By Jodi Lee
There are currently 156 million bloggers worldwide. That’s a lot of personal opinion on the web. And increasingly some of those blogs, and opinions, are being taken seriously and wielding a lot of influence. That’s a lot of marketing and sales influence.
The concept of blogging isn’t new. It began as a means of self-expression in the early 1990s, a place for someone to document her thoughts and experiences and share them with others. Similar to other social media sites, blogs are largely free to set-up and maintain, easily customised, and easy to use. But while Facebook might allow short personal updates and Twitter 140 characters to express what one is thinking, blogs provide endless space and opportunities for users to talk about themselves and express an opinion.
There is hardly an area of interest or industry that has been unaffected or untouched by the blogging masses. Food, nutrition, cooking and restaurant review websites are immensely popular. There are blogs on everything from travel, parenting, exercise, pets, photography, business, relationships, love, books, films and celebrities, and classical music to antique coins and star gazing. There are political blogs, financial blogs and news and current affairs blogs, like The Huffington Post which began as Arianna Huffington’s person webpage and is now a multi-million dollar worldwide business.
Although they are still largely a means for people to express themselves, a growing number of bloggers are becoming professional, paid bloggers. The fashion industry, in particular, has offered an opportunity for a special kind of blogger, one who has turned the blog into a business.
Tash Sefton and Elle Ferguson are the Australian duo behind They All Hate Us, a fashion-oriented blog that attracts over 180,000 visitors a month. Their site follows a simple format: each day the girls post a handful of stylised pictures ranging from fashion editorials and street-style snaps to paparazzi shots of celebrities and beautifully furnished homes.
“Girl-power” quotes written in delicate script and stills from Sex and the City are often included. Most of the images don’t showcase any kind of unique content. Although they occasionally feature Tash and Elle’s daily outfits, most of the photos are sourced from other places and re-published.
“The blog is just a great edit of what we are and what we love. Our readers can take inspiration and find things they like from the both of us,” Elle says.
Although the blog began as a way for the girls to share inspiring photos with one another to break the boredom of their work day, it has evolved into a brand in its own right with 1.3 million page views a month, an Instagram account with 37,000 followers, and its own publicist.
Tash and Elle have become industry “it” girls with endorsement deals, front row seats at fashion shows, and guest posts on reputable websites such as Vogue.com.au. They’ve also launched an online store as an offshoot of They All Hate Us where they choose 10 ‘must have’ items and make them available for sale via the site.
Before the rise of blogs, the fashion industry has a reputation for exclusivity, according to fashion writer Julia Frank, who has contributed to Vogue.com.au and rescu.com.au.
She says designers, editors and buyers “were an elite set” who promoted expensive garments and dictated trends. Celebrity models and film and television stars, who represented a polished ideal, were paid for endorsements and campaigns to further heighten the aspirational nature of the brands and products. Although adopted by avid fashion fans, usually these trends were adapted and mass-produced for the general public.
However, news about the fashion industry, its business, style and trends, is much more accessible thanks to social media, says Julia Frank.
“It’s about democracy but also about relating to the world of fashion through bloggers as opposed to publishers and retailers.” She says the rise in fashion blogging has liberated consumers.
“Anyone can be an arbiter of style. It is the followers of blogs who determine the industry’s leading voices. A fashion blogger is ‘elected into power’ by the traffic she generates and her social media footprint. The more followers, the more power.”
Not surprisingly, the rise in fashion blogging has coincided with the global debate on plus-size models. With the increased focus on representing what the public thinks and wants, the fashion industry seems to be moving towards visually reflecting the average woman in campaigns and editorials.
“Not everyone is a super model so I think it’s refreshing to see clothes on regular people doing regular things with regular incomes,” Tash says.
So how do bloggers elevate their webpages from hobbies to fully fledged businesses?
Montarna McDonald, the publicist for Australian fashion boutiques Belinda and The Corner Store, has both hired bloggers and been hired by clients to blog.
She says that in recent years blogs have become “increasingly influential” to the marketing strategies of fashion brands because of their wide reach and often diverse audiences.
Julia Frank agrees. “Bloggers are playing a huge role in brand awareness. They have a platform from which to reach many people and potential customers.”
According to Montarna, endorsement is at the heart of any business partnership between brands and bloggers. They “are hired to promote a particular label by posting images and personally recommending the item or product to their followers. They could also be asked to make appearances at parties, co-write a feature for a magazine, or work as ambassadors or models for a label”, she says.
The costs associated with these arrangements are difficult to chart since they depend on how many followers a blogger has and what the blogger is asked to do.
“It could simply be the cost of giving them a product or garment,” Montarna says. Julia sees it as potentially a good investment. “If a blog can translate into sales, which they often do, then that is a powerful vehicle for a brand to harness,” she says.
However, Julia says not all fashion brands are in the business of paying bloggers and not all bloggers are looking to build businesses. There are those who believe the very notion of “cash for column” undermines the integrity of both parties.
Whether it compromises the credibility of a blogger or not, Julia points out the practice of paid endorsements was around “long before blogging came into the picture”.
Today, many publicists invite bloggers to events with the “implicit understanding that the blogger will devote uploads and posts in return for the brand’s hospitality”, Julia says. “It’s a business strategy.
The appeal of personal fashion blogs is that they suggest the fashion industry is attainable, that it is not the exclusive domain of the rich and famous. Fashion blogs acknowledge the public and help bridge the gap between designers and manufacturers and consumers.
Of course, the irony is that the very presence of fiscal transactions between bloggers and brands threatens to undermine the authenticity of the consumer power they promise.