The Network of Networkers: An Analysis of Fashion Bloggers and their Knowledge Ties
Sonja SperberIn recent years, the frequency of new trends in the fashion industry has accelerated immensely. This has led to an ephemeral release of a higher number of collections per year and shortened product developing cycles (cf. Choi, 2013). Based on this development, the significance of novelty in the products and the occurrence of trends has increased over time (cf. Hines & Bruce, 2011). This ephemerality results in a shift from the traditional seasonal production model (Arrigo, 2010) towards a “system of innovation” (Breward, 2003).
A closer observation of the innovation-leading players within this industry therefore is of importance. Besides the producing companies, these are two main interest groups: while the consumers’ opinion has an immense influence on trends and hence the organizational development of innovations (Bogers, Afuah, & Bastian, 2010; Brockhoff, 2003), also the fashion bloggers’ high impact has been acknowledged for some time (cf. Krietsch, 2012) but has not yet been scientifically analyzed. Their influence is based on their position as opinion leaders (cf. Cho, Hwang, & Lee, 2010) which grants them attention from followers and fashion companies likewise. Particularly when considering the prevalent assumption that fashion trends significantly emerge ‘on the streets’ (Steele, 2000), bloggers gain importance as opinion-leading and highly connected knowledge players.
In times of growing digitization and the global interconnectedness of players, it has to be assumed that the blogger is not acting as a ‘lone repository of knowledge’, but – as the theory on Social Network Analysis assumes – that the (dyadic) tie relationships contribute highly important information and knowledge to the individual. Therefore, it is this analysis’ value to detect the bloggers’ network structure concerning new knowledge in order to investigate the source of information which can eventually impact the whole industry. Within this qualitative Ego Network Analysis (e.g. Fischer, 1982), which was conducted between November 2017 and April 2019 with a sample of N=21 in-depth interviews with bloggers based in Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, the name generator was used to detect the blogger’s contacts based on a network map (Burt, 1984, 1997) while the name interpreter was applied to gather information on contacts, f.e. on contact frequency and trust.
The results of the analysis show that the network size of knowledge-relevant ties is surprisingly low, especially when considering the bloggers’ global network. The results further demonstrate a high level of intimacy within the tie relationship. Only few contacts have been indicated by the bloggers as ‘less intimate’, which are those contacts who are only existent for a short duration and therefore no deep level of intimacy is established. Moreover, it is shown that the bloggers’ egocentric network to a significant part consists of contacts which until now have been primarily downstream in the blogger’s flow of information, e.g. PR agents and journalists. However, according to the study’s results, these actors hold a significant role in the upstream information flow and significantly contribute to the bloggers’ acquisition of knowledge. Implications of the results are discussed from both research and managerial perspective.