Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Media Ridealong: Her Campus

Her Campus is a new website run by student journalists and is described as “a colegiette’s guide to life.” It is an online-model magazine geared toward college women, and it has individual staffs at more than 120 campuses across the country. The website was founded by Stephanie Kaplan, Windsor Hanger and Annie Wang while they were still undergraduate students at Harvard in March of 2009.
Since its launch, it has formed content partnerships with several large magazines such as Seventeen and Self, as well as marketing partnerships with several companies like Juicy Couture, Pinkberry and Rent the Runway. Kaplan, Hanger and Wang have been named to Inc. magazine's 30 Under 30 Coolest Young Entrepreneurs, Glamour magazine's 20 Amazing Young Women, and The Boston Globe's 25 Most Stylish Bostonians.
In an interview, Her Campus’s chief executive officer and editor-in-chief, Stephanie Kaplan, said the three founders met while they were running Freeze, Harvard’s lifestyle and fashion online magazine. Once that website started taking off, they wanted to start something similar on a national scale, so they came up with Her Campus. She said all three women felt that there was a demographic not yet being met by the current media.
“There is a lot of media for teen girls and a lot of media for young women, but very little media targeting college women directly,” Kaplan said.
She said the founders did not have to raise money for the site. The site has been profitable from the beginning, she said, because they have kept costs low and have brought in enough revenue. What also helps is that they don’t have much competition, she said.
One of the company’s missions is to “define and provide a model for the future of online magazines by individualizing content.”
“Her Campus supplements news sites rather than competing with them,” she said. “We do not see any real competitors since no one else has a comparable model to ours of national content supplemented by local content, all produced by student journalists.”
The site is marketed mainly by word-of-mouth. Facebook and Twitter are the main traffic sources for the site. Even on the University of Florida campus, marketing for Her Campus can be seen everywhere, from flyers on Turlington Plaza to hand-drawn chalk advertisements on the sidewalk in front of Weimer Hall.
Kaplan, Hanger and Wang are the only three full-time, paid staffers. They currently don’t pay their writers, but Kaplan said they plan to make their first full-time hires at the end of the summer.
“Our writers benefit by getting clips and experience,” she said.
The website makes money by doing what Kaplan describes as “strategic marketing programs” for companies that are looking to reach the college market. Advertising is just a small piece of that plan. The programs often include sponsored content, product sampling, on-campus events and integrated branding on the site.
For example, Sara Kaner is a sponsored blogger for Her Campus at UF. She started writing in December, specializing in weight loss, exercise and diet. She is one of multiple people writing for the “Lose the Freshman 15” blog, writing about her efforts to lose weight.
The Freshman 15 blog is written by Her Campus staffers all across the country. It is a contest partnered with Self Magazine, and the best blogger wins a summer internship with the magazine in New York City.
As a sponsored blogger, she receives free products from her sponsors, including Sargento Cheese, Honest Tea, New Balance, Pop Chips and Truvia. Kaner blogs every day. She had more than 2,000 people read her first post, and on a good day, 600 to 700 people read.
“It inspires me that people say they can do the same thing I do and also work out and lose weight,” she said.
She tries to engage her readers as much as possible, responding to comments they make – whether good or bad.
“It’s the reality of the blog world – you’re gonna get the good and the bad,” Kaner said.
As editor-in-chief of UF’s Her Campus, Victoria Phillips is the last person to see any content that goes up on the website. She is responsible for the content management system, inputting all of the stories and making sure it uploads correctly.
And “content” includes more than just words. Phillips edits photos and video on top of stories.
One of her duties is making sure that the content follows what the national office deems appropriate for Her Campus. A region director reaches out every week to check in on stories, marketing and publicity.
“The national office does a great job of keeping everything cohesive and the same,” Phillips said. “The types of things I’m going to be publishing, and the way I’m publishing is going to be the exact same as Her Campus UC or Mizzou.”
They are only required to publish one story per section per week, but they update twice a day.
“We want to be the place students come when they want to know what’s going on on campus, when they want to procrastinate instead of studying for exams – we’re the website to go to.”

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