“You gave me free clothes,” Song said.
The two, who knew each other in the Bay Area prior to both of their careers taking off, reunited onstage, each now at very different points in their professional lives, with Song giving a talk on influencer marketing and her start.
The fashion and lifestyle blogger, with 4.8 million followers, has partnered with brands such as Chloé, Volvo and La Mer. Her start, however, was actually in interior design.
“I was already kind of taking narcissistic photos of myself and sharing them on Myspace and Facebook,” she said.
Song, after high school, had originally planned to study industrial design in college, but her father had to file for bankruptcy, leaving no funds for a college education. She went out and got a full-time job as a receptionist at a construction company, spending a good amount of time online, when she discovered the interior designer Kelly Wearstler.
She began saving her money and was quietly doing blogging on the side. Today, she is considered one of the top influencers and a success story when it comes to the growing business that is influencer marketing.
“The biggest change [in blogging] is that now it’s a career,” Song said.
Even more important, she said, consumers are no longer ruled by traditional media players; they’re influenced by what Song said are “real people.”
Social media and the employ of influencers to gain access to consumers is now marketing 101, and the power has certainly shifted from brands to influencers in many cases. That’s not how it was in the beginning, when Song was a relative unknown. She recalled a time early on when a Los Angeles clothing company hired her as a model and stylist to work on a holiday campaign. She assumed she would be paid for her work, but when she inquired after the fact she was told her likeness in advertising was promoting her and considered payment enough for her time.
“Having contracts and being smart about it,” Song said in retrospect on what was learned from the situation.
Whether new entrants to the space can amass the followings she and some of her peers have managed is a question she’s asked plenty of times and she was frank when asked by Amoruso if it’s possible in a now-crowded landscape: “If you’re trying to become me or somebody out there already, I think it’s impossible, unfortunately,” she said.
However, she pointed out, those who have a unique point of view that can cut through the noise will find success and will find their niche, especially with more and more companies funneling direct marketing spend to digital and influencers to chase the consumer.
“I think [Instagram’s] super crucial because technology has changed,” she said. “We’re all doing things digitally and whether you have a clothing line or stand-alone shop or food business, you want to go where the consumers are and if you don’t adapt to what’s going on right now, you’re going to stay behind.”