The Growing Influence of Social Media in the Fashion Industry

On the 29th of March we presented our research titled The Growing Influence of Social Media in the Fashion Industry at the IFFTI Conference 2017 – in Amsterdam.

Nicola Romagnoli, Serena Panariti and Clàudia Giralt Monedero at IFFTI conference on the 29th of March

Our research explored the growing prominence and authority of fashion bloggers on Instagram. Following our curiosity in the blurring distinction between personal identity and branded content on Instagram, we tried to deconstruct a fashion bloggers curated digital identity, and how their efforts at self-presentation are essential strategies in commercializing their account. And, as our research concludes, this monetization of personal identity hinges on the ability of bloggers to seamlessly incorporate elements of personal intimacy alongside sponsored content.

After a large initial research exploring the rapid rise of bloggers in the industry, we explored how bloggers leveraged the platform and its unique politics/structure and looked closer at the kind of fashion space that emerged around bloggers between traditional publishing and designer labels. In particualr, we were curious to see how user engagement would respond to the varying identity strategies bloggers performed.

Brainstorming on paper

To begin this research, we looked for a conceptual framework to understand the blurring distinction between personal identity, Instagram personality and the increasing branding of online content. And we become attracted to the concept of ‘fashionable persona’ – which appreciated both the (a) carefully curation of identity and (b) how bloggers carefully embed this subjectivity within broader narratives in popular culture.

Alongside these ideas of identity formation, we wanted to contextualize blogging within the wider digital society. Blogging, as a celebrated profession of the ‘‘new economy’, embodies the glamorous ideals of digital labor, where values of self-governance, entrepreneurism, and technological empowerment romanticize the precarity and real employment risks facing digital workers. This entrepreneurial logic manifests itself most acutely in the ‘About Me’ sections of blogs, where bloggers obscure their own entrepreneurial aspirations and emphasize an almost mystical inevitability of their fashion blogging careers – borne out of following their hearts and experimenting with digital technology.

From this theoretical framework of identity construction and entrepreneurial labor, we conducted a qualitative research to reveal these strategies of representation, and we asked:

The accounts we choose reflected the a wide spectrum of contemporary bloggers in order to examine fashion blogger through three distinct vantage points.

We choose Chiara Ferragni, currently the most followed fashion blogger worldwide, Susie Bubble, a pioneer in the industry and Claartje Rose, a young emerging blogger from Amsterdam.

To begin our empirical analysis, we collected the 100 most recent photos from each account. Afterwards, we began categorizing each photo, looking for themes, personal or intimate moments shared, as well as the presence of sponsors and branded content. After this categorizing, we analysed these photos through their user engagement – based on likes, sharing and comments, in order to understand which content resonated with users. This focus on user reception, such as hashtags used, number of comments, tagged profiles and linked sponsors, is the financial architecture of Instagram, and a vital form of currency that allows bloggers to bargain for lucrative sponsorships from fashion labels. Therefore, situating our qualitative photo analysis within this increasing commercialization will allow us to elevate the how fashion bloggers are increasingly blurring the boundaries between work and leisure.

Unsurprisingly, our empirical analysis revealed that photos which elicited personal or intimate sentiments generated increased user engagement. In particular, we found the themes of motherhood, romance and friendship were curated narratives that each bloggers employed in order to advance their fashionable personae.

This research began with a question around how incorporating elements of personal intimacy contributed and advanced their growing branded identity and their ability to grow a personal brand. These results brought some clear evidence into how bloggers blur their labour and leisure, in an increasingly common practice of commercializing our private lives and intimate relations.