Kimberley Jev used to love curling up in her bedroom and blogging about her favourite subject, fashion.
A worship and knowledge of the industry, some experience in the retail industry and a broad network of contacts, led Jev to start Calgary Fashion in 2007.
A little more than two years later, Jev watched in awe as the number of daily page views on her site, CalgaryFashion.ca, climbed to an average of 6,000 during her coverage of the first Alberta Fashion Week held Oct. 4-10.
"It's crazy!" Jev said. "We are at the stage right now where we can only go higher and higher and can't go back."
Calgary Fashion creator Kimberley Jev takes in the runway show at Alberta Fashion Week. Jev's blog, calgaryfashion.ca, averaged 6,000 hits per day during the event.
Photo: Faby Martin/Calgary Fashion
The 24-year-old former Calgary Journal writer turned fashionista never dreamed she could morph her love of all things hats, scarves, boots and pleats into a business, but she’s well on her way.
Jev initially used the free service BlogSpot for her site. Over the past two years she has brought seven fellow fashion enthusiasts, including reporters, photographers, webdesigners and videographers, on board. Jev estimates that she herself spends 60-70 hours each week working on the site.
The group's hard work is seems to be paying off, a quick Google search for "Calgary fashion" puts Jev's site at No. 1 in returned results.
In recent months, Calgary Fashion has begun fielding calls from advertisers eager to market on the site.
Beyond this, Jev said Calgary Fashion's exposure has allowed the brand to diversify beyond the mould of a traditional media group.
"Calgary Fashion is unique because not only are we a media group, we are a consulting agency," Jev said, noting that recently she has begun promoting local designer Caitlin Power.
"I think nowadays you can't rely on advertising alone to make the big millions."
Jev is still developing a revenue base. She admits that retaining a personal salary has been a struggle, and notes that Calgary Fashion contributors work on a volunteer basis.
However, she says the contacts her staff make working in the field have led to many employment opportunities.
"We find avenues that do pay," Jev said. "It's very hard to stay motivated and not burn out when working on just one thing. If you allow them (the staff) to spread out and try new things it keeps their creativity up, keeps them going."
Jev says her business model represents a new way for smaller media brands to compete with bigger groups that have more staff and an already-established base of loyal consumers.
"Things are changing now, indeed, companies like the Calgary Herald and CBC are our competition because any event we go to cover we are generally trying to do a better job than anybody out there," she says.
Upstarts gain leg up using social media
The young entrepreneur believes many of the larger media entities in town are dropping the ball when it comes to communicating with consumers through social media.
"I think with a paper like the Calgary Herald, it's such a huge entity that they forget to connect with the public at times," Jev said.
The Herald currently has just 140 fans on its general Facebook page, however, nearly 3,000 people follow the publication on Twitter.
Jev attributes much of her success to constant promotion through social media forums, namely Facebook.
"By creating a Facebook group and communicating to people I knew through that. . . that's when I saw the interest really grow," she said.
At last check, Jev now has more than 1,400 fans on Calgary Fashion's Facebook page. She also has roughly 150 followers on the site's official Twitter account (@Calgary_Fashion) and nearly 450 on her personal account (@Kimleestar), which she also uses for promotion.
"It’s really just is about your drive and ability to push things on people," Jev says. "Even though I am not always online, I probably mention CalgaryFashion.ca about 30 times a day."
Estimates put the number of Twitter accounts in the tens of thousands for "yyc," a hashtag based on Calgary's airport code that users add to their Twitter micro-posts, or "tweets," to indicate to others where they are communicating from. Meanwhile, the creators of Facebook claim to have more than 300 million users worldwide, who spend a total of roughly six billion minutes on the site every day.
Requests for Calgary-specific statistics for Facebook were denied by of their representatives.
Roger Kondrat, founder of Calgary-based West17Media, which specializes in helping businesses integrate social media into their marketing strategy, said social media offers countless advantages for upstart organizations like Calgary Fashion.
"Smaller organizations thrive on customer service and retention because finding customers and convincing them of their credibility as an enterprise is a greater challenge than their larger peers," he said.
"Social media is another layer on the Internet that is often referred to as the 'social web' and this layer allows for even deeper relationships to form between customer and business."
Part-time podcasting consultant Daryl Pamplin can attest to the benefits of marketing a business through social media. He frequently uses Twitter and other forums to advertise training seminars hosted through his Calgary-based company, Run Amuk Media.
"It's mainly smaller marketers and companies interested in it (podcasting training)," said Pamplin, who has helped produce roughly 200 podcasts for local groups like Calgary Addiction Centre and also taught classes on the medium for Chinook Learning Services.
"I have also seen a bit of an increase in the number of amateur podcasters popping up in Calgary," he said.
Podcasts are a series of audio or video files that are distributed and gain popularity online.
Pamplin initially delved into the world of podcasting and social media in 2004, when Facebook friends and "tweeting" were foreign concepts to most.
He says the key to using social media effectively is fostering an environment of natural dialogue with fellow users.
"Everyone has a different way of using social media and interacting with their friends. . .," said Pamplin, who has made roughly 21,000 posts on Twitter under his alias @darylcognito and attracted more than 600 followers. "Twitter and Facebook are not about the market and the celebrities, they are about the users."
The big dogs aren't lying down either
David Blackwell, the Calgary Herald's director of online content, said integrating social media into the publication's promotional strategy has played a major role in transforming CalgaryHerald.com into “likely” the No. 1 website in Calgary in terms of online traffic.
This graph shows the total web hits over the past 12 months for five major websites in Calgary. The Calgary Herald site (blue line) surpassed the University of Calgary's site last March, according to the graph.
Although, Blackwell admitted there is no way to obtain definitive proof that the Herald's site is visited more than any other in town, because competitors likely use varying methods and criteria when analyzing their traffic. He offered some encouraging statistics from web analytics tracker Compete.com.
The U.S.-based ranking company does not track every website in Calgary — notably missing is CBC Calgary's site. However, it does put the Herald ahead of key competitors such as the Calgary Sun, CTV Calgary and Global Calgary. In fact, Compete says the Herald has seen a more than 2,000% increase in web traffic over the past 12 months and last May it topped the University of Calgary website (ucalgary.ca), which previously was the tracker's No. 1-ranked locally based site.
Blackwell noted in an e-mailed statement to the Calgary Journal that the key to the Herald online is "doing what we've been doing: breaking news, business and sports stories before anyone else does online or on-air. Providing more details on more stories more quickly than other news services is a key part of what we do.
"Another growing part is engaging, and listening to, our audience via blogs, story comments, polls and other tools."
Social media's 'evolution'
Part 2: The race for Calgary online supremacy
Part 3: Where will the information superhighway lead next? - Industry professionals from all corners weigh in on where technology will take the media next.
The Herald's not the only traditional media outlet hoping to reach out to readers. Metro Calgary, for example, has begun using Twitter for things like generating story ideas, finding sources and keeping readers updated minute-by-minute on breaking stories, according to editor Darren Krause.
"We want to engage Calgarians in the news decision-making, the news collection and the news delivery," said Krause, who posts a call for story ideas from his Twitter followers on slower news days. "I believe having readers help determine the local editorial direction with an ongoing dialogue, through something like Twitter, helps build a partnership and an ownership in their daily newspaper."
Despite this new initiative by major media players in town to engage the audience, Krause isn't necessarily convinced that the emergence of social media has made Calgary's media climate more competitive, but rather thinks it has changed the playing field.
"I think there's always been a healthy amount of competition between the mainstream media outlets — whether that's online or in print," he said. "We've seen web redesigns by all three daily print media outlets over the past year or so, but I believe it has been in response to reader needs as opposed to competitive forces.
"But, of course, I also acknowledge that responding to reader feedback itself lends to a competitive atmosphere in itself."