SheKnows Media's acquisition of BlogHer this month catapulted it to leading women's digital lifestyle media brand-with 75.3 million unduplicated unique visitors per month and 150 million social media fans-overtaking AOL, Condé Nast, Meredith and Hearst. Significantly, the award-winning media network's exponential reach also propels SheKnows authority as the most influential women's digital network-with access to over 20,000 bloggers and social media influencers-enjoying unparalleled strength in the Food, Parenting, Home, Beauty, Style and Fashion verticals.
I sat down with SheKnows CEO Philippe Guelton and Chief Revenue Officer Samantha Skey to learn more about their rapid growth trajectory and expanded branded content creation and distribution capabilities for advertisers. They also elaborated on how the integrated SheKnows and BlogHer platform will empower women influencers, new unprecedented stereotype-busting brand research, their novel brand advocacy program and groundbreaking product development.
I asked Guelton whether SheKnows Media represents a new social media model, not only as a consolidator of fragmented women's communities and leading women's lifestyle property, but also as a new model for digital properties.
Guelton said: "We're not a new social media model per se. We're on a path to building a platform which has a different mission and vision than other players in this space. Our focus on leveraging and empowering all contributors in the women's lifestyle space and giving them voice is rather unique. And between our Experts Among Us program and BlogHer's own platform, we're perfectly aligned in this vision, so it made perfect sense to come together. We envision and have ambition to build something quite unique but we also know we're just at the beginning."
(Unique visitors per month: comScore, Multiplatform Lifestyles Rankings, Sept. 2014)
SMT: What are the differentiators from your competitors?
Guelton: Given the market fragmentation in this space, one of the challenges is to unify under one vision and manage scale of influencers and contributors. Our coming together with BlogHer is enhanced by their backend technology, a key asset is their InfluenceHer 360 platform. We think we can fully utilize this foundation that they've built to engage and manage this community of contributors at scale. That's probably the new model - the technology backbone that supports our relationships and engagements with the community.
Guelton underscored the significance of BlogHer's event business and the annual BlogHer conference, "as it represents a differentiator from the rest of the marketplace," and stressed its relevance as "another important platform it itself for engaging and communicating with influencers." The event is the world's largest of its class, drawing over 4,000 female content creators and advertisers seeking to partner with women who have created communities of influence.
I asked Skey how she foresees the impact of the combined blogger influencer platforms on the marketing solutions they'll be able to offer to brands and advertisers. She explained how the unified Experts Among Us platform, which brings together women bloggers, influencers and credentialed writers, has the potential to become the new standard bearer for authentic endorsement, with the ability to intrinsically deliver authentic content propagation.
Skey: I think for advertisers what's really cool and differentiated is the women who participate in Experts Among Us and in the InfluenceHer platform can choose the advertisers they want to represent....the ability to harness that at scale and to say to these 20,000 matriculated influencers who we are working with, they can select the brands they choose to advocate on behalf of and choose the means by which they'll advocate.
With a nod to the holy grail of advertisers-authentic propagation-Skey added, "And that actually gets at the heart of what advertisers I've worked with over the past few decades have been looking for. They want authentic propagation and authentic endorsement. There's no way around it, you can't manufacture authenticity. I think that's what's going to be so unique about what we confer to advertisers under this new platform."
SMT: Is this the next big "native" push, so to speak, and how does SheKnows define "native"?
Skey: I think it is. To us native is using an atomic unit of content, one that is within the consumer contract you've established with your user, so between the content producer and user there is understanding that we will serve up content in a certain format. In some cases it will be branded and include an advertiser, in other cases it will not. It will be clearly identified and transparent when there is an advertiser in the mix. It will be in line with the user experience you've come to expect from SheKnows. It will be endemic to the environment in which it's served, which is at the heart of endemic, and it will be in line with your interests, what you've told us about yourself. These are all the things that make native work.
I think native has been pummeled by the media to mean lots of things, to be a catchall phrase for anything new. SheKnows is taking native to the next level by saying it's not just how we serve it and the format in which we serve it. We're actually letting those who are propagating, the content makers, select the brands for whom they'll create native. It's not the other way around. Never before, that I'm aware us, never before has a writer or editor been able to choose the adjacency of the advertising that goes next to what they publish. It's often a thorny relationship.
We're saying that the expert gets to choose. They get to choose who they're endorsing and if they don't want to endorse, or they're not on board with fast foods or they're not on board with fuel-inefficient cars, they have no reason to select, endorse or work with those brands. If, however they love Nike, or what Unilever and Dove are doing for women's self-esteem, they can actually raise their hands and say they want to be on this campaign. We're doing a lot of research around this so its not just gut based, but we're pretty certain that the impact of those hand raisers will be far greater in terms of true advocacy and engagement generation from within their own communities.
SMT: That begs the question. Is there any pushback, knowing advertising as we know it?
Skey: It's risky for sure and we have lots of media that we run that protects us....We're managing the gamble within safe boundaries. It's a good environment for it, as lots of big brands are doing very cool things. I would shout out Olay, Haines, Dove, Nike, Under Armour. These are a bunch of the brands which were given prompts by our audience as brands that are doing interesting things within the Femvertising space. There are a lot of brands that are impressing women right now....They are looking to reach strong influential mainstream women. It seems like the environment now is right for content creators and brands.
SMT: What I'm hearing is that you're not leaving any room for ambiguity as to the authenticity of your content creators or reach of your influencers. What exactly are your parameters?
Skey: It feels like a gamble sometimes, like you have three people in the middle trying to create the message that will feel authentic. But then you try to place the message in the hands of the blogger or content creator and ask them to try to extend the message to their trusted network...there's like 3 layers of bs. Never mind the moral judgment, it's just not a very effective way to propagate a message. It's too much work and you're diluting the chain of loyalty between her and her constituents. Her constituents know her voice and you have to let it be....because we're an agile little digital company we don't have to answer to those who would be offended by our desire to give voice to the cool cookie maker , the hilarious videographer or belly dancing cooks. We find them and think they're amazing and want to put them on a podium and we don't particularly want to edit them or dilute them. We don't have the same baggage.
Key to managing and empowering SheKnows influencers and contributors at scale are the performance measurement and enhancement features of the InfluenceHer 360 platform, which enable SheKnows to select, engage and activate influencers and contributors more efficiently and also measure their performance and activity.
The platform diagnostics give SheKnows the ability to identify how influencers might expand their reach, and significantly, where SheKnows might provide mentoring support to contributors, facilitating the improvement of their performance, thus enabling their brand advocacy community prowess.
Intrinsically, the quid pro quo of this supportive influencer ecosystem delivers not only best in class influencers to SheKnows brand clients, but also provides brands with palpable and refined criteria by which to select influential partners whose tone and reach are compatible to a particular campaign.
Validating SheKnows' Midas touch is its ability to attract clients who trust it to create noteworthy advertiser experiences, often involving little if any mediation or content creator interference. One such experience cited by Skey was their Fashion Week Juicy Couture event to launch the Couture Overdose fragrance. In this case, 20 bloggers were invited to work with the brand to generate content, often co-created with their community of followers, celebrating their POV. By creating brand "events" within the event with influencers, SheKnows establishes campaign markers for clients.
The longer term win to SheKnows brand clients lies in its ability to facilitate the curating of a brand experience through the authentic voices of influential bloggers. As seen in the Juicy Couture event, the experience that unfolded was an organic celebration spawned by SheKnows influencers, in their own voice in a community of like-minded women.
In another example of SheKnows "native" dexterity, Ford sponsored a "One Tank Adventure" road trip undertaken by one of their beauty blogger experts with significant following. The brand partnership delivered abundant social propagation.
With the Acquisition of BlogHer and Stylecaster, SheKnows is positioned to deliver an array of exceptional product innovation and brand offerings. For example, SK Explorer, a women's lifestyle premium content curation platform, an initiative launched earlier this year, is a platform that builds a "blog wall garden " of premium content publishers. Branded as the only 100% female-focused traffic exchange platform, SK Explorer currently includes AOL sites, ESPN, AOL, Whalerock, Defy and Simon and Schuster women.
The BlogHer acquisition comes on the heels of SheKnows August purchase of Stylecaster, the group's flagship beauty and fashion media brand. SheKnows is leveraging Stylecaster's successful experiential online and offline event business to augment its own and is developing a formal Stylecaster influencer program.
Another SheKnows brand, Hatch, aligns with SheKnows mission to deliver a positive foundation in media literacy to the next generation, whether it's called Gen Stem, Gen C. Hatch also fulfills the corporate mission focused on serving moms and dads conflicted about what role tech plays in their kids' lives. The Hatch tagline is "content for adults made by kids with a mission." As Skey explained, "Hatch was spawned from a social listening exercise. Hatch teaches kids digital literacy, digital storytelling, giving them the foundation to use media and tech and digital media as a positive force and a positive bridge between themselves and the future people they will become, parents, teachers. It empowers kids."
Hatch has become a brand magnet, to wit, its Hunger Project; an upcoming Annie screening with Sony to review a new take on Annie vis-a-vis family values; Cinderella and Project Sunlight projects are also on tap. Once the kids have have gone through the SheKnows Hatch digital media literacy program, they are enlisted on at least a bimonthly basis for various projects. "Themes discovered with the kids are tuned into modules which are shared with educators and parents," according to Skey.
And finally, Femvertising, a emerging brand near and dear to Skey's heart, has initially launched as a research project. Its mission: To improve the world for girls and women through advertising. As Skey explains, "Advertising shapes culture, beauty, lifestyle standards. The concept we're pursuing is that we can do better as media companies in empowering women through advertising, instead of feeding on their insecurities."
Skey and SheKnows strongest Femvertising play to date is witnessed by their chutzpah in taking an unprecedented stand in allowing women to choose the brands they work for. Undoubtedly laying the foundation for a potent big data play, SheKnows is also at the cusped of generating groundbreaking social media brand discovery, innovation, sentiment analysis and analytics.
Femvertising is an authentic voice the new feminism, with a mission to push the female confidence envelope to a new cosmic high. Undoubtedly, SheKnows little Hatchers will reveal sooner than later that selling insecurity is so last century.