Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of Huda Beauty.

Founded by YouTube beauty star Huda Kattan in 2013, the brand has become such a force on Instagram (with 23.2 million followers) that outside brands are attaching themselves to it to drive engagement, despite having no direct relationship to the company.

Alongside the usual hashtags like #beauty and #makeup, brands — including Benefit Cosmetics, BlendSmart and Cinema Secrets — are adding #hudabeauty or one of its 26 variations, like #shophudabeauty, to their posts, according to new research from the digital solutions agency Preen.Me.

Although hashtag usage like this is not covered by the FTC’s “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising,” tagging posts with #hudabeauty could imply an endorsement of these brands by Kattan, raising some ethical questions.

“This speaks to the undeniable power of influencers, especially those in the beauty sphere,” said Hélène Heath, a senior editor at the visual intelligence platform Dash Hudson. “Kattan built a cult following all on her own thanks to social media, and the fact the brands are trying to leverage her influence without having any affiliation to her proves that she has surpassed them.”

Indeed, beauty brands have cozied up to these influencers in recent years, as they’ve realized that the power dynamic in the industry has shifted in their favor. While some brands, from L’Oréal to Tarte Cosmetics, have established paid partnerships with beauty influencers, others are cutting corners to avoid paying rising feesreposting user-generated content made by notable influencers or, as is the case here, capitalizing on the power of an influencer-branded hashtag.

In 2017 alone, 1 million posts were created with Huda Beauty-related hashtags each quarter, Preen.Me found. There are over 9 million posts tagged with #hudabeauty on Instagram alone, far outnumbering the platform’s #loreal and #kyliecosmetics tags, which come in at 3 million and 2 million, respectively.

These #hudabeauty-tagged posts also garner nearly 200 million social interactions per month, which might explain why 57 different brands are quietly riding the Huda wave.

Altogether, those brands have created 2,693 posts using the hashtag this year, averaging around 17,404 social actions per post.

Benefit Cosmetics — which has 7.4 million followers on Instagram compared to Huda Beauty’s 23.2 million — is responsible for 36 percent, or the bulk of those posts. It also happens to generate 95 percent of the overall social activity received by brands using the #hudabeauty tags.

“Beauty brands are not as authoritative as they once once were and are attempting to take advantage of Kattan’s clout to gain more exposure,” said Heath. “By using her hashtag, they’re purposely associating their brand with hers, and cementing her as a force.”

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Research from Preen.Me

Kattan’s fellow beauty influencers are also relying on the power of the Huda Beauty brand to increase their social distribution. For instance, the YouTube makeup artists Farah Dhukai and Nikkie Tutorials have used the hashtag 167 and 117 times since 2014, respectively. Their posts are more likely to actually mention Kattan or her products.

Overall, there’s no connection between the post’s subject matter and the use of hashtag. Only 43 percent of the #hudabeauty posts actually mention Huda Beauty products. Meanwhile, only 53 percent of the users who mention Kattan actually follow her.

Kattan, who is believed to be Instagram’s wealthiest influencer, has been celebrated over the years for her inclusive and honest voice: she’s been outspoken about her past as “the ugly duckling” of her family, her use of Botox and her Muslim background.  Kattan’s also not a big believer in sponsored content, which is a rarity for influencers. She claimed to send out only two sponsored posts in all of 2016, for example.

“The size and amplification of this community is an incredible testament to Kattan’s own instinctive skills and ability to speak with people, not at them,” said Tamar Yaniv, the CEO and co-founder of Preen.Me. “It’s not just about the products, it’s about her sharing outside content, and always remaining inclusive and personal.”

Gil Eyal, the CEO of the influencer marketing platform HYPRBrands, believes the phenomenon is representative of a larger sea change.

“Hashtags are the new brand name,” he said. “By becoming synonymous with a popular hashtag, you can own a category.”

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