Pitch Perfect: The explosion of Bloggers, Blaggers and Braggers
There are too many wannabe ‘fashionistas’, beauty ‘experts’ and food ‘critics’ out there
As the dust settles on the social media explosion of the past decade, it has become obvious that this ‘trend’ is not dying out any time soon. Specific platform popularity may change, but the sentiment is still there. Common folk have found their voice, and for the most part, this is an amazing thing – more power to the people, I say!
But let’s rewind a decade and narrow in on one specific area that has risen from this online phenomenon. As the popularity of social media grew, so did a breed of new-generation journalist – the blogger. Industry insiders were aghast and thoroughly confused at what to do with these strange creatures. True and trained journalists hissed in revolt, PRs where in a state of disarray (add them to the media list or just close our eyes and hope they go away?) and marketers watched suspiciously from afar.
BryanBoy (real name Bryan Grey-Yambao) was one of the first true fashion bloggers to appear on the scene, having blogged since 2004. Then came Scott Schuman with The Satorialist in 2005, followed by Style Bubble’s Susie Lau in 2006. The new fast-reporting fashion-pack were creating waves by ripping up the media hierarchy rulebook and no one knew what to do with them. However, by 2006, they had carved a clear path that millions would eventually follow.
The style world waited for someone to make the first move. Then it happened. In February 2009, fashion blogger BryanBoy was invited to sit front row at Marc Jacobs during New York Fashion Week, alongside the world’s most influential magazine editors, fashion buyers and celebrities. That was the starter pistol that everyone was waiting for. Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Dsquared2 followed suit, and it wasn’t long before said bloggers were hobnobbing with the likes of Anna Wintour and Suzie Menkes.
Around the same time, the Middle East started to witness its own blogger pack emerging. Early adopters were generally in it as a means to be heard – aspiring journalists, stylists, photographers and creatives, who set up blogs as passion projects when there were no free lunches, extravagant gifts or fantastically indulgent fam trips on offer. Of course, it was suddenly the cool thing to do, but they were not in it for the commercial pay off. At that point, it would be some years before marketing managers even considered collaborations that involved parting with dollars or dirhams.
While over the coming years, advertising budget holders monitored the movement and slowly, cautiously dipped their toe in the pond, the game was changing before their eyes. The need for a digital marketing budget was finally recognized – but just as quick, the blogosphere as we knew it crumbled to a shell of its former self, leaving a shallow grave of largely defunct, neglected blogspots and web domains.
Rise of the ‘Influencer’
These days, it seems, it’s all about instant micro posts on social media channels. The blogger has been fine-tuned and re-emerged as the fast-talking, instant-posting social media “Influencer.”
Now just like in any industry, there is the good, the bad and the downright unprofessional – and the blogger/digital influencer community is no exception. I work with a number of bloggers or digital content creators (as they prefer to be known) on a daily basis – some that I have known and interacted with for years and some that have popped up more recently. The one thing that all have in common is that they have a genuine interest and passion for what they post about – and better still, they understand the game. They need great content, just as much as they seek an advertising budget – one does not work without the other. Whenever I can, I recommend those I enjoy working with to brands who are seeking to create a digital campaign, and everyone is happy.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about all. I tend to categorize the digital content creator community into three areas – Bloggers (the aforementioned, with whom I work with), Blaggers (those who are always first in line for the freebie) and the Braggers (those who have turned showing off their latest designer acquisitions into a lucrative career).
With no particular governing body, or code of conduct, there is very little to stop some “Influencers” tarnishing the name and reputation of the overall blogger community. And this is exactly what is happening today. Extortionate fees (upwards of $15,000) for a quick appearance, diva demands and very little return on investment is very quickly wearing thin and I wouldn’t be surprised if marketing managers are currently planning to bolt down their budget in favor of more meaningful opportunities elsewhere.
We are now witnessing a social media frenzy, whereby anyone with over 1,000 fans seems to consider themselves an ‘influencer’. I was recently asked by two emerging ‘fashion bloggers’ if they could borrow items from a fashion brand that I represent, to shoot for their blog. I agreed and arranged the store loans with my client. An hour later, I received a phone call from said bloggers, informing me they had selected their favorite pieces and where now enquiring, “how much will you pay us per post?” In reality, both their sales pitch and blogs needed some work before that was going to happen!
There are too many wannabe ‘fashionistas’, beauty ‘experts’ and food ‘critics’ out there, desperately trying to carve out a career, but with very little to back it up. Now, don’t get me wrong, when it comes to blogging, I do still think there is a space for it. But it all comes down to what and why you post, who your followers are and if they are really listening to you.
Tide is turning
So how much room is there in the Middle East for bloggers and influencers? Well, that really depends on how the leaders play it and how far they are prepared to go to distinguish themselves from the cowboy crew. I feel there needs to be a regulatory body and code of conduct – an industry white paper that gives best practice guidelines to those who want to be taken seriously. It should also protect the bloggers – weeding out bad debtors or those who generally mess people around.
And while on the subject of clarity, isn’t it time that Middle East bloggers/influencers follow protocol by declaring which posts are sponsored? Top international bloggers clearly mark all sponsored posts with either #sponsored or #spons as a heads up to their followers that payment was received for the post in question, and or #gift when they receive a freebie. If the same were to be practiced in the Middle East, it would offer a clearer dialogue between the influencer and their audience.
But it seems the tide could be turning on the nouveau-journo. Internationally, the demise of the blogger started some time back, before many of today’s so called top tier even penned – or typed, should I say – their first one-line post. December 2013 saw Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York announce that bloggers were no longer welcome, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the general consensus was the shows were, “too cluttered with people whose connections to fashion were tenuous, at best.”
And this past season, super progressive MSGN Creative Director Massimo Giorgetti (who is also Creative Director at Emilio Pucci), banned all social media at his AW16/17 show in Milan. It seems not everyone is keen on the instant reportage that comes with blogging and social media.
The question is, how long do bloggers/influencers have left before the bubble bursts and, when it does, what comes next?
Jill Downie is a British ex-magazine editor and founder of luxury lifestyle PR agency Aziza Communications and Co-Founder of The Media Network, both based in Dubai.