Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Look At My Style

The other day someone contacted me through my StyleCaster page to see if I wanted to do an interview. I said sure...what's the worst that could happen? Here is the finished article...cool!! I finally got to voice my opinion a little bit about the blogging community :) I highlighted the parts down below that have to do with my section of the interview.

Look at My Style

Ari Goldberg, the founder and CEO of StyleCaster, told Fast Company in 2010 that before the release of his style platform, ”the fashion industry was a space completely void of technology” (Fast Company). He’s got a point. In the eyes of most consumers, fashion has always been an extremely physical industry. Trend-watchers looked to publications like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and a shoppers’ picking and choosing was centralized in the fitting room. In recent years, however, the fashion industry has seen a significant shift from the physical to the virtual. Not only are most of the top fashion publications launching online versions of their magazines, but smaller niche magazines are popping up daily with content available exclusively on the web. WWD quotes Sea of Shoes Blogger Jane Aldridge, “I think the media industry is changing and bloggers are leading the change…The term ‘blogger’ doesn’t do it justice — so many of the top bloggers are trusted experts that have developed loyal fan followings.” There has also been a marked decentralization in the sale of designer clothing and accessories with online stores like ShopStyle.com and Shopbop.com, and bloggers and journalists alike are buzzing about H&M and Zara’s plans to launch online stores. The dissemination of style is only now starting to catch up with the undeniably fast-paced world of fashion.
Despite this shift online, blogging, e-commerce, and social media had never seen a successful marriage. However, in February of 2009, an interactive fashion community called StyleCaster was launched. It features an entirely new approach to style discovery by combining premium content, discussion through an engaged community and the seamless ability to purchase through e-commerce into one exciting platform. Not only is the site profitable, it “sees 83,000 unique visitors monthly in the US, according to Comscore” and “has ad campaigns with over 30 major advertisers, including DietCoke” (Business Insider), but it also has created a unique community of people trying to discover their personal style and get feedback on their daily choices. Not only can users upload photos of their daily look in a section called “Daily Mirrors” but they can compose a sort of style collage made up of items of clothing, accessories and beauty products. Users can browse other users’ profiles to rate their daily look, get inspiration, and make comments as they go.
“Goldberg proposed a business model where ‘Condé Nast meets Demand Media’” (MediaBistro). The hope was to launch something that was profitable, and yet refused to compromise in terms of quality of content. Users seem in support; member Allison Giardina told me, “What drew me to StyleCaster is the content the site provides. It has a very fresh and unique vibe to it. It offers many different outlets to get information and inspiration from, whether it’s from the lifestyle section or daily uploads.” Maria Papathanasiou agrees that “StyleCaster doesn’t just focus on fashion but also highlights beauty essentials and lifestyle topics.” It is undeniable that StyleCaster publishes content that is enticing and well-organized, so it is not surprising that users like Allison and Maria have found a one-stop fashion directory in StyleCaster. And so the questions arise: How are people using StyleCaster, and what effect is this having on the notion of a unique personal style?
Users seem to split into two distinct groups. The first is characterized by high popularity and high feedback. She is on the site constantly and is extremely influenced by the content. On the other hand, the second type (which I will call low-volume users) had medium to low popularity on the site and had a more alternative style. In comparison to the high-volume users, these girls uploaded fewer photos and seemed less interested in following the content that StyleCaster publishes. Generally, the high-volume users seem to use StyleCaster as a means for self promotion. For these girls, the site acts as a way to redirect traffic to their personal websites or twitter accounts, to gain attention as bloggers, or to gain attention as stylists/designers.
For example, Allison is a member from New York who has been uploading since 2009. She uploads photos of herself daily (if possible) and sometimes she uploads multiple times a day. Allison keeps a close watch on her followers and attempts to respond to most of the comments she receives, “both positive and negative”. Her personal blog deviates from the sorts of blogs her fellow high volume users curate. Fusing New York City style and food, her posts are charming and down to earth. Like the other girls, however, Allison has a growing obsession with StyleCaster, mentioning that only recently has she begun uploading photos almost every day. Whether or not she uploads a Daily Mirror every day, she still goes on the site to get “fresh ideas for [her] daily style…and find out the latest trends and news in the fashion world.”  The amount of influence that StyleCaster users and content have over these girls was surprising. When I asked Allison if she considered StyleCaster to be inspirational to her daily style choices, she responded:
“100%. There are so many different outlets on the site; users, articles, individual blogs, that are VERY inspirational. I can use the content for my own style as well as use it to inspire me for my blog.”
Using StyleCaster is less of a social experience for Allison. She admits that although she is interested in making connections through StyleCaster, she has not yet done so. I asked Allison whether or not she regularly checks other style blogs to get inspiration. Although she did not reveal which other blogs she frequents, she mentioned that she much prefers the content on StyleCaster.
Low-volume StyleCaster users, on the other hand, interact with the site on a very different level. In my research I stumbled upon a number of low-volume users who link to personal websites. After I clicked through and browsed their content, I noticed that they were fundamentally different from those personal sites of the high-volume users. Low volume users upload more personal content: things they find funny or things they find inspirational. On the other hand, high volume users use their sites for business. They use their sites to promote themselves or products they may be selling. They also seem to welcome PR and are happy to do reviews or giveaways.
Member Devyn Shaughnessy is perfectly representative of low-volume users. Although she frequently uploads photos, she is less concerned with user comments and less influenced by StyleCaster content. She explained, “I am more of a person who does what I want in terms of fashion. Sure I keep up to date on what’s trendy…but I don’t really follow the trends. StyleCaster is a good researching website for me to see what other people are wearing and interested in wearing.” Users like Devyn have a more well-rounded relationship with the platform. Rather than consulting StyleCaster for most (if not all) her inspiration, Devyn chooses instead to reach out and browse other blogs.
In the end, it is clear that a site like StyleCaster can never truly breed creativity unless the user has a more detached relationship with it. The content that the site publishes, combined with its seamless link to ecommerce, is making a sense of style easily attainable. A user can browse through a latest trend or even a complete outfit, and then immediately click through to purchase the products used to create the look. StyleCaster’s effect on its users is, then, mixed. Those high-volume members aren’t being helped or inspired to develop a unique, personal style. It is the low-volume users who have the most potential for creativity, as they expose themselves to not only StyleCaster’s well put together content, but they extend further to find inspiration elsewhere.

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