Due to my endless fascination with the places where technology and fashion intersect, as well as my penchant for spending more time online than most humans shopping, i.e. searching in Janurary for t-shirt ballroom gowns and other birthday dresses (my birthday is in June), swooning over enchanted forest tree beds, and red houndstooth room dividers, I've been striking up conversations with StyleHive's CEO Michael Carrier and Founder of StyleFeeder, Phil Jacob. Both have been lovely, cheerfully explaining what it is that they do with the spirit of true innovators. I look forward to relying on their expertise and unique perspectives in the future. I encourage you to visit both sites and spend some time getting lost in the land of social shopping!
Here, each of them speak to the role and function of public relations on social shopping sites.
PR Couture: How have/could Fashion PR professionals make use of social shopping in the promotion of their clients?
Michael: They can do quite a bit. For starters, they can coach their clients around how to present themselves in social spaces like the hive and how to develop their own commnuities in the the hive. [PR] can use a place like the hive to find people interested in what their clients have to offer. Finally, they can look for new clients! The Hive will show PR people who is growing in popularity and they can then start helping the brands and retailers that need their help.
Phil: Personal shoppers use StyleFeeder to provide a stylefeed of products to their clients. That's a fun way for personal shoppers to provide an ongoing useful service to their clientele. We work with many vendors (like Girlshop or Karmaloop) to bring their presence into StyleFeeder as a community. But you'll notice that we don't just splash vendor logos and ads on StyleFeeder. We look for something more interesting and more personal, so instead we feature people who work at these companies and expose their interests to the community. It's all about people and giving everyone visibility.
PR Couture: Do you think it would be ethical for a Fashion PR agency to promote its clients using a social shopping site? What about a designer/store promoting only his/her own designs? How revealing should participants be about their affiliations/motives?
Phil: If it's not an explicit disclosure, then I'm not in favor of it. That being said, if someone with ulterior motives is posting products in such a way that other stylefeeders find this information useful, then it's fine. But the days of the pushy salesperson are long gone and the days of openness and establishing one-on-one relationships are what we're enabling now.
That's why, as I previously mentioned, we don't feature "companies" on the site. Another interesting example is the work that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen did in creating their own stylefeeds and posting this on their website. We didn't pay them for their participation, I should note up front. They are very astute women and understand very well how to interact with the StyleFeeder community. Their stylefeeds, as you would expect, contain several products that they sell on their own online store along with other products that they personally just like (i.e. boots, books, music, etc.). Revealing their own tastes this way is a much more interesting and intimate way to follow what a person discovers on the web.
Michael: This is definately ethical and even encouraged, the key is to do your promotion in a way that adds value to the commnuity. People should be upfront about their affiliations, and having done that [first], share with the commnuity what is cool about their site/products. There are many ways to do this, some more interesting than others. My advice is "be interesting." People know when they are engaging with something authentic [versus] something that is lame. The key to being interesting in the Hive is to present interesting people who are recommenders or experts in your brand. They know what is interesting and why others should care.
I think so much of the fear and uncertainty within the PR community about interacting in the social media space comes from the lack of clear expectation from that community about what is allowed or permissable. In addition, the blogging community has been more than ready to bring out the "kill the beast" pitchforks when anything seems slightly amiss. This has motivated many bloggers to start seriously discussing the importance of transparency online (something that Fashion for Development blogger Priya noted in her interview with PR Couture back in December). However, this lack of unity is also part of the beauty of the online world. As you have just read, both Michael and Phil have different perceptions, expectations and ideas about the role of PR on their sites, and both have value for Fashion PR.