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November 21, 2017
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A Hearst Digital Media campaign between Magnum Mini Ice Cream Bars, fashion line, alice + olivia, and six brand ambassadors from the Style Coalition network.

Rich Tong and Holly Stair.  
Source: jamesnord.com.

Open to style bloggers, stylists, editors, photographers, illustrators, artists and other creative types, New York-based, invite-only Fohr Card is an online discovery tool that aims to connect fashion brands to content creators from across the globe.

Fohr Card started when Holly Stair and Tumblr's former fashion director, Rich Tong, came across James Nord, a photographer who was using Tumblr as a platform to promote his portfolio. "[Nord] had developed a great body of work, but needed a way to get in touch with brands and begin meaningful partnerships. We [Stair and Tong] were fortunate enough to connect [Nord] with a handful of brands which led to a series of terrific projects," explains Stair.

The trio stuck together as professional brands kept coming back to them for blogger recommendations for various projects. With Fohr Card, brands can "identify and match creators they would like to work with and get in direct contact with them. When a brand has selected a blogger, they work directly with the individual or their agent to secure whatever project they wish to partner on," says Stair. Sounds accessible, right?

While content creators may be looking to take their blogging to the bank, they're not always the ones sourcing out the brands. Sometimes the process is inverted. The main way that brands can quickly find the most suitable content creators on Fohr Card's 1,000-some talent directory is through a series of metric measurements.

There are so many ways to try and decipher influence, justify collaborations and making investments in working with bloggers, but cold, hard, verified statistics are harder to come by. Brands don't want an estimation or an influence score made up from an unknown algorithm; they want followers as they increase and decrease [in] traffic.

"Users connect their Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Google Analytics accounts and allow us access to their API, which pulls their follower counts and traffic for our ranking. Then, they can customise the design of their profile, show the categories in which they produce content and any relevant brand work or press," explains Stair. "There are so many ways to try and decipher influence, justify collaborations and making investments in working with bloggers, but cold, hard, verified statistics are harder to come by. Brands don't want an estimation or an influence score made up from an unknown algorithm; they want followers as they increase and decrease [in] traffic."

Looking at the flip-side of this collaboration, Stefania Yarhi is a Toronto-based street style photographer who left her full-time job in 2009 to take a courageous plunge with her blog, Textstyles. "[The] reason I started [Textstyles] is two-fold. I was working at a custom-publishing company and I wanted a creative outlet, so [the blog] was my platform. I also wanted it to become a working CV, and for it to get me freelance work. So from both those respects, it's been a really great ride," says Yarhi, who cites a collaboration with the Mike and Ike candy company as the most creative and engaging project she's done to date. When Mike and Ike "broke up," Yarhi came up with the concept of building two necklaces for each side of the company and asking voters to choose their favourite. The idea was a success, readers voted and the newfound user-engagement resulted in a surge in Facebook traffic, as well as sales.

Despite this success, Yarhi is still skeptical about getting total return from her blog. "There's no way to prove [in blogger and brand collaborations] that there's a return in sales. There's no way of knowing that having a brand ambassador means they have sold more products. It's always about a popularity contest. Brands have a contest and get different style bloggers, and pit them one against the other. It's so transparent: you're looking for more Facebook likes, who has more followers, who's going to win. So it's a popularity contest, and I don't know how much that actually does for the brand that built the framework for that. Does it mean you sold ads? I don't know." 

For many content creators like Yarhi, monetising her blog was a trial-and-error experience. "When I was looking to advertise, at first I would get these emails about doing sponsored blog posts and we'll pay you or we'll send you a product and you write about it. But [I realised] very early on that if it wasn't something that I liked, I wasn't going to do it."

Yarhi had also tried to seek representation with an online agency, but quickly withdrew her account. "With an agency like almost all other agencies, if you're not one of the top three on their talent roster, you're just fodder. You're there to show clients, we have 50 people. But I am probably one of the smallest business accounts they have. But it is my business," she says fiercely. "It is my job, and I want someone to care about it as much as I do. So then I started thinking about honing it and taking it over myself."

The term "advertorial" is used in the publishing industry to describe an article that acts like an advertisement, even though it is not a sponsored ad. Yarhi's desire for editorial integrity, in which her content fits with her original intentions and respects her audience, is likely echoed throughout the blogosphere. For that, Style Coalition may have some solutions.

Founder and CEO of Style Coalition, Yuli Ziv, has business acumen as cunning as the moves a Scrabble player can make with the letters in her name. Style Coalition brings together a diverse network of top fashion and beauty talent, just like Fohr Card, and provides a wide range of support to its content creators, as well as tangible resources such as travel and a studio. In 2012 alone, Ziv estimates Style Coalition to have mediated 50 to 100 different advertising campaigns. 

Mike and Ike Candy Necklace Stefani Yarhi

One of the two Mike and Ike candy
necklaces created by Stefania Yarhi.
Photograph courtesy of Stefania Yarhi. 

"As creative people, [content creators] should be in charge of the work they represent and the work they do, and they should be able to make those decisions," says Ziv, who goes on to explain that Style Coalition provides marketing support and moves away from an agent model to a network model. "A network model allows them to manage those opportunities more personally [...] From our perspective, a lot of bloggers are not at that stage where they need an agent to manage every email they're getting. But it's certainly beneficial to work through a network where someone can represent you." 

Letting creative people focus their creative energy also matures them in upholding their editorial integrity, especially when faced with the pressure to concede to the wishes of brands. "At first everyone's too excited when they get opportunities to work with a brand, and they may not necessarily make sure that their voice is kept and the brand is aligned with what they've built. But today I'm seeing bloggers becoming smarter about those things and saying 'no' to those companies because they don't think it's a good fit for their audience, which I always applaud for. I think audience is their biggest asset. So they should definitely be aware of things that may be clashing with their audience. In that sense, I think their biggest learning curve is a smarter collaboration," Ziv explains.

Also, don't call a blogger a blogger in front of Ziv. "I feel 'blogger' is a very limiting term; it refers only to the blog itself. Today, the people we work with - the online creators - they work across platforms." Counting in at 50, their talent roster may look small, but that is on purpose, in order to provide enough creative opportunities to bloggers with participating brands. It helps bloggers monetise their blogs and allows enough revenue opportunities to all the online creators. 

"Right now, we're focusing on [bringing in] one kind of influencer. We're looking for people who are a complete package - they have a blog, they have social media following, and first of all they are writers or they can create what is written and visual. Also, videos are becoming more and more important. So the ideal combination is someone who can do all of these," says Ziv, who also looks for influencers who are committed and invested in their blogs "because there are business obligations, contracts and clients [who] are expecting certain things. And when someone is not doing it as seriously as a business, it just gets challenging to work with [them]." 

We are looking for people who are a complete package - they have a blog, they have a social media following, and first of all they are writers or they can create what is written and visual.

In the not-too-distant horizon, Ziv hopes to see brands and influencers work on a long-term basis, thus highlighting the importance of the blogosphere in branding and marketing campaigns. "But it's really hard and part of our challenge is how influencers can improve their value, instead of just doing one-off campaigns [...] it's something that requires patience, just like with anything in social media. You don't build your Twitter in one month," says Ziv. 

"I encourage brands to work on a long-term program and working with fewer bloggers to really establish those connections. [I tell brands to] pick their audience, pick their demographic and recommend a few bloggers to develop it, rather than experimenting with an initiative that might get a reach quickly... Also, when readers see bloggers working with 20 different brands, at the end of the day, they might question the integrity. So as a content creator you have that freedom but it's also entrepreneurial, so it's hard to balance. If you focus more on sticking to your brand, building long-term programs, I think that's going to be beneficial to everyone. And that question of integrity, you know, hopefully isn't going to be asked again."

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