"Don't buy followers," is Los Angeles-based fashion blogger Jacey Duprie's top tip for budding bloggers in the Middle East. If you aren't familiar with the world of professional fashion blogging and Instagram posting, then this may seem like common sense. But as more and more digital enthusiasts are attracted to the glamorous lives depicted by influencers on social media, many are paying for perceived popularity.
Five years ago, the fashion-blogging scene was ripe and roomy, with style-savvy storytellers creating journal-style websites or blogs. Social media has given them a chance to further promote content and direct traffic back to their blogs. But as the quantity of bloggers has increased, in many cases, the quality has plummeted, and many are skipping blogs altogether, and instead just posting images of their outfits or belongings on social media, with a few fast words and a handful of hashtags as captions.
Duprie has posted more than 5,000 images on her own Instagram, where she has 435,000 followers. Recent posts give a glimpse into her privileged life: sitting poolside at the Kempinski Hotel in Dubai, a seat at the Chanel show at Paris Fashion Week, in the backseat of a Lexus dressed in Gucci – you get the picture. Many of her images are advertisements for various brands, meaning that she is paid to post them. So what makes Duprie any more qualified than the new influx of style bloggers? Well, for one, she is a trained writer, with a degree in journalism.
Raised in a family of cotton farmers in a small town near Corpus Christi, Texas, Duprie decided that journalism was her calling, and moved to Chicago for university. "I wanted to study journalism originally because growing up in such a conservative area, it felt like the most creative avenue that I could pursue, while still being respected among my family and peers. Not a lot of people left the state of Texas, at least where I grew up, so for me to go off and pursue journalism was a little different," she explains. "But I've always been a writer; I've always kept journals, since I can remember, and it's something I'm very passionate about."
When Duprie launched her blog, Damsel in Dior, in 2009, while working for E! News, it was as a side interest; a creative outlet for her to share her personal style. "Back then, bloggers weren't a 'thing'," she says. "My colleagues encouraged me to start a blog because they wanted to see what I was buying, and that's kind of how it started." It was when photographs taken during her honeymoon in Bali were published on her blog that Duprie's number of followers spiked, and in 2011, she turned to blogging full-time.
Duprie started blogging the old-fashioned way, with thoughtful anecdotes and information accompanying the images she posted online. A year later, she caught on to the importance of social media, and joined Instagram. "I was so late to Instagram, but it was good because it helped me build an authentic following on my blog first," she says.
She flew to Dubai earlier this month to take part in the second edition of Simply Stylist in the UAE. The fashion and beauty conference is held in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, and debuted in Dubai last year. It aims to provide a space where fashion and beauty entrepreneurs and personalities can network and learn from one another. In Dubai, alongside regional influencer Karen Wazen, Duprie spoke about networking, consistency and making a blog profitable.
"We're trying to educate people about how to go from this region to the rest of the world, and how to be a brand," says Lisseth Villalobos, global director of AzDef Production Group, which brought Simply Stylist to Dubai. "It's an open discussion that's safe and fun."
I speak to Duprie ahead of her talk, and she explains that maintaining a well-established online portal is like handling your own small business. In addition to blog posts, Damsel in Dior has a shop section which links to various stores and e-tailers. For this, items must all be manually embedded, and Duprie also tracks analytics. "We really like to be hands-on in following up with brands after posting something, to let them know what has sold, and in how many quantities," she explains. As her blog gained popularity, Duprie hired employees, and has since had to build professional relationships with managers, photographers, website developers, agents and even lawyers.
"To anybody who says: 'Why is blogging hard? Blogging is so easy, it's not a real job' – I invite them to follow me around for 24 hours," she says. "I'm constantly working. There is no 'off' switch. I don't have hours." Although there are plenty of perks she enjoys, Duprie has had to learn about business management to keep her site constantly updated and technologically relevant. "It's fantastic because you have your own schedule, and you can travel and do amazing things such as this conference in Dubai, but it's also a double-edged sword because you're running your own small business – you have employees, you have accounting and you're reading management books," she says. "I never thought in a million years I'd be managing employees or reading about business management, and here I am, thankfully, but you have to teach yourself everything that goes into running a small business. You're just constantly juggling things to just try and keep afloat."
While her Instagram posts may also bring in money, Duprie's social media is secondary. Many bloggers, and Insta-bloggers (bloggers who simply post on Instagram and don't update a dedicated blog) suffered as a result of last year's Instagram algorithm change, which put a stop to the app's chronological feed order, and made it harder for a user's posts to get seen by all of his or her followers. "They put all of their eggs into one basket," Duprie says. She asserts that your own website is the only thing that you have complete control of.
There is much controversy around the fact that fashion bloggers often endorse particular products, but don't make it clear when they are paid to do so. Earlier this year, Instagram announced that it would take measures to increase transparency – a change that Duprie welcomes, claiming that she is "an open book". A good number of her posts clearly feature the hashtag "#ad" in the captions.
Currently, a great disconnect exists between traditional journalists and new-age bloggers. Last year, Vogue.com wrote a scathing critique about fashion bloggers, who it says have infiltrated fashion weeks. "Rather than a celebration of any actual style, it seems to be all about turning up, looking ridiculous, posing, twitching in your seat as you check your social-media feeds, fleeing, changing, repeating ... It's all pretty embarrassing," wrote Vogue's Alessandra Codinha.
Duprie sees both sides. "I get it – I completely understand," she says. But she also points out some of the hypocrisy behind the controversy. "You'll have a Condé Nast magazine writing an article about how they hate bloggers, but then they'll pay them to post. So it's a little bit contradictory, but I think eventually, with time, it will come full circle," she says.Duprie believes that the divide between traditional journalists and bloggers will reduce as a result of more editors and publications joining and using social media. "I think as time goes on, more and more journalists and fashion editors are getting followers on Instagram and blogs, and they're starting to see: 'Oh this is what it's like, this is kind of nice' – so I'm actually hoping that will be what merges the gap," she says.