As shoppers increasingly turn their backs on commercial bloggers, “influencers” are stepping in to sway shoppers’ opinions. Drapers looks at the implications for brands’ marketing strategies.
My flash trash
Would-be writers with a passion for fashion became a force to be reckoned in the noughties, as blogging surged in popularity. Bloggers such as Susanna Lau, founder of Style Bubble, and Chiara Ferragni, aka the Blonde Salad – and Amazon Fashion’s European brand ambassador – now sit shoulder to shoulder with Anna Wintour and Cara Delevingne on the front row of the biggest fashion shows.
But, as visitor numbers have grown, blogs have turned into big business – and for some, have lost what made them special. Disingenuous endorsements and blatant ads have turned some readers off what was once an authentic, real-life view on style. As a result, brands are seeking new ways to reach their customers.
“Bloggers have started charging a lot, and I think it is really obvious to the consumer that it isn’t a genuine endorsement,” says Amber Atherton, founder of jewellery brand MyFlashTrash.
In fact, the name blogger has become a dirty word for some.
“Don’t call me a blogger. Bloggers do anything for money. I’m an influencer,” says Xenia Tchoumi, creator of Chic Overdose, which claims a total audience of 5.2 million. But what is an influencer?
“Someone who is connected and has a strong reputation,” answers Tchoumi.
Don’t call me a blogger. Bloggers do anything for money. I’m an influencer
Xenia Tchoumi, Chic Overdose
An influencer’s reputation does not necessarily emanate from a blog. Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter and Snapchat are where the new breed of influencers reside, and the selfie queens of social media are building a fearsome fashion following.
“Social media have democratised fame,” says Atherton, herself an influencer, in part thanks to her starring role in reality show Made in Chelsea. “Every individual who has access to social media can build a following and become an influencer.”
Atherton says the growth of mobile has diminished the relevance of the blog: “Millennials cared about blogs when they spent more time on a laptop. Now it’s not so much about bloggers, but social media influencers accessed via social media apps on mobile,” she points out. MyFlashTrash’s millennial audience has shied away from reading blogs, she adds: “They’re following the cool girl next door, who may have only 800 followers but, when she posts about a brand, they react. Word of mouth from digital friends is still the most powerful marketing tool.”
Who are today’s influencers?
Influencers come in many shapes and forms. Some have built their power through traditional routes, such as the actors, models and Kardashians, who have followers in the millions on social media. However, there is a degree of mistrust of stars of this kind, with their many endorsements. “They might have a big following on social but the audience doesn’t believe that the brand endorsements are genuine,” says Jason Barrett, founder of Social Talent, an agency whose influencer roster includes Tchoumi.
Word of mouth from digital friends is still the most powerful marketing tool
Amber Atherton, MyFlashTrash
Social influencers, who have built a following organically around their style and lifestyle, can seem to be more credible arbiters of style. Atherton says MyFlashTrash has turned its attention to micro-influencers – an area where the number of social media followers does not determine power.
“Too many agencies and brands focus on the number of followers, but that viewpoint is outdated,” she says. “A more authentic approach is to look at the aesthetic of the content they’re posting, how often they engage, who they’re following and who’s following them. By defining those factors you can build a genuine community of fan girls at scale.”
Working with influencers
Inevitably, fashion brands have tried to harness the power of social influencers. River Island has worked with several, including bloggers, YouTubers, Instagrammers and Snapchat stars, says PR manager Melissa Collins.
“We understand how influential they are, and therefore they’re an important element within the River Island marketing strategy. We work with a lot of influencers in creating content that helps to amplify certain campaigns and product messages,” she says
The success of influencer marketing hinges on authenticity. Barrett, who counts Louis Vuitton, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer as clients, says many brands make the mistake of taking a transactional approach to influencer marketing: “The first question many marketers ask when looking for talent is ‘What’s your price list?’ That’s a big mistake. You have to think about it from the audience’s point of view,” he says.
Case study: Reaching real fans
In April, MyFlashTrash founder Amber Atherton set up Brand Fan Girl, a marketing agency focused on connecting brands to the real-life influencers. It happened after a global fashion brand contacted her and asked if she could help them replicate MyFlashTrash’s success on social media.
Brand Fan Girl builds a network of young women across Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook or Pinterest. The company connects these fans with the right brand by assessing the user’s aesthetic, how often they engage, who they follow and who’s following them, rather than focusing on the number of followers.
”Fan girls” then promote the brand and include a link to its website in the biography space of their social profiles. The link allows brands to track that young woman’s impact.
Brand Fan Girl then sets about “infiltrating social groups at scale” by building a community to market the brand. “Millennials see through celebrity endorsements or using YouTube stars. We’re providing the antidote to this. We recruit real, cool people who genuinely buy into that brand,” says Atherton.
Brand Fan Girl now works with an array of brands across fashion, cosmetics and entertainment. Atherton is also in discussions with fellow fashion influencer Leaf Greener, former fashion editor at Elle China and creator of social media magazine Leaf, to take Brand Fan Girl to Asia.
Collins says River Island picks influencers based on their social reach, level of engagement, audience and quality of content and style: “It has to be a mutual appreciation for both brand and influencer, as the content created will be used on both channels,” she says. “We look at who is out there, wearing what, and where. We tend to steer away from working on big campaigns with influencers who have worked closely with our direct competitors. It would feel almost too similar, and their followers would want to see more variation.”
Barrett finds that influencer marketing works best when a brand comes with a clear set of objectives. Social Talent then comes back with a creative concept and the talent it believes will achieve those objectives. “The influencer needs to be a good fit audience-wise, and needs to know and like a brand,” he argues. Tchoumi, who has worked with high-end fashion brands such as Dior and Ferragamo, says she turns down many offers from brands as they are not the right fit.
“It’s got to be a sensible partnership,” agrees Louise Stapley, senior writer at London-based marketing agency We Are Social. “A brand’s objective may be to reach a younger demographic but, if you’re a feminine brand working with a hipster influencer, say, you run the risk of alienating both your audience and theirs.”
The evolution of the blogger
The rise of the social influencer does not herald the death of the blogger. In fact, one could argue that social commentators are just bloggers on a different platform. In fact, social influencers frequently move into blogging, according to Barrett. “These days a lot of people start off on social platforms and launch into blogs later. Their audience want more of a story and a deeper insight, so blogs or websites offer a natural progression,” he says.
River Island also believes blogs are still relevant for its consumers. “The likes of Instagram and Snapchat are great for showing snapshots of the looks, but the blog will always give more in-depth detail and information, which many consumers and followers crave, and subscribe to,” says Collins.
However, today’s blogs are a far cry from the cobbled-together Wordpress sites of old. “Blogs have become the fashion magazines of the digital age,” says Stapley. The most successful bloggers now have sites designed like online magazines, rivalling the likes of Vogue and Elle in terms of usability. Chiara Ferragni has even turned designer and has a separate ecommerce site selling her creations.
There’s clearly big business for bloggers who gain notoriety, so it’s no surprise that many influencers are trying to monetise their social media following by creating websites. However, as advertisers race to collaborate and sponsor these influencers, they risk losing the edgy, independent voice that blog-fatigued fashion followers craved.