Today, in a guest Op-Ed piece, Jennine Jacob, founder of Independent Fashion Bloggers, exposes a transparency problem that threatens the future of the business of blogging.
NEW YORK, United States — Old media often seems to portray fashion bloggers as publishers gone rogue: online personalities thirsting for free product or paid public appearances. Ruth La Ferla’s recent piece in The New York Times, “New York Fashion Week Street Style Is Often a Billboard for Brands,” suggests that it’s common practice for bloggers to accept payments from designer brands in return for wearing their product at fashion week with the goal of being shot by street style photographers.
Numerous media outlets picked up the story. But when pressed, several people who were interviewed for the original article denied having first hand knowledge of an actual, specific instance in which a brand had paid a blogger to wear its products for the purpose of being photographed for street style sites.
Nonetheless, many people believed that the activities depicted in the story could very well be true. Evidence or not, they sounded plausible enough. More that anything, I think this points to the fact that fashion bloggers have a serious transparency problem. They are far too hush-hush about the business side of blogging, which can lead people to assume the worst.
Bloggers need to generate income. Brands need to reach consumers. Partnerships are natural. And when a partnership between brand and blogger is successful, it can work wonders for both parties. The Man Repeller’s collaboration with Gryphon and From Me to You’s work with Tiffany, Veuve Clicquot and Oscar de La Renta come to mind.
Indeed, for me, the critical issue surfaced by La Ferla’s piece isn’t that bloggers are partnering with brands, but the obvious lack of transparency around some of these partnerships.
Unsurprisingly, many bloggers are shy about discussing the brands they are working with for fear of losing credibility with their audience. But if a blogger doesn’t feel good about disclosing a particular brand partnership or they fear a revolt from their readers, they probably shouldn’t be doing it.
Unfortunately, traditional fashion media doesn’t set a particularly good example when it comes to transparency. While newspapers like The New York Times enforce strict 'church and state' separation between their editorial and advertising departments, many fashion magazines preach these principles, while, in reality, adopting 'pay for play' policies that ensure top advertisers get favourable editorial coverage.
Bloggers often act alone, or in small teams, meaning that content decisions and business decisions are often made by the same people and true 'church and state' separation can be impractical to implement. Nonetheless, bloggers should strive to be more transparent and clearly distinguish between editorial and advertising.
Shouldn’t readers know if a bag a blogger fawns over in a post was gifted by a brand? Shouldn’t they know if a blogger was paid to write a post about a certain pair of shoes?
Thus far, perhaps not enough bloggers have lost their credibility to enforce a universal code of ethics around this issue. But I believe strongly that the community could benefit from a more transparent approach. Do readers need to know the financial details of a blogger’s brand partnerships? No. But the difference between editorial and advertising should always be clear.
Come to think of it, bloggers have a responsibility to be more transparent with their brand partners, as well. Honest campaign reporting, using inexpensive tools like Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Hootsuite, TweetReach, Statigram and Bit.ly can help brands better understand and quantify the impact bloggers can bring to the table.
Ultimately, greater transparency with both readers and brand partners is in the long-term interests of fashion bloggers, because businesses built on smoke and mirrors can only work for so long.
Jennine Jacob is the founder of The Coveted and Independent Fashion Bloggers (IFB), a community resource for fashion bloggers.