Streetwear enthusiasts may do a doubletake when they see former One Direction star Zayn Malik on one of four covers of Highsnobiety’s latest issue, but the move has more than paid off for the magazine in terms of talking to new audiences.
On his cover of the September issue of the magazine’s cover story, Malik is dressed in Gucci, Givenchy, Christopher Kane, and Dior Homme. The story is spread across eight pages, with full page photographs. On Highsnobiety’s website, the same article appears with more photographs and an artsy one-minute video, “Going behind the scenes of Issue 13 with Zayn Malik,” which can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.
The theme for the issue is independence. That a former One Direction member can be found on a streetwear publication discussing life during and after his split from the boy band is a reflection of how streetwear and mainstream are now entwined, thanks to social media and luxury brands’ adoption of street style.
“We’ve been writing about sneakers for 10 years. When we started it was niche, today it’s anything but,” said Highsnobiety’s Berlin-based founder and CEO David Fischer. “Zayn allows us to speak to a new audience.”
Still, the magazine hedged it’s bets: The issue was released with other three alternate covers — starring rapper Young Thug, Edison Chen and Haider Ackermann — a rapper, an actor turned streetwear entrepreneur and fashion designer, respectively, were more of a natural fit for Highsnobiety’s audience.
Using Malik was a win-win, Fischer explained. “He needed a certain sign approval from a publication like ours for him to be relevant in our market, and it exposes us to a new market that we might not be speaking to.” As a result, Highsnobiety’s Instagram account has seen its typical daily following grow from 2,000 new followers to 4,500 in the two days since the magazine hit stands, which Fischer puts down to Malik’s cover. The video on Instagram has had 46,900 views and on Facebook, more than 200,000 views.
Fischer started Highsnobiety as a blog in 2005, with a niche focus on streetwear, sneaker culture and street art. Today, the online publication, which produces just two magazines a year, has 35 people based in Berlin, 16 in New York and a handful of others around the world. It has a 15-strong digital team across both Berlin and New York, including a head of digital, a head of video, who oversees video across all platforms, a head of social media, and head of digital fashion. There’s also one person dedicated to Snapchat. The publisher covers fashion, footwear, music, lifestyle and art, with stories like, “Take a look inside the closet of Berlin-based Supreme collector, Samuil Tatchev,” and “Young Thug opens up on women’s clothing, privacy and more.”
Its approach to creating digital content mirrors that of other publishers, by taking one story and creating different, tailored versions of it for specific social platforms. “We make sure we go where our audience is and meet them wherever they are with customized pieces,” he said. Images are resized for Facebook for example, and different video versions are cut for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, with text overlays because viewers typically watch in mute, he added. Print content is repurposed for online, but not the other way around.
Like many digital publishers, Highsnobiety has some reliance on Facebook to reach its audience. Fischer said it spends between $4,000 and $5,000 a month “supporting” its Facebook channel, but he said it doesn’t “buy clicks.” It hasn’t increased the amount it spends on Facebook each month, but it has seen its online audience grow 93 percent in the past year, from 442,000 unique views in August 2015 to 854,000 in August this year, according comScore.
Keeping a close eye on data and audience engagement on social networks, the publication has recently tweaked its approach to social headlines after seeing how readers respond. “We always believed short was the answer, but we’ve found out it’s not” Fischer said. Every Sunday Highsnobiety releases a list of top products and in the beginning it titled the post, “Top 10 products of the week.” After a period of re-wording, it found, “The 10 best products to drop this week and where to buy them,” saw audience engagement on Facebook triple from 5,000 to 20,000 likes. “It’s not about being short, it’s very much about making it personal and service driven.”
To generate revenue, Highsnobiety focuses its efforts on native advertising, which accounts for 80 percent of its digital revenue. All sponsored content is produced by a 10 person in-house creative agency in Berlin, and four people in NY, which create video and text native advertising for brand partners, including Gucci, Cadillac, Nike, Adidas, Samsung and Ebay, among others.
“That’s what is most fun,” said Fischer. “We can actually plug into all these different markets.”