SheKnows gambles on the platform route

Women’s lifestyle publisher SheKnows Media is moving further down the platform road by acquiring StyleCaster Media Group, a collection of fashion and beauty sites. But as it does, it faces the question of how it can double its contributor roster while maintaining quality and consistency across its array of properties.

But the deal is aimed at letting SheKnows, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, expand its focus beyond the parenting, home and food categories and strengthen its exposure in New York, where StyleCaster and the ad community are based. StyleCaster will add some 500 contributors like Cynthia Rowley and Chrissy Teigen to SheKnows’ 400, but SheKnows considers the deal notable not just for the number of contributors being added but their strong engagement with users.

“Those are very productive users, who, once we put them into our experts’ platform, they’ll be able to drive incremental growth within the SheKnows audience,” said Samantha Skey, SheKnows’ chief revenue officer.

StyleCaster Media is relatively small in terms of traffic, with some 3 million monthly uniques across its three biggest sites, StyleCaster.com, DailyMakeover.com and BeautyHigh.com, to SheKnows’ 43 million (according to comScore multiplatform metrics).

Going the platform route presents thorny issues for publishers. This approach can help build an audience quickly by tapping into bloggers’ established social followings, but as they grow, publishers have to have an infrastructure to handle the influx of outsider content. There are the risks of letting outsiders publish directly or only lightly edited content to the site. And that more publishers are going this route also means greater competition for contributors, who often have no exclusivity agreement with a given publisher.

“You’re giving up a bit of control to a larger group of people,” said Jason Kint, CEO of the Online Publishers Association. “Gone are the tidy notions of the publisher as the gatekeeper to everything on the site or in the magazine or newspaper. We’re in a disintermediated world where consumers can directly access content and in many cases can be a part of the creation of it.”

The system works when the publisher allows a free exchange of ideas while policing it just enough that brands are still comfortable advertising on the site. But sometimes those demands are at odds (see: Gawker Media).

“Not all content’s created equal, so there are clearly experts that add a lot of value,” said Jeremy Tate, vp, group director of media at Digitas. “But like anything else, there are varying levels of quality and accuracy. It’s important for brands to be aware of who they’re next to and that it reflects what their message is.”

SheKnows’ content tends to be on the tame side, and it will continue to put its content through light editing before publishing. It sees its challenge as less in policing the material that gets posted than in figuring out how to keep all its contributors satisfied while keeping the site’s voice consistent. About 70 percent of SheKnows content is contributor-create; the rest created by its 14-person in-house staff, but with the acquisition, the dependency on outside posters will increase. SheKnows makes a point of offering mentoring and events to contributors, but that gets harder to do at scale.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to maintain that high-touch engagement,” Skey said.

Compensation also may need some fine tuning. SheKnows currently pays based on a mix of criteria including frequency of posts and quality of social following. Pay can come in the form of promotion, cash, contribution to a cause or editorial mentoring. StyleCaster’s contributors, Skey noted, “are probably edgier, younger. They probably respond to different kinds of incentives.”