It isn’t just your recent comments and queries that have led me to compose this feature, although they did give me the impetus to get my arse in gear as it were.
For those of you that are aware of Rock My Wedding, our original blog and brand, I will need to put that to one side, at least in a metaphorical sense. Wedding planning is a niche and relatively short and intense period of time in our reader’s life cycle thus we have always remained successful in terms of popularity and growth. Visits to the RMW blog platform itself are slightly less frequent than they used to be, but brand presence is more than compensated for via Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.
Our RMW Pinterest account attracts in excess of 10 million unique users a month, sometimes I find these numbers difficult to comprehend.
Which brings me onto another caveat, I have a lot to say on the social media front, but I feel that needs to be a separate conversation, I’m still considering how I approach what I personally find a very conflicting subject to discuss. I’m the founder of a brand with almost 1.5 million followers, but I’m also a mother of two young girls and especially in recent years, no longer an avid user of any social media platform outside of my career.
What I want to discuss is how we consume news, reviews and entertainment online. And I want to discuss how we want to consume it going forward.
The Pool’s seemingly expeditious spiral into administration came as a shock to many, with an initial £4 million investment and over a million unique users visiting the site every month, the perception is that it must be a runaway success. But it wasn’t. At all. The Pool’s last annual accounts closed with debts in excess of 1.8 million. How could such a huge audience not be monetised effectively?
The main source of revenue was advertising, whether that was via affiliate links, brand sponsored features or collaborative events. It is a fairly straight forward business model – Rock My Style is based on the same principals. The readers have access to free content, the team of writers are able to provide that content by being paid to research and produce engaging blog posts. They are paid a fee by the business as revenue is secured via sponsored collaborations, whether that’s working with brands to style their products and promoting them to our readers, or taking commission from homewares, fashion and beauty products via affiliated url links than are input within the text of features and used to create our shop-the-post functionality.
The beginning of the influencer phenomenon coincided with the launch of Rock My Style, we are offered “gifts” on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. Navigating the blurred boundaries of influential brand and influencer has always been challenging for RMS, equally Rock My Family before it was put on hold last year. We don’t accept gifts except in very specific circumstances – ie when we are working with a brand and are required to feature certain products on a photoshoot. We are paid to produce the imagery and the associated editorial and more often than not we get to keep the goods.
I don’t expect my team to write in exchange for candles. Fancy or otherwise.
More than 50% of potential collaborative requests receive an immediate no thank you, we know the brands and products our community will genuinely be interested in, we know what brands we are genuinely interested in. From the remaining 50% of enquiries that evolve into further discussion, more than half fall at the first hurdle – either the allocated budget is derisory vs the expectation of what the potential sponsor believes they are entitled to receive or the angle of the collaborative project isn’t the right fit.
We accept considerably less than we are offered, yes we want to build a successful profitable business, but not at the cost of our integrity.
This isn’t some wanky attempt at justification, it’s an explanation of how the business operates.
The increasing negativity surrounding not only the lack of transparency over advertising and the fact readers of online media (some of our audience included) voice their dislike of sponsored posts and affiliated recommendations in general and on a frequent basis, equates to a lack of motivation to continue.
Instagram whether you are a fan or not, is the fastest growing platform. As a business it made sense for RMS in both terms of evolution and additional revenue opportunities, to allocate more resource and apply a more innovative strategy to grow our audience and increase engagement. In recent months our micro blogs posts in particular, reach considerably more people than we ever have before.
With an over saturated influencer market, and a constant stream of hashtag AD hashtag GIFTED hashtag GIFTED/AD…. I’m not surprised there is a huge question mark over authenticity. But where does that leave us?
Did you watch Panorama on Monday? I hadn’t even considered the opportunity for gambling or alcohol related brands to be potentially marketed to children in such a callous and direct way. The “Skinny Coffee Club” – how do they still exist ASA? And how can the people promoting them sleep at night?
There has been discussion over The Pool going into administration simply because their business model wasn’t feasible. That if they had introduced a subscription model, they could have been extremely successful. And I don’t mean huge monthly fees, I mean minimal amounts – let’s say one million readers paying the equivalent of the price of one small Starbucks flat white a month. They cost about three quid. You do the math.
Readers of The Pool, would you have paid to still access their content every day? In the knowledge you would avoid any kind of sponsored features?
I believe The Guardian was the first digital broadsheet to charge an online subscription fee, and they have as a result, been very profitable. I personally subscribe to The Times. I read considerably more articles now I can access the app on my phone and everything is so well designed and easily accessible, than I ever did when I bought the physical newspaper.
It’s interesting how there is such a backlash against advertising online/sponsored content compared to print media. Or perhaps it’s simply perception again – or the fact folks can voice their concerns online in a way they never could with a magazine, unless you were prepared to compose a letter of complaint in the hope it would be acknowledged.
Advertising in magazines was/is never any different to how most blogs and influencer platforms operate now. Home Tours are often littered with product placement (I only became aware of this myself in recent years) with the couple’s home being subject to many a lamp, rug and vase that they wouldn’t choose themselves in a million years. Why? Because March’s issue of My Authentic Artisan Abode* has been sponsored by Interiors 4 U. Alan and Barbara haven’t even heard of Interiors 4 U, yet here they are in their recently renovated kitchen, all decked out in unfamiliar sheepskin throws, macrame wall hangings and sprigs of faux eucalyptus across the glossy pages.
The beauty section (my favourite!!) where you are told about the miracle results achieved from various new release serums, creams and light reflecting foundations – all these products are sent to the editors for free. I interned at a magazine once, I witnessed first hand a trolley arrive laden with all sorts of sexy, shiny pots of allegedly epidermis improving magic. Do the beauty journalists really rate them all? Do they genuinely change their skincare routines on a monthly (or weekly) basis? Does this realistically even give enough time to see results?
I really don’t know what the future holds, but I don’t believe it can continue as is. If you have watched American Meme on Netflix (and if you haven’t do – it’s fascinating, and really does show the darkest side of fame and fortune found via the internet) then you will know the global instagram sensation @thefatjewish cited that the influencer market has a very short shelf life and that the day it all implodes is right around the corner.
It’s a veritable minefield.
Do you want to know what I would like? I would like an app where I could access positive and useful content, genuine reviews of products tested by real people without any kind of sponsorship bias. Where I could join in with intelligent and thought provoking discussion with other folks in a similar life stage to me, be that a parent, a business owner or someone considering remodelling the garden. Where I felt safe in the knowledge other users were closely monitored for trolling, abuse and deliberately judgemental opinions. Where I could network if I felt like starting a new creative project or potentially meet new people if I was considering moving to an alternative county or town. Where there were no likes or followers or adverts.
And yes I would pay to be a member of that community. And I’d be more than willing to stump up the cost of a Starbucks flat white per month.
Do you subscribe to any online media resources?
What is it you would like to experience in terms of a news/community/review app/platform?
Would you be prepared to pay a subscription fee?
And if anyone knows of anything remotely similar to my dream app that already exists – let me know!
*My Authentic Artisan Abode magazine is a fictitious publication. And if it isn’t then Alan, I hope you at least got to keep the sheepskin.