The Human Billboard

Social media is turning online personalities into advertising's next big thing: walking product placements

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Brands pay style blogger Jordan Reid to blog and tweet about using their products.

Correction Appended: April 5, 2013

Jordan Reid seems to be having a morning much like any other young mother's in suburban New York. "I'm really sorry, but I'm covered in spilled milk," she says as she steps out of her blue Subaru Outback after having tended to her 18-month-old son. Yet her catalog-ready appearance--Reid is wearing a leather bomber jacket, polka-dot ankle-rolled jeans and pink patent-leather flats under that spilled milk--is a tip that she isn't quite like her fellow moms. On any given day, after dressing and feeding her son, Reid spends an intensely regimented half hour cleansing her face with Moisturizing Facial Wash by Simple, washing her hair with Dove Color Care shampoo and riffling through a wardrobe chock-full of TJ Maxx clothing to compose a boho-chic outfit. She grabs one of her four Timex watches and one of three pairs of Ann Taylor sunglasses and scrambles down the stairs in her sunny three-bedroom home to eat breakfast on her new Noritake china collection (an eclectic mix of the Rochelle Gold, Hertford and Yoshino patterns).

Those brand choices aren't random. Reid blogs about fashion, food and home decor as well as life with her husband Kendrick and her son, and a growing number of companies are paying her to photograph, tweet and write about how she uses their products and what she thinks of them and to present them on her blog, in her style. Dove and Simple pay her to use their cleansers. TJ Maxx, Ann Taylor and Bloomingdale's have paid her to wear their clothes. Timex has paid her to sport its watches. Noritake has paid her to use its china. Reid has scrubbed stains off her wall for Better TV using Mr. Clean's Magic Eraser and painted her living-room walls canary yellow for Valspar paint. Even date nights have had a sponsor, Sorel boots. "Just in case a long walk home through the fall leaves is in order, let's go ahead and make sure those boots are as cozy as they are gorgeous," Reid wrote on her blog, under photos of her lounging on her porch in a faux-fur coat and Sorel's Joan of Arctic boots.

Of all the changes wrought by social media, few underscore the growing reach of the individual--and the continuing fragmentation of culture--like the rise of Reid and others like her. They are the microcelebrities, the spiritual successors of flash-in-the-pan reality-TV stars but with followings that often number in the thousands rather than the millions, and some marketers, looking for cost-effective ways to reach specific audiences, are desperate to tap into their power. It's now a given that upstart bloggers can wield outsize influence. What's new is how quickly companies have moved to pay for the privilege of enlisting relatively unknown personalities in the blogosphere. There's Kelley Framel, the 29-year-old fashionista who writes the Glamourai and has made deals with American Express, Sony and Lincoln cars. Jane Aldridge writes about jewelry and vintage fashion on her website Sea of Shoes, cashing checks from Urban Outfitters, Mattel and Magnum ice cream. And then there's Brit + Co. blogger Brit Morin, a former Google and YouTube employee who hawks on behalf of Nikon, Uniqlo and Velcro.

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