This weekend I attended the 2010 BlogHer conference here in NYC. BlogHer was founded in 2005 by Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins with the mission “to create opportunities for women who blog to gain exposure, education, community and economic empowerment." BlogHer provides support to bloggers via an online presence and a publishing network where over 2,500 blogs appear. Plus, they throw a kick-ass conference every year.
There were sessions offered for virtually every interest, and naturally I opted to attend the inaugural BlogHer fashion blogging session. It was moderated by Susan Wagner, who edits the style section on BlogHer.com. Panelists Jennine Jacob (The Coveted, Eat Sleep Denim, & founder of Independent Fashion Bloggers), Sarah Conley (Style IT), and Nichelle Pace (StyleMom) answered questions and offered their opinions in what became a lively and spirited discussion.
The audience included bloggers as well as some PR reps and social media reps from various companies. The panel answered a ton of questions and I’ll summarize some of the more pertinent topics here. The discussion veered in a decidedly commercial direction.
On so-called “Haulers”: Haulers are generally teenagers or young women who go on shopping sprees, model their finds, and post a video on YouTube. Haulers are being approached more and more frequently by companies to try their merch and model it online via vlogs. There were questions about how this would affect more traditional fashion bloggers.
The consensus was that haulers are just offering a different spin on fashion blogging. The result is the same: a personal opinion about a product. The concerns raised by the panel and audience members were the young age of these haulers and transparency issues--is it always clear that brands gave these kids the clothes?
On where to source blog images: Some audience members were confused about which images they could use online without getting into trouble. The first piece of advice from the panelists was--duh--take your own pictures.
A few PR reps piped up and said that their clients are usually more than happy to provide hi-res images for amateur bloggers to use--just email the PR company and ask nicely.
After that, it got muddier. Creative commons and fair use rules are confusing and not always obvious. Some sites may not want you using their photos on monetized sites. The bottom line is that the owner of a particular photo needs to notify you first if they object to your use of their image. Remember the recent Fashion Gone Rogue hoopla? You can’t be sued or prosecuted until you’ve been notified first. The panelists recommended that you credit or linkback all images just to be on the safe side.
(Personal note: I have experience with this one. Wordpress sent me a strongly worded email about how I had to remove an image on my personal blog because I didn’t have permission from the owner. Nor had I credited him. I was not arrested.)
On making the jump from hobbyist fashion blogger to making it pay the bills:
The consensus was you need to start thinking of yourself as a business. Put together a media kit. Call brands who you think really represent your blog’s aesthetic and message. Think outside of the blog: is there an event you can throw? Guest post on other blogs that may have a different audience but still potentially be interested in your blog.
The PR people in the audience were enthusiastic and seemed eager to work with bloggers. Finally, don’t be shy telling a company that you need to be paid. If you’re advertising for them, they need to dip into their budgets and get you the coin. One can’t survive on free lipstick.
On reviewing a brand/outfit/product negatively:
The panelists disagreed on this one. Some said it wasn’t professional and that companies wouldn’t want to work with you if your blog had a reputation for dissing everything. However, going the other way and ass-kissing your sponsors isn’t great either. You lose credibility. One panelist then argued that you lose credibility if you don’t offer honest opinions, both positive and negative.
Blog readers start to feel a personal connection to bloggers and trust their advice, sort of like a virtual friend. The bottom line is, always be professional. Don’t just rant--offer justifications for why you think something failed.
In a sort of related note, some personal style bloggers were asking how to handle critical comments about outfits they post. Basically your choices are to not publish the negative comments if they seem particularly trollish, or look at it as a learning experience. If you get similar comments from a lot of different people (eg: “I wish you would stop wearing fedoras”) perhaps it’s time to listen. Personal style bloggers really put themselves out there and you need to have a thick skin to be one.
On what bloggers want from brands/companies:
This question was asked by a Loehmann’s social media rep. The answers: 1) Stop sending generic press releases. 2) Do research on the blogs and what they write about. Fashion bloggers often get bombarded by brands and companies that don’t fit their niche. 3) PAY UP and know the difference between editorial and promotional. 4) Say thank you to a blogger when they post about your product. 5) Don’t just send samples. There needs to be a story, too. Was it designed by someone special? Is it eco-friendly? There has to be something to write about that makes it compelling.
My takeaway was that a lot more fashion bloggers are trying to get paid, yet still maintain the quality and integrity of their blogs. Personally, I blog for fun, to hone my writing skills, to practice interviewing, and to get exposure. If you have a fashion blog, do you want it to make money?
(If you’re interested in learning more about monetizing your blog, I also went to a session about the newly revised FTC guidelines for bloggers. If you want to read a version in non-legalese, go here.)