In the mushrooming world of social media, the industry is realizing there are two types of influencers: those who convert and those who don’t. And both are equally important.
Reaching the coveted million follower milestone is what once legitimized an influencer, giving them the cache, star power and ability to write their own tickets when it came to securing projects with brands that could elicit six, and sometimes even seven, figure fees.
But a new divide upon entry into this coveted club is taking shape.
Once a blogger attains a certain status they’re able to successfully drive sales or brand awareness — but rarely both. Many of the influencers with followers in the several millions don’t really move the needle when it comes to conversion, according to brands and industry experts. At the same time, a growing number of online talent with followings at just under or in the one million range are proving to have a selling power that trumps their peers with five to ten times that number of followers.
An individual employed by a brand that has worked with top influencers maintained that two of the biggest names in the fashion and beauty space — Chiara Ferragni and Kristina Bazan — just don’t convert. Another industry source mirrored that sentiment.
If a brand’s objective with a campaign is an uptick in sales, Ferragni and Bazan are not the talent you want to work with, this source said. They are, however, who a brand or designer might want to partner with for a brand awareness campaign.
Others with deep knowledge of the influencer landscape also labeled Aimee Song of Song of Style and Chriselle Lim of The Chriselle Factor as popular for brand awareness campaigns who could “go either way” when it comes to driving sales.
But low conversion rates are far from a blogger death sentence. All of the above are still in high demand, for example, because of their abilities to boost a brand’s awareness among consumers.
Just ask Bazan, who after almost two years still reportedly boasts the largest contract between a blogger and a brand to date. She was said to have inked a seven-figure deal with L’Oréal at the end of 2015 and renewed the partnership a year later with an even higher fee. Then there’s Ferragni, whose partnerships range from fronting Pantene for a reported $500,000 to working with SK-II earlier this year on a brand-building campaign supporting its hero Facial Treatment Essence for a reported multi-hundred thousand dollars.
“It’s interesting — there are certain girls people work with for brand awareness, and a lot of times it’s not the same people who convert. A lot of times [a brand] works with someone who drives brand awareness and someone who converts. There aren’t that many in this space that can do both,” said Jennifer Powell, president and founder of Jennifer Powell Inc., a firm that does branding and strategy for influencers such as Julie Sariñana of Sincerely Jules, Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What and Rumi Neely.
Powell, who declined to speak to the strengths of any specific influencer, believes that once someone hits 750,000 followers “they can truly move the needle” — from either an awareness or dollar standpoint.
“Sometimes I’ll be like, ‘This person has so many followers, why don’t they convert?’ It’s a surprise to me,” Powell continued. “When I would sell somebody who was maybe the biggest influencer, and then…they weren’t converting, it was a surprise.”
Surprise or not, both camps are proving to be equally successful.
Take Christine Andrew of Hello Fashion. The 31-year-old blogger isn’t a front-row fixture at fashion week or one of the influencers flown in by fashion houses like Dior or Chanel to attend their elaborate resort and pre-fall destination shows. She doesn’t even have one million followers (she has 940,000). She does, however, sell a ton of product.
Reportedly Andrew recently drove several hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales to nordstrom.com in just ten days during the retailer’s annual Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. Andrew declined to comment on dollar amounts or fees she incurred as a result of the sale. But based on an average commission of about 10 percent, Andrew got a nice cut from Nordstrom’s sales. When reached for comment, a Nordstrom spokeswoman said the retailer is “not in the practice of discussing details of our individual working relationships, nor do we discuss details of influencers’ sales generation.”
In an interview, Andrew said that any sales she might have driven during the above period weren’t part of an official partnership with Nordstrom. The brand did sponsor a post on Hello Fashion on July 24, which was unrelated to any content Andrews posted between July 13 and July 23.
According to Andrew, she drove a significantly higher amount of sales this year than she did during the same time last year. She attributed the spike in sales influenced by her content to the addition of Instagram Stories because of the ease of linking out and the ability for followers to just swipe up to buy a product.
From the looks of it, Andrew’s success is just part of Nordstrom’s multitiered influencer approach that spans collaborations of varying levels. Affiliates drive a quick buck, but the retailer is investing heavily in fostering deeper relationships with online talent. In September, Nordstrom will release an apparel collection co-designed by Arielle Charnas of Something Navy, who has already been documenting the process to her one million fans on Instagram. Charnas was reportedly paid a fee from the retailer up front and will also get a cut of sales once the line launches.
To Andrew, selling power is not a numbers game. It’s about the type of followers one has, not necessarily how many followers one has.
“I feel like my audience is a buying audience,” Andrew said. “Part of it, too, comes from transparency. I’ve bought stuff and said, ‘Hey, I told you about this product and I actually don’t like it [because] it made my skin break out.’ I’m honest when things don’t work. They trust me and respect my opinion and know I won’t BS about something I don’t really like.”
She pointed out that she has an unusual vantage point because she also has her own apparel line, Ily Couture, which launched a few months before Andrew started her Hello Fashion blog in 2012. She explained that her blog includes a combination of clothing from her own line and other brands based on “what she’s wearing at the time.” The breakdown isn’t calculated nor does she try to “balance out a percentage.”
“I see it from both sides from Ily [Couture] because we pay people to wear it…We’ve done sponsorships with top-tier bloggers — who have performed insanely and sometimes we have ones that didn’t. I really think it’s so varied to peoples’ audiences, and some people follow some accounts because they like to see what someone is doing and others follow because they want to know what someone is buying,” Andrew added.
The selling power influencers wield is far from news. Anyone with a smartphone knows that blogger selling power is growing — and fast. WWD previously reported that fellow Salt Lake City-based blogger Rachel Parcell of Pink Peonies was said to have driven $1 million in sales to nordstrom.com during the holiday season in 2014, equivalent to the six-week period from Thanksgiving through the end of December.
But what is news is that bloggers are reaching these milestones quicker than ever, and in turn seeing their yearly earnings skyrocket.
Think about it: If Andrew has the power to influence several hundred thousand dollars in sales in 10 days, this could — if the rate is maintained — add up to nearly $2 million in a month, or $24 million in year. That’s a cut of roughly $2.4 million for Andrew (based on a commission fee of 10 percent). And that doesn’t include any of her other revenue channels, which range from advertising to Ily Couture, which has its own e-commerce site at ilycouture.com.
Karen Robinovitz, cofounder of influencer management firm Digital Brand Architects — which counts Andrew as one of its clients — compared the bloggersphere to Hollywood.
“Some people can open a movie, and it’s not always the same person who gets the Oscar. Cate Blanchett is a movie star but she’s not going to drive attention the way Jennifer Aniston might. There are blockbuster names and people who just deliver a performance,” Robinovitz said.
If a brand’s objective is sales, Robinovitz rattled off a list of influencers she works with whom she deemed “converters” to fit that bill. In addition to Andrew, the group includes Charnas, Extra Petite’s Jean Wang, Barefoot Blonde’s Amber Fillerup Clark, Mint Arrow’s Corrine Stokoe and Fashioned Chic’s Erica Hoida. She cited Aimee Song of Song of Style, who has 4.6 million followers on Instagram, as an influencer who would typically be commissioned for a brand awareness campaign.
If a brand is looking to boost sales but also raise its profile, then they have to take a layered approach, Robinovitz noted, which equates to collaborating with more than one blogger. There is a sales driver and a “brand awareness name” needed for positioning, adjacency and reach — and both are necessary to reach those end goals.
But when asked how a blogger becomes either a “converter” or a “brand-builder,” Robinovitz said it comes down to three words: inspirational, aspirational and attainable.
She explained: “They’re all creating inspiration…but typically, with someone who has a very high conversion rate, there is a reliability that you can not only look like that person in that outfit, but you can really have that life. Oftentimes, with brand awareness, [meaning] the people who get really huge, while still attainable — it’s not as aloof as a magazine editorial — but it feels too far-fetched for that to be the life you can have.”
Claire Collins Maysh, general manager of U.S. operations at digital talent management agency Gleam Futures, called 2017 “The Year of the Midtier Influencer.” While hard to define by an exact follower count, Collins Maysh said bloggers with “hundreds of thousands of followers” seems to be a sweet spot because they have a substantial audience without being so big that they lose the direct connection they have with fans.
She believes that an influencer’s involvement in a product they are promoting could affect conversion, too. She cited one of her own clients, Sun Kiss Alba (real name Alba Ramos), who has nearly 900,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel.
A recent case study from Gleam Futures reported that the natural beauty blogger’s conversion rates were standard — but this all changed when she cocreated a product with Derma E. Radiant Glow Face Oil by Sun Kiss Alba, sold at Ulta Beauty, Whole Foods, Amazon and on dermae.com is doing “insanely well” (a quick look at ultabeauty.com showed that the $19.99 product is sold out), according to Collins Maysh.
“There are some campaigns I’ve seen [with bloggers] where I don’t believe that that person would be using that product…[But] she did her own product and was very involved…People feel that it’s hers rather than her hawking other people’s product. It’s something she cares about,” Collins Maysh said of Garcia’s turnaround in conversion rates.
That said, she agreed that there are two camps of bloggers, and brands are becoming savvier to what this looks like. She acknowledged that many bloggers and social media influencers produce “incredible content” but don’t necessarily have the ability to convert or evoke an interaction from their audience.
“The most they get might be ‘likes,’ but not really comments because their content doesn’t really require a response. Yes, you can appreciate it, but it doesn’t make someone want to shop it,” Collins Maysh said.
Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“In the same way that I’m not fully convinced that a big-time celebrity would convert — this person has the beauty and is on brand the way that maybe [a celebrity] might be — even if that doesn’t convert to sales it doesn’t matter. It might just be about getting attention for the campaigns,” Collins Maysh said.
She thinks the reason brands originally opted to work with influencers, “as opposed to working with a celeb like Selena Gomez,” is because this group was viewed as the “anticelebrity” who could foster a deeper connection with consumers. This is no longer the case on occasion as today’s social media landscape has given way to a blurring of the lines. More and more bloggers are reaching celebrity status, with some now the faces of major beauty brands and appearing on covers of leading global print publications, making them “less approachable.”
Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What, labeled by an industry source as one of those rare bloggers who can both raise brand awareness and drive sales, decided to launch Second Skin Overalls, her own line of overalls, as well as Archive Shoes, a footwear collection, after realizing her ability to move product. Bernstein has 1.7 million Instagram followers.
“Revolve was always telling me, ‘When you wear this we sell out of it right away.’ From Revolve to Asos, they told me that the second I post something they sell out of it immediately,” Bernstein said of what gave her confidence to launch not one, but two of her own brands since late last year (she also founded body jewelry brand Body Bauble three years ago with two close friends).
According to Bernstein, $70,000 worth of overalls were sold within the first three hours of launching secondskinoveralls.com in October 2016. During a second smaller “drop” of velvet styles earlier this year, Bernstein sold $15,000 worth of product in 30 minutes and nearly $26,000 in two-and-a-half-hours. Today she’s launching two of her best-selling overall styles in white on secondskinoveralls.com.
Even though Charnas, who shot the campaign for her upcoming Nordstrom collection in New York City’s Madison Square Park last week, has a few months until her own line launches, she’s still busy helping retailers like Shopbop sell up-and-coming contemporary labels like Petersyn. Charnas posted a photo of herself wearing a Petersyn top and skirt two weekends ago and in two days, Shopbop sold $40,500 of tops and skirts combined.
An industry insider even went so far as to call Charnas “the East Coast Lauren Conrad” of the blogger set, comparing the 30-year-old influencer’s girl-next-door persona to that of Conrad’s, which propelled the latter into reality superstardom years before Instagram even existed. Minus the boyfriend drama and “Speidi,” of course.