Few changes driven by the rapid advance of technology over the last decade have struck our lives as the revolution of media. How we consume, share and are influenced by media has changed – and leading the charge are a new breed of influencers. Web 2.0 brought us a revolution in blog site functionality and with it a new generation of bloggers fuelled by their passions who have quickly established serious followings. Many of the leading blogs in the US who cover business, news, fashion and celebrity gossip boast audiences many times larger than their traditional print publication counterparts. The popularity of these blogs, their authenticity through editorial independence and pure passion for their niche have combined to create overnight rock stars of influence. And so it is brands are waking up to the opportunity bloggers represent as the gate keepers to whole communities of potential consumers. But as always in a new landscape, brands, their marketers and PR agents are struggling to find their way – although not for want of trying.
In advertising, the old adage goes that at any one time fifty percent of your marketing is working – the trick is understanding which fifty percent. With social marketing, the science has the potential to be more exact – a fact not lost on brands at the forefront of their categories. Stephanie Vieira, Social Media Assistant for fashion label J Brand says “Analytics are an important aspect of all our marketing campaigns, and the same goes for social media. The numbers help us determine what worked and what didn’t, how many people we reached and the level of engagement. We do the same for bloggers, tracking click-throughs from posts, and seeing how eventually these placements convert to sales. We realize our return on investment when a blog is noted as one of the top directors of traffic to our site.” Research presented at a recent International Herald Tribune Technology conference showed when engaged in active social media integration, brands have reported as much as a 25 percent return on investment.
As understanding of the value of bloggers has grown, the opportunity for brands to leverage their credibility has created a potential conflict between the ability for bloggers to commercialise their popularity and make a living from their craft and the need for those bloggers to be an independent source of views and opinions. By partnering with brands, covering photo shoots and promotions, receiving payment or free products for writing posts or earning a commission on the sale of products they write about, the blogging industry is developing a commercial edge. And why not? Today’s bloggers are talented writers and photographers who are dedicated to their readers and invest hours of time and buckets of passion into what they do. The sensitive line between endorsement and independence is one that bloggers seem hyper-conscious of, with one declining to be involved with this article based on the subject matter alone.
Anderson reflects the views of many bloggers: “I get a heap of requests for products to be featured on my blog and offers for straight out advertising. I’m not interested. If I allow myself to be owned then I fail myself and my principles; what’s the point of that?” Checks and Spots’ Claire Hillier adds, “I’m incredibly selective who I will work with. There has to be a synergy between their brand values and positioning and mine. As a blog reader, I switch off from blogs that become one advertising post after the other – so I won’t consider doing the same to my readers. I’m also always upfront about which posts are sponsored or what products I’ve been sent to road-test. I do this by including a disclaimer at the bottom of each relevant post. By being honest, my readers can trust me – and that trust is sacred.”
Whilst editorial integrity is self regulated in the semi-professional blogging industry there is a clear grasp of authenticity and transparency that frankly puts many traditional media figures to shame. Chris Richardson who writes the travel blog The Aussie Nomad concurs. “Leveraging my brand to work with the corporate world is a balancing act for sure. I’ve found that fully evaluating any partnerships and laying out firm ground rules allow me to keep the independence that my blog grew from.” yTravel’s Caroline Makepeace agrees: “Always ask yourself ‘What is in it for my readers?’ It is not a two-party partnership when bloggers work with brands. It is a three-party one, you have to look after the silent third party – your readers.” Design blogger Lucy Feagins of The Design Files Daily takes her editorial independence one step further. “I write all the content on the site myself, and all content on The Design Files is editorial. I am very strict about this – we have clearly designated ad space on the site and no editorial content is paid for.”
As the way we consume media fragments further with more hours glued to the little screen instead of the big one, it seems we’re in good hands. Perhaps, just perhaps, with the commercial demands of big media replaced by the simple and pure demands of remaining true to passion and community, bloggers may be providing some much needed richness and balance to our lives – and that can only be a good thing.
Meet the New Influencers
Rohan Anderson / Food
Rohan Anderson is a modern day food warrior. Raised on a small farm near Jindivick in regional Victoria, Anderson developed not only an affinity for nature, but also an understanding, and appreciation of, the role nature plays in providing sustenance. Anderson has taken these lessons into his adult life where he now grows, hunts, fishes and forages in wild and urban surroundings to feed his family. He also documents his adventures through photography, sharing his recipes, slow food philosophies and (sometimes contentious) views on his hugely popular blog, Whole Larder Love.
Clare Hillier / Fashion
Clare is a brand storyteller. She works with fashion and lifestyle brands to create a narrative that connects with the hearts and minds of their target market. After all, it’s not what you say – it’s how you say it. Checks and Spots is her blog dedicated to checking out and spotting fashion, beauty, design and lifestyle to inspire and amuse. It is a chronicle of all the things that make her ‘look twice’. Clare also writes a fortnightly column called Look the Book for Just B.
Caroline Makepeace / Travel
yTravel blog is one of the biggest independent travel blogs in Australia and most popular in the world. The founders, Caroline and Craig Makepeace, have been travelling and living around the world since 1997. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with their global readers who are interested in living a similar nomadic lifestyle or who just want to travel for short holidays. The blog offers information and inspiration on travel destination, budget travel, couples travel, travel tips and family travel.
Lucy Feagins / Design
The Design Files started up in early 2008. It’s been a brilliant ride. The Design Files has been featured in many local and national design and lifestyle publications. In 2009 it was named by The Times (UK) as one of the world’s Top 50 design blogs. Each year The Design Files run an event called Open House. Open House presents fans of the blog with a real-world experience, introducing the designers, artists, products and brands showcased throughout the year in a styled Melbourne Home, with an added bonus – everything is for sale. From bed linen to books, artwork, furniture, kitchenware and lighting, each and every item can be purchased on the spot. Open House 2012 will run through November.
Laura Porter / Travel
Laura writes the About.com London travel site and fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen’s. Laura has lived in the London area all her life and can’t imagine ever wanting to live elsewhere. Laura visits London attractions every week with her young daughter and is often the first to arrive and the last to leave. “I love London and want others to enjoy the city too. Many first-time visitors come for its history and royalty but, intriguing as those are, that’s just the beginning of what the city has to offer”. As Dr. Johnson said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
• Kingdom of Style — http://kingdomofstyle.typepad.co.uk/
• The Style Rookie — http://www.thestylerookie.com/
• The Man Repeller — http://www.manrepeller.com/
• Fashionista — http://fashionista.com/
• Bryanboy — http://www.bryanboy.com/
• Style Bubble — http://www.stylebubble.typepad.com/
• Style by Kling — http://stylebykling.nowmanifest.com/
• My Style Pill – http://www.mystylepill.com/
• Because I’m addicted — http://becauseimaddicted.net/
• The Sartorialist — http://www.thesartorialist.com/
• Checks and Spots — http://checksandspots.com/
• Lady Melbourne — http://www.ladymelbourne.com.au/
• The Design Files Daily — http://thedesignfiles.net
David Ansett and Peter Singline
Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.
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Hero Photographic image of Food Blogger Rohan Anderson of Whole Larder Love. Photo credit: Kate Berry
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