Culture 10 April 2017
Influencers have the ability via Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to determine what you buy, where you buy it, and why you should buy it. To make a living from merely influencing, you are deigned to drive consumerism via your page. You are a new medium of advertisement - a gallery of small real-time ads or a video with product placement, and if you're big enough you can become as sought after as prime time ad placements in Times Square.
SWAAY recently visited the historically beautiful Beacon Hill in Boston to talk to a blogging couple about 'micro-influencing,' rewriting the Instagram rules, and how they're on the brink of abandoning their entire life here in the U.S to pursue full-time travel blogging.
Created by Anna Lisa Falzone and her boyfriend Porter Grieve, @recesscity, which began in Ireland and has been based in Boston for the past year, will be packing up and embarking on a journey across the world that will cost its founding team exactly… nothing.
"When you're in a business where you're constantly interacting, and, in some ways, helping to propel the realization of other people's dreams, you've got to stop and think hard about whose dream you want to see fulfilled, and, more importantly, whose you don't."
- Anna Falzone
The account was born out of Falzone's penchants for travel and photography. Having spent a year sailing in the Caribbean, and studying in both Ireland and Switzerland, she had a wealth of experience with which to begin a blog.
In the beginning and to grow her audience, @recesscity - based then in Dublin - would play with fun flat lays, punny captions, and flamboyant editing before becoming the moody minimalist account we know today. Falzone launched her blog at the beginning of her final year in university, and recorded her time abroad. The following grew quickly on both platforms and before long she had a decision to make about the future of the brand and what direction it might take. Having finished her time at Trinity College in Dublin, she would return home to her home town to begin working with brands on her first sponsored content.
What began as an art project - an expression of creativity, quickly developed into a business opportunity, and instead of taking a job after her English Literature degree, Falzone determined she would pursue Instagram and blogging full time.
Unconventional as it might have seemed, she was resolved to prove her content would stand up to the best of those in the lifestyle category, and with the help of her photographically-inclined boyfriend, Porter, it quickly did.
“I wanted to see if the shared love my boyfriend and I have for photography, minimalist style & travel could help us connect with people; positively impact the social media sphere; and simultaneously create the kind of freedom we both felt our lives could never really be our own without."
Having originally cast the potential sponsor net far and wide in the beginning of @recesscity, Falzone and Grieve have now narrowed down the brands they will work with and curated a set list of ethical and environmentally friendly companies that will set the standard for future partners.
It's most certainly the road not taken by many on the Instagram circuit, given the delicate nature of making money through one's photos. Making a living on posts and branded content means influencers, a lot of the time, cannot afford the luxury of choosing who to work with, but the minds behind @recesscity are steadfast in their resolve - ethical, or nothing.
“Encouraging consumerism isn't always rewarding," she says. For Falzone, her partners, which she painstakingly hand picks, are integral to her brand. Among her new favorites is Australian hat company, Will & Bear, which will be featured in the duo's year of travel. The brand was picked in part because for each hat sold, ten trees are planted by the company. Another brand to be featured by @recesscity next year is Soko, an accessory brand that provides fair trade wages and jobs for women in developing third world countries. For their part, Allbirds and Vere Verto are also on the couple's short list, chosen for their ethical manufacturing of goods in home countries.
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"When you wear an item of clothing you're wearing the realization of someone else's dreams. That's a powerful notion, particularly when you become a liaison for promoting that dream."
It's an incredible journey the pair have ahead and nothing short of astounding that it's all paid for. How did they do it? It's simple really. They stuck strictly to their aesthetic; they got creative; and most importantly - they were bold.
It's perhaps a huge benefit to any entering this industry that nothing is written in stone. “Almost every brand I've worked with has had an entirely different set of criteria, found our rates reasonable, laughable, or negotiable, and seemed as though they're saying what they think sounds right, rather than what they know to be true," she says. When they travel, they will stay exclusively in hotels that fit within the aesthetic of their account, and their mission. She is resolute that there will be no compromises in her future when working with brands who aren't aligned with @recesscity's ethical mission. Looking back at the beginning of her branded collaborations, however, Falzone acknowledges she wasn't always true to her mission. “I was losing myself on the slippery slope of sacrificing my blog's identity in the hopes for exposure through brand collaborations I wasn't passionate about," she says. “Even if you're being well compensated, don't work with anyone out of fear that passing up will somehow slam shut that already small window of opportunity to 'make it.' Stick to your guns."
Casting their sights over Europe to begin - @recesscity will be journeying to the isles of Santorini, Mykonos, Crete and Folegandros, and will then venture up along the Italian coast before a brief respite in Croatia's capital - finishing up in a chilly Scandinavia come November.
The jump from home-grown brand - the safety net of the familiar - to an indefinite travel arrangement is not, however, without risks.
"When we took a step back and really thought about what we wanted to be doing, it was still photographing and still incorporating our love for minimalist style, but we wanted to serve a humanitarian purpose, and we wanted travel to take center stage," says Falzone.
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Despite her growing success, Falzone admits there are lingering fears in the "influencer industry." What happens if the audience doesn't grow? What if the brands falter in their support?
These are the constant worries that full-time bloggers experience, especially those in the 'micro-influencer' category who are just getting their footing in this fledgling industry. Furthermore, this is especially difficult for those growing their brand organically, rather than paying for Instagram 'farms' or follow counts. It's numbers that brands are interested in for the most part, so for those growing through the quality of their content, are most challenged in terms of turning a profit.
"What we want is to portray minimalist, ethical fashion as the backdrop for pursuing a lifestyle of consistent, conscientious purpose."
- Anna Falzone
This is, after all, the first generation of the Instagram sensation.
'Micro-influencing,' which typically includes those accounts with between 20K and 70K followers in a specific niche, is a term they use with trepidation. On one hand fun, exciting, and perhaps the most engaging aspect of Instagram currently, but on the other, difficult to navigate without guidance.
“There are no hard and fast rules to this industry," says Falzone. So for now, the pair will write its own rulebook, blindly. There are no 'how-to's' when weaving your way through the blogging stratosphere. Sure, there are strategies, hacks, life-lines, but how do you achieve that pinnacle of success, your ultimate goal ? Nobody really can tell them. Nobody really knows.
Falzone and Grieve tell SWAAY they are prepared for every eventuality or outcome that may emerge from this trip around the world, sink or swim. For now they are focused on finding fulfillment in the potential this trip could have to open consumer's eyes to the ethical fashion industry. The wanderer's lifestyle – with its dually terrifying and exciting elements and the incredible photography it reaps, certainly draws millions of eyes on today's social platforms. If a fraction of those find @recesscity's ethical mindset an asset rather than a drawback, we're certain you'll be seeing more of these twenty-somethings in the months ahead.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.