WIWT launches and networks of shared interest

So fashion social network WIWT has publicly launched today after a beta period, and I’ve been checking it out after agreeing to upload at least one image of myself.

Founder Poppy Dinsey has done a pretty impressive job of publicising both the original blog and the launch WIWT (What I Wore Today) as a social network, but in case you haven’t seen it, the original blog began with her uploaded what she wore every day, with the plan of doing it for a year (I can’t quite remember if it involved a bet or a dare), and is now an open social network which allows anyone to upload photos of their outfits, and browse/follow/rate everyone else.

I’ve been following the progress fairly closely because after crossing paths online and at Twestival amongst other places, Poppy had the great idea to put a call out online and spend a week meeting up with all kinds of people working in digital and business in London, and I was able to chat over coffee. I’m pretty sure I was just one of the many people that week who thought it would be a logical and great idea to open up posting outfits and connecting/sharing in a simple and easy way. And it’s been cool to see it all coming together from the outside and observe how it’s gone.

So is WIWT any good?

Simple answer is yes. It’s pretty easy to use, although I haven’t been able to take advantage of the WIWT iPhone app. Upload 1-3 pics per day of the outfit you’re wearing, tag it, add links to buy it, and you’re done. Assuming you don’t spend ages checking out other people, following friends, and building up a list of clothes you really should buy.

I’m not qualified to talk about the design aesthetically, but it certainly works smoothly and logically from a user perspective, and probably one of my favourite elements is that every piece of text on the site comes across with great tone and character e.g:

‘Can I post more than once a day? I’ve had six outfit changes just through dinner.

No, sorry. We’re pretty strict about only one post per user per day. If you want to be a smartarse then you can take advantage of the fact that we allow three photos per post and upload three different outfits. We won’t tell you off if you do that.

Networks of shared interest:

What makes WIWT really interesting is that it’s built from the ground up.  It came from a very simple blog, and has grown into a social network. The idea of snapping ‘ordinary’ people on the street and publishing their outfits started in magazines years ago (including titles I’ve worked with such as Heat), but building up a community around a blog and then expanding it to allow everyone to get involved gives it a very different feel and experience. It’s not a top down selection, and although there’s one filter for ‘Editor’s Choice’ on the site, it’s forgiveable because it’s mainly based on user ratings, and you feel like Poppy herself is picking out the user outfits she really likes, rather than an anonymous member of an editorial team somewhere.

It’s why niche networks of interest can continue to thrive despite the ubiquity of the big social network giants (Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc). Browsing through the site you can see almost everyone (myself excepted) has got a keen interest in fashion, and that includes a slightly surprising number of male uploaders.

Lessons for communities and brands:

  • Start small and build up – a small thriving village or online community feels like something you want to be a part of. A huge empy city or community feels like something you want to get out of straight away. Too many larger brands adopt a ‘build it and they will come’ approach, and don’t see any benefit in small numbers of highly engaged people involved.
  • Personality – Poppy’s blog didn’t particularly follow any SEO rules or marketing plan. And although she’s undoubtedly very attractive, there are lots and lots of pretty women on the internet. What worked was that her personality came across in every single post and message, and she’s genuinely personable and funny. That’s what made her posts about dressing down or having to visit a hospital as interesting as those featuring her in a glamourous and revealing dress.
  • Alignment – Many of her outfits are from the high street – that means anyone can aspire and achieve the same thing. Inspirational content is something magazines have done well for years, but personally I got incredibly fed up on men’s magazines with fashion features starting with the lowest prices for even a shirt in three figures. I’ll spend a large amount on clothes occasionally, but with a business, family and other commitments, I’m not going to want to do that every month.
  • Be clever about reaching out – Poppy made great use of a packed week in London meeting everyone she could. From a logical perspective, I’m sure she could have skipped quite a few to focus on the most ‘important’ people. And in the build-up to the beta and launch, she’s done a good job of using varius ways to keep in touch with everyone and encourage them to get involved. I certainly wouldn’t upload photos of myself to a fashion site, but felt fairly comfortable doing it on WIWT.

There’s some stuff I wonder about, and I’m sure the site will continue to evolve now it’s public. It’d be interesting to know how many people are actually including links to purchase their outfits at the moment, and whether sharing a percentage of affiliate revenue would improve that, or possibly detract from the community aspect for example.

But at the moment, I’m just thinking it might help me make more of a sartorial effort when working in the home office, and hoping that at some point, some of my favourite clothing brands in motorcycling and vintage denim etc might check it out and get involved.

And I’m reminded of this talk that I gave a shocking two years ago now…