Our discussions of online spaces and especially “authenticity” made me think about the space of online fashion bloggers, the reproduction of their self-branding on social media sites, and the monetization of blogger bodies. Coincidentally, a lot of noted fashion bloggers use WordPress just like we do for this class blog!
I used to write for a fashion website and have always been interested in the fashion industry, so I’ve followed the evolution of fashion bloggers with keen interest. For the uninitiated, there are a lot of fashion bloggers that have “professional blogs” and make enough money to support themselves just by blogging. Bloggers have also bridged the gap between amateur and professional by displacing fashion editors at fashion weeks.
Professional and full-time bloggers create a sort of cultural economy of authenticity and operate necessarily as micro-celebrities. To be a popular blogger, you have to have a large and loyal enough following to generate pageviews high enough to attract advertisers. Bloggers’ success is built on creating long-lasting and meaningful relationships with readers and the blogging community hawks an almost religious ideal of “being yourself” and insists that being “authentic” will lead to success.
Presenting personal information and maintaining “authenticity” creates assymmetrical relationships between bloggers and their audience base; fans have access to the intimate lives of micro-celebrities and have to feel like “friends” even though the blogger has little information about (or interest in) their followers. The actual/digital divide here is tenuous; a strong brand loyalty effectively means that feelings of friendship and trust have developed. There’s also the fact that relationships built in the representational space of blogging communities translates into very real money in the bank accounts of bloggers.
Other than sponsored posts like we saw in class, bloggers use affiliate marketing, which embeds links to products within posts (usually rather subtly). An especially successful example is rewardStyle, which “is an invitation only monetization tool for top tier digital style publishers around the world”. The affiliate links are especially used by female bloggers who overwhelmingly use the links for clothing they “model” or beauty products. In this way, bloggers are actively using their bodies and carefully selecting how their bodies are presented with which products. Blogger’s bodies and fashion identities are often seen as “real” alternatives to the “fake” bodies presented by established fashion media.
How accurate or useful is this perception of authenticity, though? There’s a veritable tension for bloggers who try to stay “real” and still make money to finance the continuation of their blogs. Some bloggers are accused of photoshopping images of themselves, which seemingly defeats the purpose of being a “real person” instead of a model. It’s assumed that bloggers have an obligation to remain authentic, and many users delight in questioning and investigating their authenticity. The forums at the website GetOffMyInternets are full of investigations and takedowns. There are about 2,300 pages of members-only discussion about the controversial blogger TheLondoner on the basis of her appearance, claims to wealth, and sponsorship disclosure.
I’m also interested in regulations about which spaces allow for the monetization of blogger bodies. Most bloggers are active users of Pinterest and repost their outfits there with more affiliate linking. It made the news recently that Pinterest decided to remove rewardStyle links on their posts. Pinterest claims it’s for technical reasons, but it’s hard to believe that this doesn’t fit into a narrative of regulating and questioning authenticity or audience trust.
The biggest questions this leads me to are: To whom does the fashion blog belong? Are authenticity and revenue mutually exclusive online? How do the increasingly personal connections between content creators and their audience limit the former?