Social Media Reality Check

Tavi Gevinson | Source: Style Rookie

Tavi Gevinson | Source: Style Rookie

NEW YORK, United States — Ever since the dynamic and erudite young fashion blogger Tavi appeared at the runway shows in New York this past September, the fashion industry has partaken in a veritable social media orgy. Article after article rightfully declared the 13 year-old blogger and her talented fashion blogger brothers and sisters — BryanBoy, Susie Bubble and others — the new fashion stars.

During New York Fashion Week in September, The New York Times Technology section exclaimed: “Young bloggers Have Ear of Fashion Heavyweights.” Then, Women’s Wear Daily declared: “Everyone’s doing it: Brands take on Social Media,” and followed with  “Bricks Versus Clicks: Front Row at D&G,” ranking the front row presence of bloggers at D&G in Milan as a “Defining Moment” of the Spring/Summer 2010 collections.

But it didn’t there. The Independent in London showcased the “New Kids on the Blog,” Metro News in Toronto said “Style bloggers bring fashion to the masses,” the Irish Independent said fashion blogs are “Writing with Style,” the Financial Times revealed that “Style bloggers take centre stage” and the International Herald Tribune chimed in, saying that we are moving “From Couture — to Conversation.

And while nothing delights us more than to see bloggers finally getting the attention and respect they deserve, the time has come for a bit of a social media reality check.

Fashion blog traffic to Nov 2009 | Source: Alexa

Fashion blog web traffic | Source: Alexa

According to some quick research on Alexa, the recent attention has propelled traffic of these fashion blogs to record highs, and for a short period, tiny Tavi’s traffic even eclipsed that of the superblogger Scott Schuman. All the while, brands were chasing the “new front row” for attention and approval, an international luxury conference was convened in Berlin to explore how social media is revolutionising the fashion industry, and the star bloggers were trying to make sense of their overnight fame and newfound industry influence.

But what happens next? It’s time to take stock to assess how each of the constituent players in this rapidly developing online fashion eco-system can develop over the long-term. For everyone involved, this will require not only a change of media, but also a change of mindset.

BRANDS: Develop long-term, reciprocal relationships with bloggers. Don’t just create PR stunts to get attention.

At that now infamous D&G show in Milan, where bloggers were prominently placed in the front row for all to see, laptops were also set up in front of their seats. The objective, it appears, was to make it look like they were “live” blogging and tweeting during the show, even though none of the selected photobloggers (Scott Schuman, Tommy Ton, and Garance Doré) work in this way. Rather, the photobloggers take hundreds of photos over the course of a day and then edit their photos down before publishing only the best ones. In reality, only Bryanboy is a regular Twitter user and the only one who might be considered a “live” blogger.

As a PR stunt, the illusion of live blogging may have done wonders for D&G as press photos of the bloggers appeared in major publications around the world. Conjuring up images of young people streaming their ideas live from the front row made for a great story, but it probably made the bloggers themselves feel uncomfortable. D&G apparently wanted to be seen as the first to truly embrace media, even though other brands have been doing so for several seasons now, albeit in a quieter manner.

It’s not enough to be seen to embrace social media. Brands and retailers must also build real long-term symbiotic relationships with bloggers, not short-term exploitative ones. Excellent examples of this are Lane Crawford, who from the start have supported and worked with Tommy Ton on their ad campaigns, and Burberry and DKNY who hired Mr. Schuman for his photography skills to appear on their website and in their advertisements, respectively.

Finally, consider the point made by Yuli Ziv, a New York-based fashion blogger who said to brands last week: “If you are looking for sales, make sure to provide [bloggers] the detailed product info, pricing and availability, if  SEO optimization is your top goal – make sure you use the right keywords in your pitch, if publicity buzz is what makes you satisfied – give them juicy stories, and if you simply want love – give them the reasons to love you.” It’s as simple as that.

BLOGGERS: Operate with the highest-levels of integrity and don’t lose your independent voice and point-of-view.

In his book “Watching the Watchdog: Bloggers As the Fifth Estate,” author Stephen D. Cooper argues that bloggers can hold companies and the mainstream media accountable for their actions. But in order to do so, bloggers must simultaneously maintain healthy, positive relationships with the brands with whom they work, while also fiercely protecting their independence.

Even though we don’t necessarily agree with the recent FTC ruling holding bloggers to a different level of accountability than the mainstream press, the underlying principles are sensible. Don’t allow your praise to be bought. Accept gifts like everyone else in the industry, but be transparent when you have been given something to review or been flown in to cover an event. And, most of all, say what you think! After all, this is why your audience comes to you in the first place. The minute bloggers become part of the easily-manipulated fashion media machinery, they lose their unique selling proposition.

If bloggers want to be taken seriously, they must operate like professionals. Indeed, it is the most professional of bloggers those who work hard, operate with integrity, and maintain good relationships who are having the most financial success, attracting advertising, sponsorship and even consulting and employment opportunities.

MAINSTREAM MEDIA: Engage with bloggers as professionals and consider making them your new colleagues.

The rise of fashion bloggers does not necessarily mean the death of fashion editors. There is more than enough room for everyone to take part in the ever-growing sphere of fashion writing and communication.

However, more than just writing about bloggers (over and over again), the mainstream media may want to consider engaging with them as fellow professionals. Prior to last week’s IHT conference in Berlin, Suzy Menkes agreed to have the tables turned on her, participating in an interview with Mary Scherpe on her blog, Quite Contrary. While many other journalists were interviewing bloggers, Suzy was letting a blogger interview her. Suzy also made an effort to meet with bloggers in Berlin who were (really) blogging and tweeting from the front rows.

Dazed Digital and Vogue web traffic | Source: Alexa

Dazed Digital and Vogue web traffic | Source: Alexa

Jefferson Hack, Editorial Director of Dazed Group, has taken this one step further. When hiring for Dazed Digital a few years back, he did not look to traditional editors or photographers to lead his new digital team. Rather, he turned to the internet’s burgeoning fashion talents, hiring photographer Alistair Allan as Digital Director and prodigious fashion blogger Susie Bubble as Commissioning Editor. Long before much of the mainstream media was even paying attention to bloggers, Jefferson was already learning from them.

The results have been impressive. Independently-owned Dazed Digital now receives about 2 million pageviews per month, placing it in the leagues of Conde Nast-owned, according to Alexa.

Still, I regularly hear reports of major online fashion properties who “can’t find the budgets” to hire young digital natives to help them amp up their online content. This is pennywise, pound foolish, especially as these young talents can be hired for a fraction of the cost of major photo shoot or big-time editor.

If the mainstream media are to keep up with all of the new developments, technologies and tools of online media, they might as well turn to the experts. Bloggers are at the forefront of content innovation on the internet and have the know-how to use social media effectively. In today’s internet world, it is innovative content attracts viral attention and fosters relationships with readers, which are also the most important drivers of traffic and loyalty.

Imran Amed is Editor of The Business of Fashion

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  1. Another Great article Imran.

    I think one of the problems brands face is identifying who to hire. They don’t have anyone with enough expertise in house to make these highly informed decisions. I wouldn’t know what to look for in a good pattern cutter, but I could definitley tell the difference between a ‘Social Media Expert’ and a fluke. I think the fashion brands need to outsource their search for Digital Experts to outsiders in order.

    Using bloggers as traditional press outlet is a wise move that brands often feel is ‘cheap’, but it’s not it’s highly effective. For Digital Strategy I think brands really need technically competent people who understand how their brands operate , their demographics and be really sympathetic to the audience and also technically competent with some sort of development/technical background.

    Hiring digital people from an advertising agency in my opinion would be a frivolous act (unless they have a technical background).
    I think this is where the brands are struggling, they are making decisions on glossy presentations and resumes rather than technical abilities.

    Social media marketing is more science than creativity (although a healthy dose of creativity does help). Often the simplest ideas are the best and technical implementation and execution needs to be well thought out.

    Digital strategy is not just about digital either, it’s about modern business psychology and more specifically (and practically) Behavioral Economics (imagine a psychologist with a Maths degree).
    Understanding how and why your users behave and how to motivate them into decisions is important in driving conversions.

    Brands have the ability to track and optimise everything online and once they understand this they will prosper.

    So what am I saying: Hire more Geeks.

  2. Thanks for the quote, Imran!

    I couldn’t agree more with your point about the mainstream media – it’s about time they lose “us vs. them” attitude. The smartest of the traditional fashion publications will seek ways to partner with bloggers, rather than trying to compete.

    As for the brands – I really hope they don’t see bloggers as one of the seasonal trends. I guess we’ll have to wait for Fall 2010 shows to find out if those laptops are still in the front row… Although as a blogger I must agree with you – it’s very challenging to cover live a 5 min long runway spectacle (maybe they should adopt Droid next time? ;).

    Overall it’s a very exciting, although a bit overwhelming, time to be a fashion blogger, and I hope once the press hype is over we’ll be able to see how we can help this industry evolve.

  3. thanks for writing this. it’s probably the best article about bloggers hitting the mainstream to date.

    the whole concept that bloggers are some kind of novelty really wears thin after, ooh the 3rd year of writing about fashion bloggers? please, this is just about as exciting as studs & ripped jeans.

    also when it comes to brands. they really should take the time to listen to bloggers when it comes to engaging them as to what works and what doesn’t work. i’ve been invited to quite a few ‘live blogging’ events and not one of them was properly equipped with what a blogger needs to actually do his/her job…and that includes time.

    i think both brands and established media have a ways to go in when it comes to understanding how bloggers work. that we aren’t just pulling all this content out of our arses, no matter how ridiculous they think bloggers are to begin with.

  4. the comments here make sense.

    bloggers and fashion houses actually working TOGETHER and sharing is much better than trying to use each other for cheap and menial gains.

  5. This is really really good food for thought and puts all the media in harsh perspective, which is what bloggers, brands and industry needs. Even though I am one of the mentioned parties, even I find the amount of ‘hype’ slightly disconcerting…

  6. Someone finally had to say it: where does it all lead? As with anything, they hype will eventually die down. And perhaps then, quality writers or ‘image selectors’ with a unique perspective will remain. Until then, watch the bubble grow!

  7. What a great post! I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately: “If the mainstream media are to keep up with all of the new developments, technologies and tools of online media, they might as well turn to the experts. ”
    Why not integrate the skills of bloggers who have experience attracting audiences and evangelizing brands with the skills of more traditional editors? There’s no need for hateration, it’s a win-win.

  8. Thanks Imran, for moving the conversation forward.

    Meeta from Colwyn Bay, Conwy, United Kingdom
  9. wow!!! i’ve been sharing this link everywhere!!! it was well written, logically put with a very objective point of view!!! i found your blog very informative! now, it will have its permanent place on my daily read :-)


  10. Love the article!! We’ve started our own fashion blog a few month ago and it is fascinating to see how it grows, who supports it and what people and the industry think. It’s such a mixed bag, some embrace it whole heartedly, some are scared it could damage the brand but there is no hiding!!

    Integrity is probably the key message as affiliate marketing could suck the blogger in and suddenly you write about a product just because you’ve been given it for free, not because you believe in it but luckily the audience is usually clever enough to gather if it’s done for love or for profit.

    Any bloggers out there, keep doing it for the love and make sure you write about subject you care about and you can’t go wrong.
    Happy New Year! 2010 – social media is the way forward!!

  11. this is an inspirational article that has really motivated me to continue on the blogging path. the content of this website is really thoughtful, imaginative and insightful. i am now a fan.

    thank you so much!

  12. It’s amazing some of the people in the fashion industry. I don’t believe fashion can be taught. Someone is born with the ability to decide what the best looks are. Someone has to be the one that makes that decision. They are the one that is born with it, the other just work for them and soak up as much knowledge as they can. This is a grea article. Thank you for sharing!