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When it comes to social influence, blogs and Facebook are slowly finding themselves in the growing shadow of Instagram.
Instagram is where Jen Selter's butt made her bank, where yogis turn poses into cottage businesses, where Katrina Hodgson and Karena Dawn of Tone It Up landed their own Bravo show, and now, where readers can purchase the clothing of their favorite celebrities and bloggers.
Instagram is now shoppable through LiketoKnow.It, a subset of the Dallas-based digital monetization company RewardStyle. The platform, which launched back in December and is responsible for monetizing Vogue's Instagram, sends users an email with the shopping information of the items inside the Instagram photos they like. The platform lives within Instagram, and users need to sign up to trigger the email, which they can opt to receive immediately, daily or weekly. Bloggers behind popular sites like The Coveteur, Song of Style, Harper & Harley, and Sincerely Jules are monetizing their Instagram accounts through LTK, as well as celebrities like Lauren Conrad, Mena Suvari, and Kristin Cavallari.
Image via LiketoKnow.It
"This was something that people wanted," said Amber Venz, who with co-founder Baxter Box, started RewardStyle in 2011. "When you look at the comments on bloggers' photos on Instagram, they are all, 'where did you buy that dress' and 'where can I get that skirt from.' People are always asking about the clothes but bloggers and celebrities almost never respond and people are left to search for the items themselves."
Venz's previous career was a personal shopper, and she curated her ideas on a style blog that eventually gained momentum. Venz said the idea of monetizing digital platforms came to her after she realized her offline business was being eaten up by her blog, where customers would get styling ideas instead of hiring her. The trackable links platform Venz and Box created enabled bloggers to not only make a profit off the items their audiences, but also access unique data on online shopping habits.
Blogger Tuula Vintage's shoppable Instagram.
LTK works with brands of all ranges, from Oscar de la Renta and Gucci to Kate Spade and CVS, using shopping date from its stable of publishers to show brands which products sell better than others. LTK users, so far, are only magazines and bloggers, not brands. Venz said the company is trying to keep the voice authentic and does not want fashion brands pushing their products. However, there's an easy workaround. While bloggers are forced to disclose gifted items on their sites thanks to FTC-enforced regulations dating to 2009, those rules don't apply to Instagram. This means you likely will not know if said blogger purchased an item because they really liked it, or because a brand has provided it for endorsement.
LTK is one of several companies that are beginning to monetize Instagram. Startups like Soldsie, Chirpify, and Hashbag also have platforms that allow audiences to shop for items they see via Instagram. This evolution of monetization was perhaps inevitable, as the social media network does not allow links to be clickable from its platform the way Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest do. LTK is an API partner with Instagram; Venz said she believes e-commerce isn't something Instagram is looking to get into.
"They aren't interested in that. Instagram knows if they turned on external links, they would lose a lot of power," Venz said. "They believe ads are the solution and so external links would make that obsolete."
One of the Coveteur's shoe images, now shoppable.
Though she would not share names, Venz said other fashion magazines will soon follow Vogue's lead to monetize their Instagram accounts. And while LTK would not reveal the profits of its bloggers and magazines, early last week the company hit $1 million in brand sales.
In some cases, Venz said Instagram monetization is forcing bloggers to rethink the way they distribute their content: because their Instagram feeds are so successful, bloggers like Jessica Stein of Tuula Vintage post to their Instagram as many as six times a day, while they share content on their blog once a week. "We're seeing an urban movement: publishers are putting more on Instagram and moving away from putting content on their site," Venz said.
Does this mean personal style blogs will become obsolete as Instagram influence continues to rise? Time will only tell.
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