The Eternal Newspaper

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2011 at 8:00 am

It’s so hard to know how to introduce a post about men’s fashion on a website about writing.

Blogging can be a topic, a genre of writing (possibly a subset of journalism, though I don’t subscribe to that myself) and an activity in its own right, but it can also be an aspect of some other activity or topic. If you’re into fashion, you can be into fashion, wear the fashion you prefer, and also…you can blog about fashion. Of course one could always talk about the things one does, but blogging is a little more persistent. It creates a locus around which a permanent discussion orbits, a hard record of that discussion, and a circle of participants much, much larger than brickspace is generally capable of.

Since nothing gets advertisers happy in their pants like positive word of mouth, especially when “word of mouth” involves several million people on a social media platform, the quest continues for the best possible way to harness the internet to one’s bidding. How to start a meme or send a post or video viral is something nobody one hundred percent understands — definitely not me, and I’ve had journal posts go viral twice. With The .doc File Of J Alfred Prufrock I’ve almost broken out the formula, but only because of specific circumstance. Lacing a massively beloved poem with injokes that people who love the poem will understand — so that they get to experience both the poem and the jokes in a new light — naturally hits a broad range of readers. But I didn’t design it to do that, it just happened, and I can’t recreate the effect intentionally.

It is nearly impossible to reproduce the conditions that cause a viral video in a lab.

That said, there was a recent and very successful attempt at harnessing brickspace and the internet together for PR purposes: the Paul Stuart Window Project.

Here’s what happened: Paul Stuart, a clothing company specializing in high-end menswear, has a flagship store in New York, on Madison Avenue. This autumn, they opened up some of their windows to outside decorators: the Fashion Director for Esquire, the Social Media Editor at Park & Bond, and two of the top menswear bloggers on the internet. As The Coe Journal pointed out, they essentially got into blogging without getting a blog. What they ended up with, in fact, was four blogs.

The Coe Journal has some really interesting things to say in that post about how to execute this properly, both in the world of fashion blogging and in the virtual world at large. The nice thing about the internet is that it’s much more easy to measure how much concrete influence any given “personality” has, because you can gauge pingbacks, hits, friends, and other scales of how many people Point A is sending to Point B. So this is a reasonably sound strategy: find someone with influence in your sphere and engage them in discussing your product. It appears to have had good results for Paul Stuart.

I like what it says about where blogging is heading, too, because any alliance between brickspace corporation and virtual hobbyist is going to imply a certain degree of respect (even if it’s only based on self-interest) and, deriving from that respect, the ability to effect change. The internet can be looked at as the place where Op-Ed and front page meet: when someone screws up on the internet there’s no longer time to plan spin. You can’t wait till the morning to respond. You can’t wait more than an hour to respond, if that. And that gives the people with the #fail hashtag an enormous amount of power to guide corporate policy.

It’s not a fast process, but inch by inch corporations are democratizing their patrons because they can’t afford not to. When a representative of your company is rude or unhelpful to someone with a readership in the hundreds of thousands, and you don’t respond to their complaints, that story will probably circle back to you pretty fast on the wings of emails from people who are now aware that they have better places to spend their money than yours. When you run an ad that’s thoughtless or offensive, you can’t assume “no publicity is bad publicity” anymore, because it’s like a zillion newspapers just ran nasty articles about what you did and those articles will be pinned up on public noticeboards forever.

I hope that tons of companies see what Paul Stuart is doing and emulate it, preferably following the guidelines The Coe Journal lays out. I would love to see a commercial space where intelligent, coherent writers who have spent time and thought on the products they represent are given an opportunity to work with those products creatively and promote them in more substantial fashion than a simple endorsement or banner ad. It seems like a win-win to me.


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