and sticking true to it, says ShowPo founder Jane Lu. Photo: Ben Rushton

The secret to success is having a unique and authentic voice and sticking true to it, says ShowPo founder Jane Lu. Photo: Ben Rushton

The secret to success is having a unique and authentic voice and sticking true to it, says ShowPo founder Jane Lu. Ben Rushton

"If you think about where you want to spread your influence – if it's the school yard, someone tells someone else, they tell their friends and it spreads like that. Imagine doing that on a scale of hundreds and thousands at a time and instantly. You're getting your influence across so much more powerfully and with more impact with the click of a button – and it's fast-paced."

Social media provides not only the platform for entrepreneurs but a voice and the opportunity to build a community and connect with like-minded people, says Jane Lu, the founder of online fashion site Showpo. Showpo's Instagram feed has 1.3 million followers globally and its Facebook account has 1.2 million followers.

The former KPMG cadet founded the site from her parents' garage eight years ago and last year turned over more than $30 million in sales.

In 2015 Lu teamed up with tamme and OneShift founder Gen George – recognised in 2015 as one of The Australian Financial Review's Women of Influence – to establish a Facebook community of entrepreneurial women called "Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine". The group has more than 77,000 members.

"If I write something about overcoming failure, this may take the form of a vlog on YouTube or a blog on Showpo," Lu says. "This then gets shared on Showpo and my own accounts like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and LMBDW, reaching multiple audiences."

Instant feedback

But with so many people sharing the social space these days, it's becoming harder to be heard above the noise.

"Those with a huge following and huge engagement definitely have something that others don't, and the ones that really understand what makes their brand special and why their community follows them and use that to keep growing are the ones excelling in this space," says Lu.

Of course, that instant feedback also has a downside and alongside the devotees there will be critics.

"The great thing with social media is that you get near-instant feedback on what you're putting out there through the reach a piece of content receives. People are braver behind a screen so they often won't hold back and you can almost always guarantee the feedback is genuine," says Lu.

The secret to success is "having a unique and authentic voice and sticking true to it".

Skye agrees that when you share so much of yourself online, you are bound to attract some negativity.

"I've found the best way to stand out is to just be myself and be honest and real with people," she says. "I love to share my own experiences and how I get through tough times and people seem to really like my transparency."