Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Strap-Ons, Explained

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Strap-on play has recently made its way to the forefront of the Internet's sexual bucket list many thanks to a certain pegging scene in Broad City. Using a strap-on is not all pegging though, and a major perk is you can use one no matter who you're with or how you sexually identify.

Claire Cavanah, co-founder of Babeland, tells MarieClaire.com that using a strap-on can make you feel powerful and in control, as the person doing the penetrating during sex. "It's a role reversal for some couples," she explains.

And it's true that there is something very sexy about feeling like you have a dick when you don't have one—take it from yours truly. Just wearing a strap-on can make you feel like a whole new person.

Of course, when one person wants to try strap-on play, that doesn't mean your partner wants to engage, too. "It feels intimidating to be on either end of a strapped on dildo," Cavanah says. "There's concern that it will take the place of other kinds of sex."

And while there's nothing wrong with wanting something up your butt, Daniel Saynt—chief conspirator of NSFW, a digital agency and private club—notes that pegging might be the last "taboo frontier" for many. As an intimate experience with intense orgasmic benefits, it might be the best sexual venture you haven't tried yet.

The prostate—a small gland with a walnut-like texture—is located just inside the anus and produces a prostatic fluid that's an essential component of semen. "The right dildo/strap-on combination will perfectly align with your prostate, helping stimulate it and releasing seminal fluid in a process called 'milking.' Many consider the prostate to be the male g-spot but I feel that it's a lot more powerful than that," says Saynt. "While stimulating the prostate, men can experience waves of orgasms."

"AS AN INTIMATE EXPERIENCE WITH INTENSE ORGASMIC BENEFITS, IT MIGHT BE THE BEST SEXUAL VENTURE YOU HAVEN'T TRIED YET."

Many strap-ons also have a pocket where you can stick a vibrator. This way, you can achieve clitoral stimulation while pleasuring your partner. And just because cis-women lack prostates, doesn't mean they can't enjoy being penetrated by a strap-on as well. (That's right, even people with penises can wear strap-ons). The opening of the anus is full of nerves within the first two inches that can trigger intense pleasure when stimulated by a dildo. It is also possible to have your clitoris stimulated through the anterior wall, or the a-spot.

For people with vaginas having sex with other people with vaginas (though this applies to everyone, regardless of their genitalia), they can provide G-spot stimulation and a feeling of fullness, just like with a penis—only this time, you get to choose yours, which is cool.

Step 1: Shopping For the Right Gear

On that note, when it comes to buying your first dildo for anal strap-on play, now is *not* the time to go full-monty and buy a 10-inch bright orange specimen (as much fun as that sounds). Saynt suggests sticking to something between five and six inches. You can work up to bigger stuff if you want, but the prostate is two inches in, so you don't have to buy a yardstick.

The next thing on the shopping list is a harness. Personally, this is my favorite part. Cavanah says there are two types of strap-ons to choose from: "Two-strap harnesses fit around your legs, keep harnesses secure, and generally keep genitals open for play. G-string varieties (also called one-strap harnesses) fit like a thong," Cavanah explains. Harnesses also come with either D-rings or buckles.

"MY FAVORITE IS THE JAGUAR, WHICH MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A DOM GODDESS."

Try both to figure out which is easiest for you to tighten and untighten, and feels most comfortable (as well as badass). My favorite is the Jaquar, which is made of creamy leather and makes me feel like a dom goddess. Saynt notes that leather can cause some chafing—though I've never experienced this—so if you want something more comfortable with a cozier fit, check out The Tomboi.

You'll also need some O-rings: These hold the strap-on in place in the harness. They come in a variety of sizes in a four-pack) to accommodate different sizes of dildos. If all of this seems confusing to you, ask a sales associate at your local sex boutique for help.

Step Two: Preparing For Strap-On Play

Lube is especially important during anal because the anus doesn't lubricate itself in the same way a vagina does. Lube also reduces friction and the last thing you want to do is tear up anyone's anus. I repeat: Never ever have anal sex of any kind without lube and definitely use lube for vaginal sex, if needed, too. Just always use lube, okay? Promise?

If your dildo is silicon, you'll also want to steer clear of silicon lubes, as they can corrode the toys. Instead, try a silicon/water based lube that has all the staying power of silicon, without the corrosion.

Another tip: Don't buy anything too phallic if your partner is a cis-male. It's all up to your comfort level, but Saynt recommends sticking to dildos that look like sex toys rather than penises to prevent your partner from getting hung up on his sexual identity.

Before you launch straight into pegging, Saynt also suggests starting with a well-lubed finger and massaging the anus to relax it. Here, you'll want to go slowly (seriously). From there, move on to butt plugs and small anal toys. Make sure you check in with your partner regularly to ensure they feel safe and comfortable.

For vaginal stimulation, lube up the dildo well before plunging in and if you're engaging in butt stuff, prepare for some poop. Pretending there won't be any fecal matter—or worse, fearing it so much you won't even do butt stuff—is silly. Trying an enema before anal play can expel any waste from the rectum, but that's totally up to you, too. Enemas aren't dangerous, as long as they're conducted properly. Saynt recommends the Tom of Finland hot douche for those who want to cover their bases.

Step Three: The Clean-Up

Since these toys can come into contact with fecal matter and bacteria, thoroughly wiping down your toys with soap and warm water afterwards is super important for preventing infections. You'll want to pop your dildo in a pot of boiling water to kill any bacteria, as long as it doesn't contain a motor.

If your strap on is made of nylon, you can throw it in the washing machine (but always read the cleaning directions beforehand) while leather harnesses just need a bit of soap and water.

How to Throw a Sex Party

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Snctm, Killing Kittens, NSFW: In the last few years, the sex party, for lack of a more direct term, has crept out of the dimly lit closet and into the mainstream nightlife scene, almost. While we’ve undoubtedly seen a surge of semi-secretive soirees centered around sex, the appeal lies in their elusiveness and exclusivity. Which is why the notion of throwing your own amateur version seems counterintuitive, or at least like a bad idea when, put in the wrong hands, could involve lube in bulk, some Chex Party Mix, one sad strobe light, and a lot of potentially ruined friendships.

But it can be done successfully. Of course, the definition of success is subjective; one man’s epic Caligula-esque orgy is another’s night terror. Sex parties aren’t for everyone and nor should they be. But a good one doesn’t have to feel weird or be creepy – you just need to follow a few guidelines. Since I’m no expert on sex parties (I mean, expert’s a strong word), I thought it best to talk to someone who is. Daniel Saynt is the founder and “Chief Conspirator” of NSFW, which he fondly refers to as his “little private club for the adventurous” and created after a 14-year stint in the world of fashion and beauty marketing. Dude knows how to package something and make it appealing. As he says, “I guess when you build a good product, people will just keep coming…and coming, and coming, and coming.” On that note, let’s start with the concept of subtlety.

THINK SEXY OVER SEX.
“Don’t call it a sex party,” says Saynt. “That term has a negative connotation that immediately takes people to a place where consent is ignored and older gentleman pay top dollar to hang out with young ‘models.’ You want to make sure guests don’t feel like sex is the only reason to party or in any way required.” But also don’t call it a “lingerie party,” invite everyone you know over, and then try to get them to have sex with you.

This kind of event isn’t so much about the actual act of sex as what it represents: decadence, seduction, freedom, even romance. Think unfettered fun first with sex as a bonus, if that’s what you want. A sex party is not an orgy; if you want to have an orgy, then say, “Guys, I want to have an orgy.” This is because, as Saynt breaks it down, “orgies are typically considered to be wild, uninhibited drunken fuck fests where anything goes. A ‘sex party’ is an event where there’s a little more structure to the evening. Don’t expect it to be a total free-for-all.” He likes to compare it to the grown-up equivalent of a post-prom party at your friend’s house: “His parents are away and you know if thing go right, you’ll be boinking in the bathroom in no time.”

CONSENT AND COMFORT ARE KEY.
If you don’t have consent, you’ve just got rape or worse yet, gang rape. If you don’t have comfort, then you’re not a very good host. “It’s extremely import to create a safe, accepting space,” Saynt says. “Enthusiastic consent is focused around changing our thinking from ‘no means no’ to ‘yes means yes.’ You want people to feel comfortable expressing what they want to experience. That comes from making sure all your guests are on the same page about what to expect and how to behave.” He also notes that if your event is on the large side, you might want to consider assigning some guardians. “It’s almost like a designated driver who’s watching over guests and making sure no one is getting too drunk or in an uncomfortable situation.”

STOCK THE BAR.
You don’t throw a party without booze and at least a few hors d'oeuvres. You don’t throw a sex party without top-shelf liquor, halfway-respectable bottles of wine, and dainty, possibly aphrodisiac foods. Saynt suggests setting up a self-service bar – unless, of course, you can hire a bartender, preferably one with an open mind – with ample mixers or at least pre-mixing cocktails, as well as providing bottled water and light snacks, since you don’t want anyone too drunk to know what’s going on. And common sense: “Stay away from cheeses, fish, garlic, or anything else that would make someone’s breath less than appetizing.”

SET THE SCENE.
What’s a party without a little ambiance? If you live in a cramped apartment with a Murphy bed, do yourself and everyone involved a favor and rent a hotel suite. If your home is the venue, eliminate the clutter and old sheets. “Having enough beds or padded space is ideal.” Stock your bathroom with extra towels, toiletries, spray-on deodorant, and mints and if you plan on getting kinky, having toys, paddles, and restraints available. Put condoms, lube, wipes, and trash bins easily accessible. “You’ll definitely want easy-to-find trash bins.”

This is basic party-throwing logic: Lighting is major. Saynt says it makes a big difference to swap out while bulbs for red ones and when in doubt, go dimmer, particularly in “play zones.” Finally, create a well-curated playlist so you don’t end up boning to Pitbull (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

ENLIST A FRIENDLY DRESS CODE.
This part’s up to you. Many hosts like to suggest their guests wear masks, a la Eyes Wide Shut, for an air of mysterious elegance…something like that. Most suggest cocktail attire and leave wearing lingerie optional. Saynt likes to keep it more casual: “We ask all attendees to wear black, which keeps most people on a stylishly level playing field. You can definitely encourage lingerie, but we tell everyone to dress at their most comfortable level of sexy.”

THINK PAST THE TEXT MESSAGE.
When it comes to invites, consider going a little more formal. That way people will take it more seriously. But you don’t want them to take it too seriously. While Paperless Post sadly (and surprisingly) doesn’t offer a “sensual adult fête”, a phallic fruit or vegetable will always get your message across.

LEAVE YOUR COWORKERS OUT OF IT.
Again, common sense. Your well-edited guest list should most definitely include people with sparkly personalities and/or fun, free-wheeling attitudes, attractive people, people you would actually like to have sex with, and not anyone whose eye contact you’ll have to make in the office on Monday (unless you have a special working relationship or your office is a strip club). Saynt suggests keeping the guest list small if it’s your first party.

So how do you create your esteemed guest list? “Make sure you’re choosing people who will add to the experience and are on a similar wavelength. If you’re in a more sexually inviting relationship, definitely discuss inviting existing partners. If your sex life is a little less adventurous and you’re in need of potential friends with benefits, create some new profiles on dating apps and promote your upcoming get-together. You’ll be able to screen possible people and curate the best for your little ménage à many. Try a few smaller three-four person playtimes before you try for the big leagues. That way you’ll have a community of trusted partners rather than just getting it on with a bunch of nameless strangers.” Although, there’s something to be said for that, too.

Confessions of an Instagram Influencer

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I’ve always been well-liked. At least, I think that’s the case. I have friends, a spouse, a job, a college degree. I exercise. I get haircuts regularly.

And yet lately I’ve felt unrealized—incomplete, almost. Everywhere I look on social media, I’m surrounded by extremely attractive, superbly groomed men and women who eat meals that are not only healthy but impeccably plated. My clothes seem tired, wrinkled, bereft of accessories. And my vacation photos—Christ, my vacation photos.

I should mention I’ve been spending a lot of time on Instagram, the app for sharing photos that is also, according to sociologists and my own experience, a perfectly designed self-esteem subversion service. Whereas Snapchat encourages users to create rainbow-vomit selfies that disappear after 24 hours, Instagram’s sleek design and flattering filters encourage its more than 500 million users to sexify their landscapes and soften their harshest features. It helps them turn snapshots into something out of the glossy pages of a lifestyle magazine.

Because of this—and because advertising budgets will inevitably flow to any medium where large numbers of people are spending large amounts of time—Instagram has attracted a sort of professional class. These “influencers,” as they’re known, are media properties unto themselves, turning good looks and taste into an income stream: Brands pay them to feature their wares. Look a little more closely at your Instagram feed, and you’ll probably notice that attached to the post of the gleaming hotel lobby, the strappy heels, the exquisitely berried breakfast is a sea of hashtags—among them, #ad or #sp, which discreetly disclose that these are in fact sponsored posts.

There are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of influencers making a living this way. Some make a lot more than a living. The most successful demand $10,000 and up for a single Instagram shot. Long-term endorsement deals with well-known Instagrammers, such as Kristina Bazan, who signed with L’Oréal last year, can be worth $1 million or more. Big retailers use influencers, as do fashion brands, food and beverage companies, and media conglomerates. Condé Nast, publisher of the New Yorker and Vogue, recently announced that it would ask IBM’s artificial intelligence service, Watson, to take a break from finding cancer treatments to identify potential influencers.

“Constantly,” Floruss said, when I asked him how often he takes pictures of himself

Earlier this year, on the marketing website Digiday, an anonymous social media executive ranted that marketers were essentially throwing money away on influencers, whom the ranter characterized as talentless. That made me curious, and I started asking around to understand just how hard this job really is. Some swore the work is difficult. “If it was so easy to be an influencer, then every single person on earth would do it,” said Gary Vaynerchuk, who parlayed a YouTube channel into an ad agency, VaynerMedia, that specializes in social media marketing and now employs about 750 people. But another influencer guru, Daniel Saynt of the agency Socialyte, disputed that. With the right guidance, he said, almost anyone could Instagram professionally. To prove it, he made me an offer: He’d help me become an influencer myself.

The plan, which I worked out with my editor and a slightly confused Bloomberg Businessweek lawyer, was this: With Saynt’s company advising me, I would go undercover for a month, attempting to turn my profile into that of a full-fledged influencer. I would do everything possible within legal bounds to amass as many followers as I could. My niche would be men’s fashion, a fast-growing category in which I clearly had no experience. The ultimate goal: to persuade someone, somewhere, to pay me cash money for my influence.

In late September, two weeks before the experiment was slated to begin, I reported to Socialyte’s headquarters in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. The agency manages 100 or so Instagram personalities, taking 30 percent of their bookings in exchange for setting them up with gigs. Many of these clients have millions of followers, and Saynt won’t talk to you unless you have about 100,000, but he agreed to make an exception for me and my 212. Saynt, a big man with a soft voice who wears an expression of perpetual amusement, greeted me with a hug and apologized for being a little lethargic. “I’m on a detox,” he said, adding that the previous week—Fashion Week in New York—he’d been on a seven-drink, pack-a-day bender. He mostly stayed quiet as Beca Alexander, his ex-wife and Socialyte’s president, and Misty Gant, the vice president for talent, peppered me with advice.

I needed a haircut, for sure, and would have to keep my fingernails clean. Socialyte would suggest a photographer for me to hire, and I was told to bring 20 or so mix-and-match outfits to a shoot, to generate a huge volume of “looks” to post each day.

“So,” Gant asked me, “what brands do you wear?”

After an awkward exchange during which I half-muttered the words “J” and “Crew,” it was decided that I couldn’t be trusted to dress myself. Saynt and his team would find brands willing to lend me clothes and would enlist a couple of influencers to help me put ensembles together. I would bring essentially nothing to the table. “You don’t have a cute dog, do you?” Alexander asked.

A week later, after a haircut the price and duration of which I refuse to share, I met Marcel Floruss and Nathan McCallum, two of Socialyte’s professional clients, at Lord & Taylor to borrow some outfits. The two men are opposites in almost every way. McCallum is compact and favors ripped jeans and piercings, and Floruss is lanky and clean-cut. Both are cartoonishly handsome, and both (I noticed this later when I checked out their Instagram work) have amazing abdominal muscles. “Constantly,” Floruss said, when I asked him how often he takes pictures of himself. “You sell part of your soul. Because no matter what beautiful moment you enjoy in your life, you’re going to want to take a photo and share it. Distinguishing between when is it my life and when am I creating content is a really big burden.”

I’d assumed two things about the beautiful people of Instagram. First, I figured they used the service the way Instagram suggests—that is, snapping pics and immediately sharing them with friends. Second, I assumed they took the photos themselves. Neither was true, as I learned when, on an unseasonably warm morning in early October, I brought 18 outfits to the Socialyte office. I met James Creel, my photographer for the day, as well as McCallum, who’d agreed to offer me styling tips, and his own regular photographer, Walt Loveridge, who’d joined in case McCallum felt inspired to do some modeling himself. The plan, as we trooped out the door into SoHo, was to shoot all the looks in a single day. “Let’s go find some walls,” Creel said.

The basic formula for most influencer portraits involves standing in front of a textured backdrop—usually a wall that’s brick or painted in some stylish way—and looking off, unsmiling, into the middle distance. Creel, who works as a personal trainer when he’s not shooting Instagram models, asked me to step out from doorways, so he could capture me paparazzi-style. He constantly asked me to run my fingers through my hair, and I was forced, for several hours I think, to rock onto and off of curbs, as if I were charismatically jaywalking. We ended up needing a second day. At one point during our 12 or so hours together, after I’d successfully walked in between taxis (primo color pop) and pursed my lips, Creel lowered his camera and offered a sincere compliment: “That was a great moment.”

I posted my first picture around noon on a Sunday morning—a relatively conservative three-quarter-length shot, in which I perform a sultry lean against a chain-link fence in a plaid Perry Ellis bomber jacket. Appearing incongruously atop my previous photos—the utterly ordinary postings of a new dad—it didn’t get a digital “like” for 15 minutes. That pace didn’t bode well. Moderately successful influencers might get 100 likes or more in that period, and as I tried to focus on supervising my year-old daughter’s play date, I was getting worried.

I probably should have anticipated this. Part of what makes Instagram valuable to advertisers is that there aren’t many shortcuts to accruing an audience. Unlike Twitter, for instance, where a clever quip can be quickly retweeted, bringing a deluge of followers, Instagram is relatively resistant to viral growth. Pretty much the only way you can add to your flock is if someone happens on your profile, likes what he sees, and decides to follow you.

How do you get people to discover you? Your best hope is to use hashtags—that is, sticking a pound sign in front of a keyword to make it easier for users searching for a specific type of photo to find you. There’s something tacky about using #liveauthentic, which has been deployed more than 14 million times, to get strangers to look at pictures that essentially amount to advertisements, but every influencer I spoke with assured me that hashtags worked, so hashtags it would be. Saynt recommended that I include at least 20 with every post.

To avoid looking totally desperate, I hid my hashtags below a series of line breaks. To avoid any unnecessary creativity, I used an app, Focalmark, which allowed me to input a couple of variables about each shot—for instance that it was a portrait, containing menswear, in New York City—and would then spit out a list of hashtags. They were so embarrassing that I tried not to read them before sticking them in my Instagram feed. But here are a few that I used regularly: #menwithclass, #mensfashion, #agameofportraits, #hypebeast, #featuredpalette, #makeportraits, #humaneffect, #themanity, and, of course, #liveauthentic.

By dinnertime, I’d posted a second picture and had acquired a few dozen likes and roughly three followers. That’s actually not bad for somebody with an almost nonexistent presence on Instagram, but it was discouraging to me, because I would need at least 5,000 followers to have any hope of making money. That night, I signed up for a service recommended to me by Socialyte called Instagress. It’s one of several bots that, for a fee, will take the hard work out of attracting followers on Instagram. For $10 every 30 days, Instagress would zip around the service on my behalf, liking and commenting on any post that contained hashtags I specified. (I also provided the bot a list of hashtags to avoid, to minimize the chances I would like pornography or spam.) I also wrote several dozen canned comments—including “Wow!” “Pretty awesome,” “This is everything,” and, naturally, “[Clapping Hands emoji]”—which the bot deployed more or less at random. In a typical day, I (or “I”) would leave 900 likes and 240 comments. By the end of the month, I liked 28,503 posts and commented 7,171 times.

Most committed influencers, including Socialyte’s clients, use bots in one way or another, but it should be said that this is an ethical gray area. Instagram doesn’t explicitly ban bots, but its terms of service do prohibit sending spam, which, when viewed in a certain light, is exactly what I was doing. On the other hand, except for a single user who somehow had me pegged and accused me of being a bot, nobody with whom I interacted seemed to mind the extra likes or comments. In fact, most of them would respond immediately with comments of their own. “Thanks dude!” they’d say. Or they’d simply give me a “[Praying Hands emoji].” I got hundreds of comments like this.

By the time I fell asleep that first night, I was getting a steady stream of likes and adding a new follower every couple of hours. By morning my post had more likes than anything I’d ever put on Instagram, including a shot in which I was holding my newborn daughter. In the picture, which my wife snapped from the end of the hospital bed, I’m lying back with my eyes closed, blissed-out and exhausted. It’s the best, most honest picture anyone has ever taken of me, and it has half as many likes as that shot of me in the bomber jacket on the chain-link fence.

Socialyte had suggested I create three posts a day, which sounds easy since I already had most of the pictures I would need. It was not easy—and I spent much of the next month in a state of constant dread, mostly because I hadn’t told my friends or family members about my Instagram experiment. After my mom gently inquired about, as she put it, “your male modeling career,” and I told her I was working on a story, she let out a sigh. “Oh,” she said. “I was worried there was some massive insecurity going on.” My baffled friends also had questions. “First, you look boss. Congrats,” my friend Dave wrote in a comment. “Second, what is going on?”

Another difficulty was that I’d been told to post at least one piece of “lifestyle content”—that is, a picture of something other than myself—every day. In general, pictures of people get more likes than anything else, but the idea was to create a sense of variety and to avoid boring my new audience. Alexander suggested sunsets, cityscapes, and food. “You don’t have to eat it,” she offered. “Just make it pretty.”

I did my best, ordering fancy cocktails I wouldn’t normally drink and trying to eat items, like avocado toast, I’d seen on Instagram. It was not enough. A week into our experiment, Alexander and Saynt informed me, in the gentlest manner possible, that my lifestyle content was terrible.

The natural solution was professional help. Alexander introduced me to Alisha Siegel, a wedding photographer by trade who also sells stock images to influencers. Siegel could offer me as many perfectly framed lattes, hipster hotel lobbies, and urban sunsets as I wanted. I bought 20 for $400, which brought my total tab for photography services to $2,000. I asked her about credit—should I note in my feed that she was the photographer? Siegel suggested that I might shout her out once or twice, but crediting her would break the illusion. As she pointed out, “You’re the one who is supposed to be experiencing these things.”

Armed with my lifestyle content, I felt a surge of confidence. I was adding 20 to 30 followers most days, up from 10 a day in the first week. When one of my friends asked me about a breakfast shot—specifically, what the hell was that yellow blob on top of my granola?—I evaded and moved on. (Citrus curd.) It no longer seemed weird that all day and all night my virtual double was doling out likes and saying things like “High five for that!” about pictures I had not seen and would never see.

By the end of Week Two, I’d reached 600 followers, or a threefold increase. Saynt told me he thought that if I kept it up, I could be at 10,000 by the end of the year, which would be enough to command maybe $100 per sponsored post. That was encouraging. But to keep up the pace, I’d have to spend $2,000 a month on photography services and also find a way to keep a steady stream of new outfits coming. There was no way I would ever break even on this; I clearly didn’t have the talent.

On the other hand, I was already verging into “micro-influencer” territory, a hot new field within influencer marketing where, rather than hiring one or two big-time influencers, an ad agency will simply give out free merchandise to 50 small-timers. Micro-influencers are “a core piece of our strategy,” according to Dontae Mears, a marketing manager at VaynerMedia. “You find the engagement is stronger. The trust is better. And you don’t necessarily have to pay them.”

The breakthrough came as my follower count pushed above 800. I got a message from Andrew Hurvitz, a photographer in Los Angeles and the founder of Marco Bedford, a clothing line. “You want to collaborate?” he wrote. I was ecstatic.

A few days later, one of his T-shirts was sitting in my mailbox. I pleaded with my wife—who had come to despise my transformation—to follow me outside on a Sunday evening with our digital camera. I wore my coolest jacket. I looked, wistfully, to my left. I ran my fingers through my influencer haircut. The picture did pretty well, earning 156 likes and, according to Instagram, reaching 468 people. As an official spokesman for Marco Bedford (#ad #sp #liveauthentic), I feel compelled to say that I stand by my characterization that Hurvitz’s shirt, which retails for $59, is “beautiful.”

My experiment was winding down, but I’d begun to wonder whether there might be an easier way to do all this. The internet is full of services that purport to deliver followers by the thousands. Buying followers—or buying likes and comments, which are also for sale online—won’t trick sophisticated advertisers, because Instagram reports actual impressions and audience size. But the tactic can help make your profile look a little more impressive. There was a chance that a fake boost could turn into genuine momentum. And so, with a week or so left until my deadline, I logged on to a site called Social Media Combo, which promises “high quality followers.” Packages range from $15 for 500 to $160 for 5,000. Not wanting to gild the lily—and slightly concerned about corporate AmEx card ramifications—I went for the base package.

For two days, nothing happened. Then, without warning, I jumped from 885 followers to about 1,400 in a matter of hours. By the time I posted my final influencer photo—a lifestyle shot of a flower shop that Siegel had sold me—on Nov. 11, Instagram had removed a bunch of my new fake admirers, but I was adding enough followers to mostly offset the drop-off. As I write this, I’m back up to almost 1,400. According to FollowerCheck, an app that purports to analyze an Instagram account for authentic engagement, 1,168 of my followers are real. I’m afraid to look to see how many of my actual friends have unfollowed me.

I quit posting the following day, a Saturday, and didn’t put anything on Instagram for a full week. There were moments when that made me anxious—I still have a killer shot of myself in a camel-hair coat that’s perfect for #autumn—and I started asking my fellow influencers what they thought I should do with my newfound fame. “I wouldn’t throw it away,” offered Yena Kim, the creator of the Instagram account Menswear Dog, which has 288,000 followers. “You should turn it into this dapper writer guy.”

Kim, a former designer for Ralph Lauren, told me she started her account as a sort of joke, too, posting photos of her shiba inu in men’s sweaters and sport coats in the style of other popular fashion influencers. Now her dog, Bodhi, is a business and is represented by a special influencer pet agency, Wag Society. (The company is owned, improbably, by the New York Times Co. and boasts 150 clients, including hedgehogs, cats, and a potbellied pig named Esther.) “Whatever you do in life, it helps to have a following,” Kim said. “It’s going to help you professionally.”

I am not and never will be Dapper Writer Guy. But I think she’s probably right. I should keep going. As I wrote that last paragraph and prepared to mail Hurvitz his shirt back, I took another picture, an authentic one. It showed a desk—a horrible, embarrassing mess of a desk, with a paper plate and empty disposable cups and stacks of old magazines.

But as I went to post it, I hesitated, and had a thought: Wouldn’t this look a little better with a filter?

I Went To A Weed Play Party & Dear Lord Did I Have Fun

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I'm what the weed industry folks call a "cannabist." It's a far more compassionate word for a marijuana enthusiast than "pothead." I also enjoy and attend "play" (read: sex) parties. As many people know from experience, cannabis can pair perfectly with sex, so I was stoked when I learned about NSFW, a private club that hosts parties in NYC for people with my particular intersection of interests. I could turn off the Google alert I had set for "cannabis + play party," because one finally existed.

NSFW provides legal adventures in sex, drugs, and mischief, according to founder and "chief conspirator" Daniel Saynt. But that doesn't mean that they provide marijuana — it's not currently legal for recreational use in New York, and Saynt says that NSFW doesn't condone illegal activity or provide drugs to members. Knowing this, I decided to indulge in cannabis (on my own accord) and check out one of NSFW's parties to see how it compared to the regular play parties I already know and love.

Here are four things I learned at my first 420-friendly play party.

Being stoned is no excuse to forgo consent.

It's easy to see why some people are wary of play parties, particularly ones that involve substances: If you put a bunch of horny, intoxicated adults in a space where public sex is allowed, there's a chance someone creepy will try and pull some weird shit. But thankfully, this party made it 100% clear that consent is a non-negotiable at events like these.

"Enthusiastic consent is so extremely important," Saynt says. This just means that consent is more than a simple yes or no — all participants should be excited and enthusiastically interested in any sexual activity for it to be fully consensual. Not only does NSFW require all members to sign a consent agreement upon entering, they also host workshops on enthusiastic consent and how to ask for sex.

Also, scattered among the members at the play party were NSFW "guardians," people identified by glowing wristbands whose job it was to make sure all members were safe. The guardians also ensured that no one was overly intoxicated on any substance, as intoxication affects your ability to give consent.

Cannabis pairs wonderfully with hot sex. 

Some evidence suggests cannabis can increase empathy and enhance physical sensation — both of which bode well for sex. As Saynt said, NSFW does not provide weed for members at play parties. However, as a private club that hosts parties for cannabis enthusiasts, NSFW is naturally going to attract members who like to enjoy themselves in certain ways.

Even though it's fairly common to combine cannabis with sex, when some people think about marijuana users, they imagine a bunch of giggling, lazy "stoners" who only engage in passive sex — rather than people who actively seek out kink and non-heteronormative sex.

At NSFW, there was a BDSM demo given by Goddess Aviva, a lifestyle and professional dominatrix. She put on an erotic show, demonstrating impact play (like spanking) and rope bondage on a submissive. I, for one, can say that my desire was heightened after indulging in cannabis and watching this. And judging from the reaction of those seated around me, I wasn't alone. Couples began making out during the show, and then those couples (or groups) made their way upstairs to bedrooms that contained condoms and lube.

A whip can be your best friend at a play party, even if you're not using it for BDSM.

Okay, so this one isn't specific to 420-friendly play parties, but it was such a good tip that I had to share. When I saw Melissa Vitale, NSFW's publicist and media director, carrying around a black riding crop that matched her all-black play party attire, I had to ask her about her choice of accessory. "A riding crop not only makes for a great conversation piece, but also helps mitigate unwanted advances without killing the mood," she said.

At events like these, there's a chance that someone you're not interested in is going to ask you for sex (even with consent forms, guardians, and workshops on enthusiastic consent). Along with verbally giving a kind, yet firm, "no" when she's not into someone, Vitale said she uses her riding crop to lightly flick at the person.

I thought this was the best piece of advice I'd ever heard. So the next day, I bought an inexpensive riding crop on Amazon, and I can't wait to use it.

Cannabis- and sex-positivity are the future (I hope). 

Before this, I was already pretty sure that a lot of people out there like smoking weed and having orgasms. After attending my very first play party for cannabis enthusiasts, I'm even more certain of that. From my conversations with both Saynt and the party-goers, it seems like the amount of people proudly embracing their love of both marijuana and sex is only growing.

Saynt says that he believes that President Trump has only helped increase the interest in cannabis-friendly play parties, saying that "elevated vice" has become more appealing with an administration that's more restrictive on cannabis policy and access to affordable sexual healthcare. In fact, NSFW plans to expand their events to California, where they can integrate cannabis without worrying about legal ramifications (although marijuana does remain a Schedule I drug under federal law).

My last conversation of the night was with a lovely European guest who had flown to New York City that day specifically to attend the event after narrowly missing his flight. "I'll bribe a TSA agent to be here if I have to," he said. It was getting late so I began heading to the door, and I overheard a straight man tell a gay couple in stoned earnestness, "You two were beautiful. It was so nice to meet you, and please get home safely."

In my opinion, if this "elevated vice" can make some people more kind and empathetic and make their sex lives better, the world needs more parties like this one.

Sin Is In: Private Sex Club Founder Talks Becoming A Member And What Goes On Inside

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Mixing business with pleasure is typically a no-go, but not for Daniel Saynt, founder of NSFW, the “Private Club for the Adventurous."

He is quite literally blending the two with his dual Not-Safe-For-Work elite community and counterpart agency Saynt has set the bar pretty high as far as sex clubs go, with members enjoying access to expert-led workshops, private chef-prepared dinners, exciting trips and a four-story clubhouse in Williamsburg in which to party. The only catch is… it’s extremely hard to join.

Prospective applicants go through a vigorous vetting process, with Daniel's team combing through hundreds of hopefuls to find the few who meet the qualifications to become a member. According to the website, factors that are reviewed include, “age, attraction, social circle, influence and desire to raise a little hell.”

Despite the strict parameters, it would be unfair to call the group elitist, as it seems to be the most inclusive of the exclusive communities. As an LGBTQ-friendly enterprise, they have classes geared for all sexes and orientations. They also provide plenty of sex ed, plus free condoms, lube, and other means for safer, more enjoyable intercourse.

We caught up with the man behind the brand, the self-proclaimed “Chief Conspirator,” to find out how he morphed from Influencer to SINfluencer, and to get a peek inside his secret world of sexual enlightenment.

Personal Space: What inspired you to evolve from your career in fashion to fantasy?

Daniel Saynt: I always had an interest in sex and before I went into school to study e-commerce, I wanted to be a sex therapist…[A few years ago] I went to Burning Man and got the chance to experience all their different types of sex camps and adventures. I realized that in New York, there’s really not a place where you can truly go wild. That’s kind of where NSFW came to be.

PS: What came first: the NSFW agency or the members-only sex club?

DS: First was the members club. That was something I could easily manage. It’s a much smaller operation when you’re dealing with 50-100 people. Now we are up to 575!

PS: Tell us about the NSFW “Playdates”

DS: Playdate is a play party, but there are workshops within it. We have four instructors who are “Masters of Mischief” come in and teach classes like BDSM, Sub-Dom, Fem-Dom, Japanese Rope Bondage, Electro-wand play, etc. Every Friday we provide workshops at the clubhouse. Last week we had a class called “This class sucks,” and it was an oral workshop on how to give great b***jobs.

PS: What is Electro-wand play?

DS: It’s an electronic wand you can put on the body, and there is a way of stimulating so that you can produce orgasms.

PS: Did 50 Shades of Grey normalize BDSM and fetishism to a more mainstream audience?

DS: I definitely think it had a big impact on that… Women had this little entry point into BDSM and this lifestyle and it was a huge success. Also social media in general has helped with that.

PS: What tips do you have for couples at home who want to spice things up in the bedroom?

DS: A lot of it starts with conversation and using that as foreplay. Being very open to all the kinks your partner may have… we are also big on music. The sound and atmosphere. Red lightbulbs. Playing our NSFW Sex-ed 101 playlist on Soundcloud.

 

How the BDSM Community Integrates Cannabis Into Kink

“He inserted the base of the vape into my pussy so that the tip was sticking out. He then put his face right up into my crotch and pressed the button and inhaled right out of my vagina!”

As a girl who loves both cannabis and kink, I’ve been carefully surveying both worlds, looking for moments where the two meet. As legalization spreads, I’m noticing their paths cross more and more. Organizations such as NSFW, a “digital agency for the adventurous,” are forged in this delightful intersection of vices. NSFW hosts “danquets,” high-end meals of infused delicacies served to guests seated on pillows, as well as exclusive kink events such as their recent Shibari workshop.

Yet 420-friendly kinksters have probably been using weed in their play since the dawn of time. But, how, exactly? While the world is becoming more accepting of both cannabis and kink, much of both communities still exist underground. “69 by 420: Marijuana Kinky,” an aptly named group on FetLife, the kinky social media platform boosts over 20,000 members, but the forum offers anonymity to its members, and you have to go digging to get specifics.

To learn more, I decided to go straight to the source and simply ask fetish-friendly smokers in the community about how BDSM and weed overlap for enthusiasts. I spoke with Mistress Matisse, a professional dominatrix of 20 years who is also a pot entrepreneur. Matisse has created her own cannabis intimacy line, Velvet Swing, and also enhances sessions with clients through the magic of cannabis. Next, I approached NSFW’s Chief Conspirator Daniel Saynt and the agency’s publicist, Melissa Vitale, to ask how they play with pot. As cannabis and BDSM both remain unfortunately stigmatized, I spoke to an anonymous kinky stoner, as well. She told me she likes to be tied up as her dominant vapes out of her pussy. From social clubs and professional dominatrixes, to underground stoner submissives, rest assured that kinksters all over the world are upping the ante of their play with the aid of goddess Mary Jane.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity...

Mistress Matisse
Dominatrix, Writer, Sex Worker’s Advocate, and Owner of Velvet Swing

I explore using cannabis as a tool for my sexual pleasure and fulfillment and for other people’s enjoyment, as well. BDSM is a tool to alter your consciousness. It takes you to a different place, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Pot is just like that. You have to know how to use it, and you have to use it wisely. When used the right way, it’s great tool for play in their mind and their body. What BDSM and pot have in common is that you have to know what you’re doing, you have to proceed with consent, and when done well it’s great. The more tools I have at my disposal, the better.

Generally [my clients] want to smoke a little before the scene starts to help them relax and change their point of view. I sit down with them in a transitional few minutes, and then we begin the scene. It can be hard to just flip in an instant from the real world to Matisse world. I find cannabis really useful for helping people transition to a different headspace. It also helps people relax who want things like intense anal penetration, which is obviously better when you’re not feeling tense.

I’m lucky in that I don’t have to see anyone new anymore. All my [clients] are guys that I’ve seen, in some cases, for almost as long as I’ve been a domme. Negotiating consent with them is fairly easy because we've played together for so long; there’s a lot of trust and I know they’ll be truthful with me. Navigating pot and BDSM together is complicated, but it can be done. The crucial point is discussing what’s going to happen, and how [partners] feel about it, and how it’s going to work.

It’s been an amazing experience; I’ve never had a bad experience [with cannabis and clients]. I have a few rules, though. I encourage people to negotiate sober and then proceed to alter their mind and consciousness. If you’re going to indulge with pot during a session, you have to cab or ride share home; I will not permit you to drive after. I have to make sure that people are safe. Like BDSM, use cannabis's power only for good.

Melissa Vitale
Publicist, NSFW

The best cigarette you’ll ever have is after a good fuck, but I only smoke spliffs now. I'll use it as part of aftercare [the practice of all parties ensuring the other is well-cared for after sex]. When I’m living in the aftermath of my orgasm, and my thoughts can’t be strung together, the first thing I want is a spliff. It brings me back down to reality and also calms me down and gets me ready for round three or four.

I’ve also been in situations where I want to play out a certain fantasy. Cannabis gives me that moment to get to know someone, share a joint with them, and ease them into talking about limits. For me, going over my soft and hard limits is something I have to be very comfortable with sharing. It’s the same way with aftercare: snuggling, understanding where you are at, and coming back from that euphoria. [Cannabis] is a way to get you comfortable with aftercare. I’ve also simply been in situations where we roll joints during sex. I had one experience where a guy wanted to smoke a joint while he was going down on me, the entire time. Stoned sex is the best sex.

Maxine*

I love having sex high, even when it’s vanilla. But regarding BDSM, one memory, in particular, comes to mind. I'm a submissive, FYI. Using Velcro handcuffs and leg restraints, my male partner tied me up spread eagle to his bed. Obviously, you want to discuss consentwith all sexual activities, especially in BDSM scenes, and absolutely when you're adding in a mind-altering substance, so I have to add that we discussed everything we did beforehand.

While I was tied up, he mounted me and face-fucked me, and if I did a good enough job, he'd let me have a puff of a vape filled with indica oil. I'm an anxious girl who only uses indicas. I served him well enough to get several puffs and felt so relaxed. The high helped me submit, relax into the restraints, and allow the bed to simply hold my weight. Weed always helps me be in the moment during sex, but I've found this especially useful while bound, which can be emotionally and physically intense.

Towards the end of the scene, we got a little goofy, and he wanted to get high too. So he inserted [Editor’s note: Don't try this at home. If you're going to insert any cannabis product inside the body, use one created for this purpose, such as Foria] the base of the vape into my pussy so that the tip was sticking out. He then put his face right up into my crotch and pressed the button and inhaled right out of my vagina! Doing so also had an aspect of humiliation play, as I looked pretty ridiculous tied spread eagle with a vape pen sticking out of me.

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity

Daniel Saynt
Chief Conspirator at NSFW

Smoking weed while getting a blowjob is the best. Using cannabis during sex is so common for me now because I just enjoy it so much — especially during threesomes when you have a third person who can go around and DJ the weed. I’ve been this person, too, where I’m in a threesome, and I’m watching the other two. Recently CBD and THC-infused suppositories have been awesome. It reduces the stress of anal sex. Foria is great; they’re one of the brands that just changes the game when it comes to anal sex. Just being a little high [through inhaling cannabis] also makes anal sex so much better, for me. Regarding bondage, I have used ropes coupled with cannabis. I've had situations where the girl is tied up against a table, and you’re (consensually) giving her weed to smoke as she’s tied up. That’s really hot. It's also just a lot of fun; you can see that great rush that comes through their calm. It can be scary to be tied up. Having the weed and being able to light up just adds to the experience in such a great way. It makes BDSM so much more comfortable and you’re likely to enjoy yourself more.

A Day in the Life of the World’s Preeminent Toddler Style Blogger

That's where Socialyte, a talent management group for bloggers that creative director Daniel Saynt calls "an influencer casting agency," comes in. The group—now under the same umbrella as Nylon—connects rising bloggers with brands and advises said influencers on their own brand-building.

While elite children’s agency Generation Model Management represents London’s print, runway, and commercial work, Socialyte handles her social media presence. Saynt says his team—who "literally just scan Instagram all day to try and identify fresh and new talent"—courted London hard: "We have a lot of influencers who have kids, and we end up doing campaigns where it’s the influencers and their kids, but we've never had someone who’s a cute Instagram kid star. We saw her, and we were just like, ‘This girl is amazing. We have to do something with her.’"

Chief among the services Socialyte provides London are fielding, negotiating, and pursuing deals with brands and designers, including "working with a kids' toy line that’s with Mattel that’s a very known toy, a world-famous toy, to launch a new series of toys." (Try to crack that probably hot pink, plastic nut.)

Meet YesJulz, Snapchat Royalty

It was just after 2 a.m. when Julieanna Goddard, 26, went crowd-surfing at Kinfolk 94, a nightclub in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The room was thick with marijuana smoke, and the 20-something crowd, clad in Supreme, Nike and Yeezy Boosts, went wild as Ms. Goddard floated overhead, like a rubber duck bobbing in a bathtub.

“This is for all my ladies who care about checks, not texts,” said Ms. Goddard, who giggled self-consciously at her ad-libbed catchphrase. She wore a black-and-white knit bodysuit, her bleached hair in braided pigtails. “Yeah, I’m corny,” she said. “So what?”

As the crowd cheered, Ms. Goddard raised her iPhone and filmed them, her hand making wobbly figure-8s over their heads, before she turned the lens onto herself, twisting her face into a silly grimace. Before the moment passed, she posted the video to Snapchat. Revelers in the crowd, in turn, filmed her filming them, and posted their videos to Snapchat, too.

For Ms. Goddard, known to her social media followers as YesJulz, it was just another day at the office.

While few in their 30s and older may know of Ms. Goddard, her digital-native followers are enthralled by her jet-setting party lifestyle, which often places her alongside celebrities at events like the N.B.A. All-Star Game and the Grammys.

In doing so, she has accrued a social media fan base including more than 365,000 followers on Instagram, 111,000 on Twitter and 8,800 on Facebook. But it is her Snapchat figure that has set her apart as the latest iteration of the social media star. Unlike the other three platforms, Snapchat does not post the number of followers on a user’s page. According to her publicist, she has 300,000 viewers (a figure that Snapchat would neither confirm nor deny).

The Huffington Post has called her “the Queen of Snapchat,” while the online lifestyle magazine Highsnobiety credits her with “changing the way brands use Snapchat.” Elite Daily, which bills itself as the voice of Generation Y, calls her a “Snapchat ‘It’ girl” who is “living the Millennial dream.”

She even gets name-checked in rap songs, including Lil Uzi Vert’s 2015 song “Wit My Crew x 1987” (“Thick white girl right on my side, she kinda look like, um, YesJulz”).

Which is fine, but what, exactly, does she do?

This is what you see if you follow YesJulz on Snapchat: Ms. Goddard in Paris in June, celebrating the 34th birthday of her friend Ronnie Fieg, the sneaker impresario, who was starting a collaboration between his brand, Kith, and Colette. After checking in to a luxe hotel (“Keeping it swaggy,” she wrote) and attending a moodily lit dinner with Chris Stamp, of the streetwear label Stampd, and Joe La Puma, of Complex, she hosted a party at the nightclub Le Baron. “Wow look at this,” read a caption, posted over a shaky shot of a gyrating crowd bathed in purple light.

The next morning, Ms. Goddard addressed the camera directly from her hotel bed, bleary-eyed and wearing a sleeping mask on her forehead. “I’m on a journey of self-awareness,” she said, while receiving a chakra cleansing of crystal therapy. “If I want to win more, I have to take care of myself.”

There are lots of shots from inside airplanes and Uber taxis. This is where she tends to talk directly to the camera (“This has been one of the best days ever”) in a husky tone and with her makeup smudged.

If Instagram popularized the static selfie, Ms. Goddard uses Snapchat to bring it to life, giving us a snippet-by-snippet account of the daily chaos that surrounds her. If her life looks like a never-ending party, it’s difficult to tell if Ms. Goddard follows the party or if the party follows her.

In person, Ms. Goddard is pretty and warm, a street-slang-slinging chatterbox with Disney princess eyes. There’s something cartoonish about her energy that’s sensual and comical in equal parts, like an entrepreneurial Jessica Rabbit.

“What am I?” Ms. Goddard said over coffee at La Colombe in TriBeCa on a cold Tuesday earlier this year, clad in a gray mock turtleneck sweater, hip-hugging black pants and a downy fur coat. “Well, I’m an influencer for brands. I’m an events producer. I’m an A&R. I’m a publicist. I’m a billion things in one. I’m a host. I’m talent myself.”

“We are literally living in a time when you can say you’re something on the Internet and become that thing,” she said.

That “thing,” it turns out, is a user of Snapchat to promote herself and her clientele, which currently includes the rapper 070 Shake, Muzik headphones and the instant-messaging app Viber. “What I’m really good at,” she said, “is, if you have a TV show or movie or song or anything you’re trying to promote, I have a great way of making a couple hundred thousand people want to know about it.”

Talent agencies have taken notice. Daniel Saynt, a founder of Socialyte, an agency that specializes in influencer casting, said, “I’d be surprised if she isn’t already talking to people about a reality show because of how well her content would fit with MTV or E! Entertainment.”

But she already is the star of her own reality show, one that she extemporaneously films, directs and produces. And her teenage and 20-something fans are of a generation that prefers social media celebrities over traditional ones.

“Reality TV became so fake that people wanted real reality,” Ms. Goddard said, trying to explain her appeal. “Not from someone who’s a multimillionaire, from somebody they feel they can almost touch.”

Snapchat’s raw, charmingly lo-fi style means that it still seems undiscovered by prying grown-ups, despite its raising $1.8 billion recently and surpassing Twitter in the number of active users. And while global brands have already colonized Facebook and Instagram, Snapchat still seems on the fringe.

“On Instagram, you can be fake,” Ms. Goddard said. “You take a picture, filter it, Photoshop it, put it up and let people think that’s your life. Snapchat is the complete opposite.”

Raised in Tampa, Fla., Ms. Goddard made her mark in Miami by promoting parties at the South Beach clubs Liv and Story, where she would chaperone celebrities like Dwyane Wade and David Beckham.

Her energetic personality often made her the life of the party, so she started the YesJulz Agency in 2014 to capitalize on the nebulous intersection of night life, social media and marketing.

Though she was active on Instagram and Twitter, her game-changing moment came when Snapchat introduced the story feature in 2013, allowing users to string together short video clips to create a narrative. It seemed tailor-made for her staccato, celebrity-filled life.

She trained the camera on herself and tapped “record.” An early boost came when Ryan Seacrest named her one of the best Snapchat users to follow in 2014. Brands started calling.

“Working with someone like Julz, it gives us insight into how to stay relevant,” said Adam Petrick, the global director of marketing at Puma, which hired Ms. Goddard this year as its brand ambassador. “She’s very multifaceted and outgoing in her interests. She perfectly represents our consumer.”

In addition to wearing Puma products on Snapchat, Ms. Goddard recently shared a 40 percent discount code with her followers, and often tags posts of herself in athleisure outfits with the hashtag #PumaGal.

While Mr. Petrick declined to get into specifics of the deal, industry insiders like Mr. Saynt from Socialyte estimate that Ms. Goddard can earn anywhere from $25,000 to $1 million for a campaign. He said that his company recently booked two influencer campaigns for $200,000 each.

If the party never ends, neither does the work. Rather than complain, Ms Goddard has turned the always-on mentality into a brand-able moment, with the hashtag #NeverNotWorking.

Her work ethos was on display during New York Fashion Week in February, when she was in the city to introduce her client, 070 Shake, to record-label executives at RCA and to fellow hip-hop artists.

Ms. Goddard slid into a booth at the Midtown Italian restaurant Serafina on a cold Wednesday. She ordered a salad and tempted fate by pairing it with a glass of red wine, despite wearing a white Stella McCartney blazer. While talking, she was lit from below as she toggled between her two phones, both of which were constantly lighting up with Snapchat alerts, and one of which was getting juice from an external battery pack.

Dinner, like everything else in Ms. Goddard’s life, was quick. She had another dinner scheduled that night, along with a concert at Webster Hall, and a party after that. After settling the tab, she scrolled through her phones, scanning for anything important. Then she put it away and sighed. She had places to be.

“Things are moving so fast,” she said. “It’s hard for people not of this world to keep up. The people in the industry who were here before us didn’t grow up with a phone in their hands. They didn’t even grow up in the MySpace era. They were already famous.”

Vine’s Top Stars are Fleeing, Despite the App’s Best Attempts to Keep Them

Andrew Bachelor is the single most popular human on Vine, the Twitter-owned, short-form video network that was once described as the future of popular culture. Under the handle @KingBach, Bachelor has developed his own genre of slapstick, seconds-long sketch comedy and amassed a following of 16 million.

When Bachelor finished his last video clip, though, he did not post it to the app that made him a star. Instead, he put “Pervert Life” on his popular, verified Facebook page; it landed on Vine a full two days later.

Three-and-a-half years after Vine launched, and three years after Vine launched him, Bachelor has become one of a growing number of former Vine stars who no longer sees the platform as crucial.

“Vine never really was dependable,” said John Shahidi, chief executive of San Francisco-based Shots Studios, which has helped Bachelor and a number of other top Vine creators diversify their output to other platforms. “I wouldn’t put our brain energy or focus into making anything exclusively for Vine anymore.”

These are dark days for Vine, previously one of Twitter’s more successful experiments. Launched as a community for users to share short, six-second lifecasts, Vine quickly found a different purpose: an incubator of Internet meme-makers and comedians. Vine brought you “on fleek,”Damn Daniel“what are thoooooose?!” and “why the f— you lyin.” It amassed millions of zeitgeisty, younger-than-34 fans: At one point, 1 in 4 American teenagers said they had the app.

But a recent report by Markerly, a firm that tracks online influencers, found that 5,000 of Vine’s top 9,725 accounts — including media outlets, professional athletes, brands and celebrities — have stopped posting to the platform. Those who do, like Bachelor and his Shots colleagues Rudy Mancuso and Lele Pons — who have 36 million followers, between the three of them — frequently post their material first to Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. New user growth is stagnant, search interest is way down, and almost all of Vine’s product and business executives have fled in the past four months.

“The allure of it has dropped off completely,” said Daniel Saynt, co-founder of the casting agency Socialyte, which tracks and manages social media stars on behalf of major brands. “Once Instagram introduced video, it was over for Vine.”

Vine’s problem, as Saynt sees it, isn’t so much with Vine itself — it’s that, in the two years since the app’s heyday, other platforms have copied and improved on its concept. Instagram introduced 15-second videos in June 2013, more than doubling the video length and adding editing tools not available through Vine. When Snapchat rolled out Stories four months later, they came complete with stickers, text overlays and illustrations, plus the experimental, disappearing format that had earned private snaps so much hype.

Meanwhile, YouTube began courting top creators with promises of special perks, such as continuing education and professional studio space. Facebook invited social stars to use Mentions, its specialized app for public figures, and provided tools to help them reach more people and moderate the resulting communities. For creators such as Brittany Furlan — Vine’s fifth most-followed star, with almost 10 million subscribers — that safer and more controlled environment seemed far more conducive to their work long-term.

“A lot of people chose to leave Vine, including myself, because for me personally, it just turned into a very negative space,” Furlan said by email. “When I first started most of the comments were supportive, then as I gained followers things just got uglier and uglier and it didn’t seem like Vine was interested in doing anything about it. I was getting told to ‘kill myself’ on pretty much a daily basis, and already being someone who struggles with anxiety/depression, it just wasn’t a healthy environment for me anymore. … For some reason, the comments on Instagram and Facebook seem to be more positive.”

More recently, Facebook has begun offering social stars lucrative contracts to produce live videos. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Bachelor, Logan Paul (No. 8 on Vine), Brent Rivera (No. 12) and Jon Paul Piques (No. 42) were among the first batch to ink $119,000 to $213,000 contracts with Facebook. Paul’s Facebook profile is particularly striking, given that the 21-year-old started out filming subway splits and banana peel falls for Vine. Now each of his videos, some with 4 million or 5 million Facebook views, are captioned with an entreaty to like his page and check out his Instagram profile.

Desertions like that have further damaged Vine’s cultural cachet, already a fragile and fleeting thing among the Internet set. These days, when brands such as Audi and Moet come to Saynt looking for buzz, they’re only looking at Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook — in that order, he said. And when Shahidi coaches his stable of Vine stars on their next moves, the strategy typically straddles YouTube and Instagram.

In a written statement, Twitter voiced optimism for the future of Vine, even calling creators one of the company’s five current “product priorities.” In June, the app debuted 140-second videos, which exceeds the length limit on Instagram. They’ve also begun hyping “monetization opportunities for creators” — which sites like YouTube and Facebook already have.

“Vine is an important part of our strategy, particularly given its vibrant community of creators,” a Twitter spokesman said, “and we’re excited about what the future holds with new leadership.”

The real question is whether, by the time that future comes, any Viners will be around to see it.

 

How Instagram Micro-Influencers Are Changing Your Mind One Sponsored Post at a Time

If you have yet to hear the term ‘micro-influencer,’ then you’re probably steering clear of the digital world. For industry insiders, micro-influencers are everywhere. Simply put, a micro-influencer is someone who has between 10,000 to 150,000 followers on Instagram, whereas a mid to top-tier influencer has over 150,000. Although a user’s amount of followers varies for each account, we are beginning to realize that this particular group of individuals has the ability to change the way brands work with influencers forever.

What it all comes down to is the audience. An A-List celebrity might have a large following, but it is important to consider why that audience visited the page in the first place. “Often times followers are only paying attention to the bigger picture, and not the product being advertised,” says Mark Lynn, co-founder and co-CEO of DSTLD. “You follow mostly because everyone you know also follows, not necessarily because you’re interested in his or her content.” Although there will always be a market for celebrity endorsements, brands have caught onto the fact that an influencer’s number of followers isn’t as important as we once thought.

According to Daniel Saynt, co-founder and CEO of Socialyte, “you’re going to see an increase in spend on the talents who drive results, not just the girls who are famous on Instagram.” Digital partnerships between brands and influencers have grown in popularity over the past few years, which has resulted in an inflated market where most companies can’t afford to pay a top influencer to promote their product. If a brand does manage to pull enough funds, the likelihood of keeping a longstanding relationship with the influencer is low solely because the ongoing price tag would be too much to handle. Therefore, these sponsored collaborations are more frequently being offered to micro-influencers as we shift our focus from fame and followers to engagement and audience.

Surprisingly, a micro-influencer with 50K followers can achieve higher engagement than that of an influencer with 1 million+ followers. “The high engagement and low costs for these campaigns help brands sell out of products and gain hundreds of new followers for a single activation,” says Daniel. Micro-influencers are in the unique position to work with brands, maintain scalable relationships with those brands, and produce better results than an influencer with twice the following can.

Not only do reoccurring activations appear more authentic, but they also create a sense of credibility for the influencer who continues to post about a particular brand, even if the content is obviously sponsored. “It’s much more effective to be a recognized, reoccurring brand featured on an influencer’s social channel. It demonstrates he or she really loves the product and isn’t just doing it for a paycheck,” Mark added. “The public is savvy. They know when a partnership isn’t organic, and that hurts both the brand’s and the talent’s credibility.” Not only are brands able to hire multiple micro-influencers for the price of one top-tier influencer, but the audience is more likely to believe a micro-influencer’s opinion because the partnership is organic.

Although the micro-influencer trend has taken over the digital industry as of recently, we need to remember that their future is still unclear. After all, the appeal of micro-influencers is that they have low social followings. But, what happens when they surpass the 150k mark? “At some point,” Mark added. “Micro-influencers will graduate to the next stage and make way for a new tier of micro-influencers. And at some point, the market will also say ‘enough.’” Until then, influencers will continue to diversify their brands by creating clothing lines, collaborating with brands, and increasing their social media presence, which ultimately opens the door for social media users to establish themselves as micro-influencers.

Why Snapchat's Influencer Economy Runs on Hot Tubs, Selfies, and Whey Protein

 

On a Wednesday morning in April, Caitlin O’Connor, a 26-year-old actress, drove herself to a mansion in the Coldwater Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles and took off most of her clothes. She spent the next few hours wearing a black bikini and sitting in a hot tub, speaking into a cell phone camera to an audience of several hundred thousand followers, mostly young men and teen boys. A viewer asked if she only dated guys with money. “I love girls who make their own money and don’t rely on men,” she replied. The shoot was for Woman Crush Wednesday, part of the regular programming on ArsenicTV, an underground broadcaster that’s the Next Big Thing in media.

You probably haven’t heard of Arsenic, which airs only on the Snapchat app. Other programming includes the Q&A 5 Snap Facts and Arsenic Flex, a workout segment. And even if you have, you may want to keep it to yourself. The content isn’t pornographic by Supreme Court standards, but as the name implies, Arsenic’s videos can feel a bit dangerous: Think of an American Apparel ad with many, many more thong shots filmed from what would be hard to call a respectful distance. Despite Arsenic having no special placement on Snapchat—it’s merely an account, not one of the channels managed by Vice Media, National Geographic, or People, for instance—its videos attract more than half a million views each in a 24-hour period. In March, Arsenic rebuffed a buyout offer from Playboy Enterprises. “We really like what they’re doing,” says Playboy Chief Executive Officer Scott Flanders. Instead of cashing out, Arsenic has raised money from tech investors. “Snapchat is the future of TV,” says Paige Craig, managing partner of Arena Ventures, who’s also backed Lyft. “And Arsenic is the company that is most adept at using it.”

Calling Arsenic a company is a bit generous. Although Craig was impressed by Arsenic’s audience numbers and message of empowerment—a woman, Amanda Micallef, co-founded the company; models produce their own shoots; and there’s more body-type diversity than you’d find in a lad mag—he says, “It was the longest due diligence process I’ve ever done.” Which makes sense: Arsenic is run out of the kitchen of CEO Billy Hawkins, 41, a Harvard Law School graduate and former Creative Artists Agency agent who previously represented Spike Lee. Micallef, 39, a former movie producer, casts each shoot, and five interns help with the cell phone camerawork. (Models control Arsenic’s Snapchat account during their shoots, editing and posting photos. “It’s driven by the model’s vision,” Micallef says. “They’re the boss of who they are and how they look.”) The only full-time employee manages the flow of portfolios that models submit—about 1,000 a day—for consideration. Given the enthusiasm, you’d expect Arsenic to pay big bucks. But O’Connor doesn’t make a cent in that hot tub: She appears once a week in exchange for the right to embed her social media handles on the videos she records. “Girls want to do Arsenic because they’re getting followers,” she says. “That’s the equity. In the long run, it means dollars.”

This math is becoming more and more commonplace in a media industry in the throes of disruption. O’Connor, who makes money hawking products on Instagram, represents a new kind of celebrity—and Arsenic a new kind of celebrity vehicle—and they’re working together to attract the young audiences conventional media doesn’t. The shifting appetites of a group that advertisers widely regard as the most valuable—young people have a lifetime of consumption ahead of them but haven’t always formed strong opinions about brands—have created an opening for “influencers.” They’re a curious group of former child stars (e.g., Hilary Duff), lesser Kardashians, and obscure up-and-comers like O’Connor who carve out careers as social media salespeople. If you’ve ever wondered why Instagram and Twitter feeds are full of attractive people talking about detox teas, diet shakes, and new apps, it’s because they’re paid to. They’re part of an advertising ecosystem that’s revolutionizing marketing, however confusing its dynamics seem to older generations accustomed to famous spokespeople on TV, usually not in a hot tub.

The Caitlin O’Connors of the internet are a vital part of this economy. Even though she’s a professional actor with a Screen Actors Guild card and has an IMDb page full of credits, O’Connor’s breakout role is as an online marketer. “Social media has 100 percent made my career,” says O’Connor, who moved to Los Angeles from Uniontown, Pa., 10 years ago. She has almost 300,000 Instagram followers, up from about 100,000 when she first appeared on Arsenic’s Snapchat. Because of that following, small brands pay her $300 per post to promote their wares. Recently, she’s talked up EMediaStar, an app developer; FlockU, a college-focused media company; and Recor, a nutrition supplement. (This typical post has received 5,812 likes and counting: “Follow @recornation … They have the best whey protein and pre workouts I’ve tried!!”) In a normal month, O’Connor grosses $6,000 to $10,000. “If you don’t see a line in my post that says, ‘Nobody paid me for this,’ then I’ve probably been paid for it.”

She maintains accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, but she makes most of her money on Instagram. Instagram is big with brands because it’s popular, with more than 400 million monthly users, and not especially keen on privacy. The app provides an application program interface that allows O’Connor’s sponsors to see how many followers she has, how many likes each post receives, and what people say about them. She also talks up sponsors on Snapchat, but for now, the social network’s structure—messages disappear after 24 hours, and there’s no way for a brand to verify how popular influencers are—prevents it from being a major source of income for her. Sponsorships for top players are common on video game platform Twitch and on Musical.ly, a make-your-own music video app, where the top user, a 15-year-old who goes by Baby Ariel, has 9 million followers and has created ads for Nordstrom and 21st Century Fox.

There are maybe 100,000 people like O’Connor, says Daniel Saynt, CEO of Socialyte, an agency specializing in casting influencers for ad campaigns. Rates vary widely: Someone with 100,000 followers might get $100 per post, while an internet-famous celebrity such as comedian Josh Ostrovsky, aka the Fat Jew, can easily pull in more than $5,000. Saynt, a former fashion blogger who later became chief marketing officer for Rebecca Minkoff, recently negotiated what he terms “six-figure” ad campaigns for Adam Gallagher, a men’s fashion stylist and model, and Marianna Hewitt, a beauty guru. Because campaigns that feature mega-influencers such as Kylie Jenner can reach into the millions, many talent agencies, including United Talent Agency and One Management, now have influencer divisions.

Representation agreements, however, are the exception in this world. O’Connor has a manager, but she makes most deals herself, contacting brands directly or going through apps such as Popular Pays or BrandSnob, online marketplaces where advertisers post gigs. “What Airbnb did for hospitality, we’re trying to do for advertising,” says Popular Pays founder Corbett Drummey. Recently, Popular Pays listed sponsorship opportunities for Macy’s and Core Organic, a low-cal soft drink whose name seems workshopped for millennials.

For now, many brands are sitting on the sidelines, wary that these professional influencers aren’t all that influential. “Unilever, Procter—they’re not there yet. That’s going to take two or three years,” says Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia, a new-media marketing agency that counts PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch InBev as clients. “Right now, you’ve got entrepreneurial people reaching out to these individuals on Instagram and paying through PayPal. It’s rugged.” Or brands are wary about fraud, which is rampant. Instagram followers can be purchased from dozens of shady services that, for about $50, will populate your feed with bots, doling out fake likes and generic comments (“Beautiful!!!”).

Saynt, of Socialyte, says he vets prospective spokespeople before hiring them. “If somebody has 100,000 followers but they’re only getting 1,000 likes per post, we assume 50 percent of their audience is inauthentic,” he says. Advertisers also struggle to walk the line between marketing and manipulation.

Some influencers label sponsored content with “#sponsored” or “#ad,” but those hashtags are often buried at the end of a post, and many people don’t bother marking sponsored posts at all. O’Connor doesn’t, she says—followers understand that most of her posts are paid.

Arsenic, for its part, has yet to make deals with marketers. It’s “pre-revenue,” CEO Hawkins says, using a tech catchphrase that essentially means, We’re figuring it out. Eventually, the plan is to work with advertisers and share proceeds with models. But Arsenic’s ambitions go beyond babes in bikinis: In April it launched ArsenicAudio, a music-focused Snapchat account featuring interviews with DJs that attract more than 50,000 daily viewers. “We want to be MTV in its glory days,” Hawkins says.

O’Connor says she hopes to use her status to follow the path of other social media stars such as Andrew Bachelor, known on the video-sharing app Vine as the comedian King Bach, and Colleen Evans, of YouTube’s Miranda Sings, who used their perches to win bigger roles on TV. “My goal is the mainstream,” O’Connor says. “I’d love to have a network comedy. I don’t feel like I’ve made it.” Some digital marketers argue that she’s got it backward. “The real celebrities are [the influencers],” Vaynerchuk says. “I’d much rather have a hit show on Snapchat than on NBC or ABC.”

Influencers Are Your Most Powerful Brand Advocates

Influencer marketing allows brands to connect with digital audiences in unprecedented ways. Consumers have developed deep connections with the bloggers and social media personalities they follow, and when marketers partner with these influencers, people see the brand through the eyes of someone they trust. Daniel Saynt, CEO and chief creative officer at influencer casting agency Socialyte, spoke with eMarketer’s Tricia Carr about the qualities of a successful influencer campaign and the big impact of Snapchat.

eMarketer: Why has influencer marketing become so popular?

Daniel Saynt: The main reason it has taken off is the authenticity that influencers offer. The female community especially, and even the male community, look for people that they can believe in, look more like them and define their skin tone, height and size. They look at influencers as real people who they can connect to.

eMarketer: What makes a blogger or social media user an influencer?

Saynt: We don’t start to work with an influencer unless they have 50,000 combined followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We don’t work with influencers unless the aesthetic of their content is appealing. We look at people who are the face of their brand, talk to their audience on a regular basis and have that direct connection with their audience vs. traditional, journalistic-style blogs.

eMarketer: What do brands look for in an influencer?

Saynt: Brands have very specific requests—comedic Viners, YouTube celebrities between the ages of 13 and 18 or someone with a surf lifestyle. We get requests for influencers that we never expected, especially within the fashion set. We get requests for popular dance troupes, singers and musicians on YouTube and young Hollywood stars with a substantial social media following on their own digital properties.

“We don’t start to work with an influencer unless they have 50,000 combined followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.”

eMarketer: Overall, which platform is the most influential?

Saynt: Snapchat will become the dominant platform within the next two years. The amount of video views is growing rapidly. It’s on the path to beat Facebook in terms of video views and closing in on YouTube’s numbers.

More brands are asking for Snapchat strategies and figuring out ways to be relevant there. It’s difficult for brands to create content there, so they work with influencers to feature products. If the content is not within the stream, it doesn’t have the same impact.

eMarketer: How do influencers maintain their authenticity while they work with brands?

Saynt: The top influencers are the ones who find it easiest to maintain authenticity. Once they get to a certain level, they get so many brand requests that they can pick and choose projects that make the most sense for them.

Smaller influencers might be trying to make a living or get as much out of the opportunities as possible early on. They tend to do a lot more projects with brands that they might not be passionate about. Their approach usually is, ‘I can make this work,’ and they figure out a smart way to style, display and photograph the product and editorialize it.

For the most part, influencers shouldn’t do projects that they don’t love. If it affects their audience and they get negative feedback, it’s not good for anyone in the long run.

eMarketer: What happens when consumers respond negatively to an influencer campaign?

Saynt: We worked closely with Abercrombie & Fitch through their continuous evolution. Early on, a lot of influencers didn’t want to work with the brand, and we understood the reasons why—there was a lot of controversy at the time. But we found influencers who remember loving the brand when they were younger and wanted an opportunity to rediscover it.

“More brands are asking for Snapchat strategies and figuring out ways to be relevant there. It’s difficult for brands to create content there, so they work with influencers to feature products.”

One influencer, a plus-size blogger, posted that she shopped there, and a lot of people attacked her for it [in the comments]. Everyone said, ‘How can you support a brand that doesn’t support plus-size?’ There was a lot of negativity, but the influencer talked back to her fans and said, ‘Look, I am plus-size, but I still found things there, and I love what I found.’ She defended the brand because she believed in the story she wrote.

When we ran secondary campaigns, we noticed that there were fewer negative comments, more “likes” and shares and more comments about discovery of the brand. People said, ‘I haven’t been to an Abercrombie in years—I would love to go check it out,’ or ‘I remember when I was younger I always loved them.’ There was a change in attitude over time as we worked with influencers and let them be the voice of the brand.

 

What the Internet Loses When Vine Shuts Down?

 

Among the internet phenomena Vine gave us: "on fleek," "Damn Daniel," "what are thoooose?!", "why the f -- you lyin" and duck army. (To say nothing of Cameron Dallas, Andrew Bachelor, Zach King, Lele Pons and a bevy of other Vine-born personalities.)

But Vine has been struggling for a while now, as we reported way back in July: Most of its top stars have actually abandoned the app within the past year, lured by larger audiences, and better monetization options, on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube. The app has lost its social cachet among teenagers, who aren't joining up at the rates they were before. And many of Vine's top executives departed, en masse, at the beginning of the summer.

"The allure of it has dropped off completely," one industry expert, Daniel Saynt, told The Washington Post at the time.

Read the Full Story

Is Ivanka Still an Influencer?

“Ivanka has long been followed for her style and she connects well to her fanbase, more so than the future First Lady,” says Daniel Saynt, cofounder and CEO of Socialyte, an influencer marketing agency. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s the face the fashion industry praises as the initial shock of a Trump presidency subsides, skipping over the robotic and seemingly stoic Melania for covers.”

Read the full story here. 

On Entering The China Market, The Future Of Retail And The Growing Importance of Bloggers

chinesefashion2012.jpg

The second day of talks at the Asia Fashion Summit in Singapore touched on several important topics, from the best social networking tools to doing business in China, from how Asians perceived luxury to where retail is headed.

According to Daniel Saynt, founder of Socialyte, an agency that connect bloggers to brands, the most effective social networking tools brands should concentrate on are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube, mainly because they have the bulk of the consumers. But in using these tools, he emphasized that you should not use them to market your brand. Instead, you should tell the story of your brand including who you are, what your journey has been like, where you’re heading, and what inspires you. Bloggers are great at story telling, of finding interesting angles that influence how people shop. Hence, there have been several brands, which have employed bloggers to develop their story online. The reason why bloggers have become so influential says Saynt is that they are the “reality stars of fashion,” consumers feel connected to them and to their worlds.

Daniel Castle of Iconix Brand Group, one of the largest apparel licensing companies in the world, told the crowd that companies, especially fashion labels, should approach the China market with caution. “The best advice for entering the China market is don’t enter unless you have a brand that has a strong history and global sales and wanted by the consumers. The Chinese consumers are not interested in taking a brand that’s not known. Partner with somebody who knows it. China has a million red tapes, rules and regulations. They can make it difficult for you to enter their market. Even if you are a Chinese owner you can have trouble launching a brand.”

As for future retail trends, the “go big or go home” mentality will no longer apply. According to Mercedes Gonzales of the Global Purchasing Group, “Small is the new big.” By this she meant that big box stores have become more of an inconvenience—time and space-wise—to busy consumers. What retailers need to address is how to create personalized service and products. To adapt a grass roots mentality. She also said that the senior citizen market should not be neglected because they have disposable income that they are spending on themselves. And to be truly successful, a retailer should look at selling its wares on more than one platform or channel. A combination of physical and e-commerce stores, which Gonzales referred to as “brick and click”, is the way of the future. This is important especially for those who only have online presence.

Ravi Thakran, of LVMH South East Asia and West Asia, the final speaker of the day reminded the mostly Asian group that luxury is not something new to Asia. That if you look at history, the very best silks and porcelain came from China. “Asia was the nerve center of luxury,” he said. While there is yet to be an Asian fashion brand that is of the Louis Vuitton and Hermes caliber, he emphasized that when it comes to luxury in the hospitality and airline industries, the brand names Banyan Tree, Aman, and Singapore Airlines are world leaders. What Asians need to do now is to readjust their concept luxury. “Being modern does not mean being western. Beautiful does not mean white,” he said referring to the Asia’s obsession with the west.

Fashion Brands Incorporate Bloggers in Outreach Design

As fashion bloggers gain more prominence among consumers, they are becoming an integral element of communications and marketing strategy for retail brands.

In addition to consistent out-reach to bloggers to secure influential product placements, brands are increasingly giving bloggers larger roles in their communications campaigns, from the creation of co-branded lines to ad spots to design input.

For example, designer Rebecca Minkoff incorporates bloggers into most aspects of marketing and social media engagement.

Blogger Leandra Medine of The Man Repeller has walked the Rebecca Minkoff runway. Jenni Radosevich of ISpy DIY has collaborated on in-store campaigns. Megs Mahoney Dusil from PurseBlog.com has participated in design collaborations, while others have contributed content on Minkette.com, the interactive hub of Rebecca Minkoff.

"Outreach to bloggers has helped us tap into the new influencer," says Daniel Saynt, marketing director at Rebecca Minkoff. "We see publishers that provide shoppers a vote of confidence in our brand and a trusted voice as having a huge effect on how we're perceived in our market."

Bloggers are often a go-to fashion source for girls looking for realistic style, Saynt explains. As opposed to rail-thin models, they often embrace imperfections, which can increase their appeal among consumers.

"Bloggers make fashion feel attainable," he says.

Extended outreach
Benefits aside, the company faces some challenges, such as finding bloggers with an authentic voice and determining which bloggers are a good fit for the brand.

"To combat that, we stretch our outreach to influencers on networks such as Polyvore, Instagram, and Lookbook.nu, choosing to go beyond the blog and looking at the ways these publishers influence our Minkettes," Saynt says.

Interacting with bloggers is a great way for communications professionals to establish reach for their clients, explains Katherine Barna, communications head at Tumblr.

"If you're doing marketing for a fashion brand, there's already a really engaged and interested community in that space," she says. "Why not be a part of it, interacting with the people who already care about the things you are trying to talk about?"

Tumblr is a highly visual platform with established communities across a number of verticals, so bloggers are often drawn to utilize the site to share content, thoughts, and ideas.

"It can drive buzz and attention from people who maybe weren't super aware of who you were," Barna says. "To interact directly with these tastemakers and influencers in the community is an amazing thing."

Bloggers not only represent consumers who are shopping in stores, but also have audiences that aspire to mimic their style, explains Karen Robinovitz, co-founder and chief creative officer at social media agency Digital Brand Architects.

"Most important is finding the right blogger with the right audience who can actually convert for you," she says. "It's really imperative to understand not just who the blogger is, but also who is reading the blog."

Stars of the show

TJ Maxx
Lindsey Calla of style blog Saucy Glossie was featured in a TV ad where she gave budget shopping tips.

Schick
Kelly Framel of The Glamourai style blog helped design a razor.

H&M
Swedish fashion blogger Elin Kling launched a co-branded fashion line.

Urban Outfitters
Jane Aldridge of the Sea of Shoes blog collaborated on a footwear line

Closer relationships
Consumers who frequent the blogosphere will often purchase products they see on blogs, so it can be a powerful place to gain product recognition. Similar to traditional media relations, it's important to keep relationships personal and tailored to each individual.

"You really have to understand the detailed nuanced approach to who they are and then figure out how to work with them," Robinovitz says.

She adds that the relationship between a brand and retailer should always have an organic feel, from both the outreach side and the content perspective.

"The truer everybody stays to who they are and the more open minded and creative they are able to be, the better it is," advises Robinovitz.

Doug Zarkin, VP of marketing for apparel firm Kellwood Co., says bloggers are a vital part of a core marketing strategy.

"Bloggers have evolved from a nice-to-have to a need-to-have," he suggests.

Zarkin's company takes a proactive approach to communications, which often includes providing bloggers with early, frequent, or exclusive access to products.

"It's not a one-size-fits-all," he says. "We're very strategic in how and who we approach."

How to Make Your Fortune Writing About Stuff You Love

 

Kat Williams sits at home in her pyjamas with her pink hair and tattoos and writes about stuff she likes.

What she mainly likes are weddings.

This earns her, at the age of 30, between £100,000 and £200,000 a year.

And despite having written about weddings for the past seven years she still does not get bored looking at veils and rings and cake decorations.

"I get excited about weddings. I see a couple in love and they're doing something creative and inspiring," she says.

"I was just obsessed with weddings. And into over-sharing on the internet."

RockNRoll Bride was one of the first blogs in the UK to focus on the lucrative topic of marriage.

Since then it has drawn in thousands of visitors who want something other than the cookie-cutter weddings in the glossy magazines.

Kat publishes pictures of real weddings that she thinks show originality.

For example, the bride who told guests they were invited to a birthday party, but then halfway through the evening changed into a wedding dress and got married.

Then there was the bride who was wheeled to her wedding (at a cemetery) in a coffin, which Kat says was "some kind of symbolism involving rebirth".

The blog gets about 600,000 views per month.

For potential advertisers, that's a marriage made in heaven - 600,000 pairs of eyes that are immediately contemplating spending a lot of money on a very precise range of products: a dress, a ring, flowers, a holiday, stationery, hairstyling, make up, suits and shoes.

Mummy bloggers

But it is not just high visitor numbers that are attracting companies to work with bloggers.

It's not about being interesting. It's the mundane [things] people want to read about

Susanna Scott, Blogger and co-founder of Britmums

Advertisers have identified a big advantage in spreading their message via the friend-next-door, coffee-morning culture of the blogosphere.

Known sometimes dismissively as mummy bloggers, there is a growing army of women documenting the humdrum of their everyday lives, attracting readers desperate to know they're not the only ones tackling teething, toddler tantrums or troublesome teens.

And they are writing with humour and personality - siren calls to the marketing men.

"Brands of course are dying to get their hands on these women because it's all about authentic voices, native content, storytelling," says Susanna Scott, a blogger herself and co-founder of Britmums, an annual conference for parent bloggers.

And the stories don't have to be about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. How to cook fish fingers does just as well, she says.

"It's not about being interesting. It's the mundane [things] people want to read about. It's the 'Aha!' moment when you read and think, 'It's not just me!'"

How to write a blockbuster blog

  • Write about something you love
  • Find your own individual voice
  • Tell a story
  • Post every day if possible
  • Don't just blog: use other social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube

Daniel Saynt, chief executive of Socialyte

Adventure

Mummy bloggers are cottoning on to the growing opportunities afforded by the marketing men - test-drive a new car for a few weeks, tickets to music festivals, meals out, free clothes, cosmetics, toys and travel - simply in exchange for writing a positive review.

Kirstie Pelling, her husband and three children have just been to Dubai and are about to set off for the Philippines and Japan.

The couple make a full-time living writing about their adventures on the road, in their blog, The Family Adventure Project.

You are going into a world where you are a public figure, where people are going to have negative comments

Daniel Saynt, Chief executive, Socialyte

"We make money through sponsored posts and advertising. We also work with brands, delivering material for their website or their campaigns," says Kirstie.

The Pellings have been to more than 25 countries paid for by Kirstie's blogging.

But it's not just writing. These days a successful blogger must post on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook as well as maintaining their original blog site. Where possible they should also be shooting video and maintaining a Youtube channel.

"You have to be across absolutely everything," says Kirstie Pelling. "We have to work quite hard."

Best-placed

Women bloggers like Kat and Kirstie are only likely to increase their money-making muscle, if the US experience is anything to go by.

There, the most influential bloggers have become celebrities in their own right, earning $1m (£585,000) a year or more.

Even lower profile writers can earn several thousand dollars for a single brand collaboration, according to Daniel Saynt, chief executive of Socialyte, a casting agency for bloggers, based in New York, and specialising in the fashion industry.

Thanks to social media, he says, marketers suddenly have many more channels to fill and not enough content.

And women bloggers are often best-placed to supply it. Women tend to control the household budget, choose the family car and the annual holiday, so female readers are the target audience, says Mr Saynt. And women have a higher engagement around social media.

In the US, Calvin Klein is currently experiencing a "viral moment", says Mr Saynt after asking bloggers (both male and female) to submit pictures of themselves in their underwear with the hashtag #mycalvins.

And last year, after Abercrombie and Fitch was accused online of ignoring larger customers, Socialyte helped them counter the negative talk by hiring dozens of ordinary bloggers, including plus-size women, to write about the brand.

'Reality TV star' bloggers

But while demand for bloggers is growing, it doesn't mean anyone can do it.

It still helps to be young, attractive and wealthy and have a lifestyle that others aspire to. And you have to be prepared to sacrifice your privacy, says Mr Saynt.

"You are going into a world where you are a public figure, where people are going to have negative comments.

"In a lot of ways [bloggers] have become the reality TV stars of fashion and beauty because they're sharing a very intimate portrait into who they are."

And if you want to make the big time, you have to take it seriously.

"You have to run it as a business, 100%, not as a hobby," he says.

"If you approach it as a hobby and think you are going to get somewhere, that's just not the case."

 

Rebecca Minkoff Hires a Blogger to Helm Marketing

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Fashion bloggers: They are the future. They may be confined to designated last-row blogger benches at shows (which labels could never do with editors from rival publications, mind you), and be cordoned off at blogger lunches, tweet-a-thons, and other events designated for their species only, but their influence only strengthens. Sweden's personally styled blogging superstar Elin Kling is collaborating with H&M on a collection, and now Rebecca Minkoff has hired Daniel Saynt, the founder of the blog Fashion Indie, to serve as her chief marketing officer, starting today.

Minkoff writes in an e-mail: "We feel bloggers and social media are playing a key role in the quickly changing industry, and we are shaping future marketing initiatives around these channels. Daniel's experience will be an invaluable asset to Rebecca Minkoff moving forward. We plan to be a leader in the democratization of fashion, and Daniel will help guide us in that path.

Fashion Brands Embracing Social Media

On Friday, we spoke with Daniel Saynt about fashion brands, their use of social media, and their engagement with the blogger community. Saynt is editor-in-chief of FashionIndie.com and They Envy.US. With the very recent acquisition of Fashion Indie Media by LookBooks.com, Saynt also became the director of social media of that company.

According to Saynt, the fashion industry is embracing social media and fashion bloggers “as a means to connect” with their audiences. Saynt has worked with design label Rebecca Minkoff, and uses that brand and others to discuss the growing use of digital outreach in fashion campaigns. (Take a look at yesterday’s post about the H&M/Lanvin collaboration for further proof.)

First Seen in AdWeek

Who Am I Wearing? Funny You Should Ask

PIVOTING smartly, a hand on her hip, the better to show off her pipette jeans, Laura Ellner seemed the incarnation of street style. As she posed at Lincoln Center Plaza on Day 1 of New York Fashion Week last Thursday, a brace of cameras clicked and whirred, each competing to catch her performance.

And what a performance it was, as cannily staged as any red carpet promenade. But then, for Ms. Ellner, a fashion blogger, the stakes were just as high.

She was hoping to burnish her image (she poses routinely on On the Racks, her style blog) and to appear on a flurry of similar sites. She was also sharing the spotlight with her bag, a roomy multizippered affair that she readily identified as a Kelsi Dagger duffel from by Pour La Victoire, the leather goods company where she works.

“I always like when I’m being shot by street photographers, to call out the different pieces I’m wearing,” Ms. Ellner said.

As the week progressed, dozens of similar scenes were being played out all around the city in the twice-yearly outdoor style show that competes, and indeed sometimes eclipses, the action on the runways. In front of Milk Studios, on the piers along the Hudson, and at other locations where shows were staged, scores of fashion hopefuls, mostly female, mostly young, preened for the cameras, apparently vying for their 15 seconds of fame on Instagram, Tumblr or one of the dozens of fashion blogs proliferating on the Web.

Was it only a couple of years ago that these showily outfitted swans — stylists, bloggers, fashion editors and style-struck students — click-clacked on the pavements, showing off a mash-up of vintage clothes, fast fashion and high-end labels in what used to be seen as a commerce-free zone?

Today many of them are Web icons, trotting out their finery for scores of fans. But what they are parading as street style — once fashion’s last stronghold of true indie spirit — has lately been breached, infiltrated by tides of marketers, branding consultants and public relations gurus, all intent on persuading those women to step out in their wares.

“These girls are definitely billboards for the brands,” said Tom Julian, a fashion branding specialist in New York City, one of a handful engaged in a particularly stealthy new form of product placement. “People still think street style is a voice of purity,” Mr. Julian said. “But I don’t think purity exists any more.”

Neither for established brand nor newcomers eager to get a foot in the door. “Most young designers don’t have the resources to hire high-powered PRs or have access to important editors and stylists,” said Philip Oh, a street photographer, “so lending their clothes to friends and supporters who will get photographed is a great way to get noticed by both the industry and consumers.”

As Christene Barberich, the editor of the fashion site Refinery29, said, “more and more this is being recognized as a business.” There are products to be flogged and, Ms. Barberich added, “stars to be made.”

Style beacons like Josephine P., as she prefers to be known, who fanned out her Champagne-toned hair and turned up at Milk Studios on Saturday in a pair of platform sandals from her employer, Nicholas Kirkwood. Or Ella Catliff, the comely young publisher of La Petite Anglaise, a style blog, who stood nearby, brandishing an Anya Hindmarch bag. It was borrowed, Ms. Catliff said, from Ms. Hindmarch’s showroom in London, to promote the label during Fashion Week. Or Nicole Warne, an Australian blogger, wearing a gift from a designer friend, Alice McCall.

Branding consultants estimate that popular bloggers and other so-called influencers can earn $2,000 to $10,000 for a single appearance in their wares. More typically, though, “If you give them a gift card of $1,000 and you pay their expenses, that’s a good quid pro quo,” Mr. Julian said.

To some designers, the marketing clout of fashion bloggers can equal or surpass that of a red carpet ingénue.

“We all know that there are celebrity endorsement deals,”said Karen Robinovitz, the founder and creative head of Digital Brand Architects, an agency representing fashion bloggers. “On some level this is a piece of the same thing.”

Michelle Stein, whose firm AEFFE represents Moschino, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alberta Ferretti and other luxury labels, routinely makes loans or gifts to high-visibility style influencers. Women like Hanneli Mustaparta, the model turned blogger, or Taylor Tomasi Hill are “new kinds of celebutantes,” Ms. Stein said. “When we give those kind of people our clothes we expect them to say who they’re wearing.”

Indeed what once was a quasi-covert, somewhat haphazard operation is now out in the open and strategically planned. Seeding new or long-established designer labels into the street style mix “is a new way of doing PR,” said Daniel Saynt, a partner in a year-old agency that negotiates deals between brands and tastemakers. “We watch for the people most likely to be photographed outside the shows,” Mr. Saynt said. “Our job is to make sure they have on the right products at the right time.”

During Fashion Week, Socialyte, through its marketing arm, Trendsparks, is managing about 200 placements, he said, for 18 fashion brands and retailers. Among them are limited-edition lines from Pink & Pepper, Vera Wang and Pour La Victoire.

“Few people realize that certain bloggers and seemingly random posers are modeling for a fee,” Mr. Saynt said. “But even those who are aware don’t always understand the degree to which we orchestrate these placements.”

At times even the most casual-looking snaps boast the production values of a full-scale magazine shoot. “We use stylists, we do color correction and Photoshopping, we scout locations every day,” Ms. Robinovitz said. “It often takes hours just to find the perfect street corner.”

A well-conceived placement serves the bottom line. “We keep hearing that if we reach 10,000 people through a half-dozen online bloggers,” Mr. Julian said, “we’re much better targeted, because we’re reaching the people who actually shop.”

Using bloggers, Twitter or Instagram, “we can look at the number of user interactions,” said Jimmy Hagan, a spokesman for Nanette Lepore. “The results are more trackable than print.”

That may not come as news to Coach, which recently enlisted Natalie Joos, a blogger and model casting director, to model on its Web site. Ms. Joos exploits her growing popularity on her own blog, Tales of Endearment, and others to promote the brands she admires. As she posed in front of Lincoln Center last week, she identified the wispy pale lavender dress she wore as by Karla Spetic, a little-known Australian designer. Pressed, she acknowledged it was lent by Ms. Spetic’s showroom.

“Natalie presented us with the opportunity of gaining further exposure for the brand,” said Lia-Belle King, Ms. Spetic’s publicist. “We felt she, more than anyone else, embodies the feeling of excitement and fun, that her personal sense of fashion was similar to ours.”

Of course, not everyone is for hire. “I’ve turned up in hotel rooms where I find racks of clothing,” said Susie Lau of the blog Style Bubble.

The much-photographed Ms. Lau usually, though not always, ignores such tacit invitations, she said. Like her fellow bloggers, she is required by law to disclose on her site which items she features are gifts or loans.

But on the streets of Manhattan no such restrictions seem to apply. And even Ms. Lau acknowledged that she sometimes wears clothes as a favor to their makers. The arrangements are never commercial, she said. “I work with brands I like, when there is already a relationship.”

Even mega merchants like H&M have taken to gaming the streets. WhenAnna Dello Russo, the studiedly flamboyant blogger and the editor at large for Vogue Japan, stretched her legs outside the shows this week, she wore the brazenly ornamented accessories she created in a new collaboration with the retail chain, showing off, among other items, her H&M cat’s-eye sunglasses with glittering alligators on the brow.

The retailer had not until now collaborated with an editor or blogger. When the company approached her, “I was surprised,” Ms. Dello Russo said. She declined to say how much she was paid.

Parading products at the shows is in her view a fresh way of doing business. “It’s new approach to communication,” Ms. Dello Russo said, “and part of the culture of our time.”