How to build online "families"

An abstract illustration of four computer mice and cut out bits of red, purple and yellow paper.

Online 'families’ are imperative for those wanting to succeed. Meet the founders of The Edit, who create these communities for the likes of the Kardashians and Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown

By Louis Wise   Friday 28 February, 2020

You’re a celebrity (bear with me) and want to launch your own line of underwear/ cosmetics/ T-shirts emblazoned with feminist and political slogans at a more competitive price than Dior’s ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ (launched at a recommended retail price of $710). People – as in the wider general public – know you. They even profess to ‘love’ you (#obsessed, #myqueen). You already know from sponsored and endorsed deals that you have the proverbial cache, and can shift product on the back end of a photo op. But there’s a problem. A pretty big problem, in fact. There are already so many stars with their own brands covering the entire spectrum of product and services. So, how do you stand out?

More often than not, you’ll call The Edit. This LA-based, all-female outfit, founded by two friends (and Every House members), is radically changing how these potential celebrity-backed megabrands communicate – and, as a result, how we shop on a day-to-day basis. Whether it’s Millie Bobby Brown’s beauty label Florence by Mills, Kourtney Kardashian’s lifestyle site Poosh, or Béis, the hugely successful luggage line by actress and entrepreneur Shay Mitchell, The Edit has a large roster of clients looking to negotiate the Wild West of the internet. And the answer is surprisingly simple: you create a refuge, a family where you can ‘hang’ (and shop) with like-minded people. Note: an online family is far more organic and engaged than just having an audience. Anyone can have followers, but it takes work to have a ‘family’.

‘The power of a community on Instagram is wild,’ confirms Katie Durko, who cofounded The Edit in 2018 with her childhood friend, Lauren Fortner. The two Californians have combined backgrounds in the fashion and music industry to harness social media’s huge commercial potential (which hasn’t gone unnoticed – a recent Forbes profile lauded their innovative work, citing them both as ‘dynamic’, ‘clever’ and ‘one of the most talked about’ in their field. Their clients reach in excess of 50 million people per day on Instagram alone, and 90 million consumers per day across platforms. Dynamic, clever, and talked about indeed).

Take Florence by Mills, for example. When the label launched on Instagram last August, its number of followers went from zero to 670,000 in one week; within 90 days it had topped a million. This is, to be frank, due not only to Millie Bobby Brown’s fine performance as Eleven in Stranger Things, but also to a carefully honed strategy seeking to engage her fanbase in a creative and considered way. Perhaps the most telling thing about the Florence Insta page is the first sentence in its bio: ‘welcome to the Florence family’, topped off with a heart and a whale emoji.
illustration of usb cable
‘When we look through the comments, we’ll constantly see people saying, “We’re so thankful to be part of this family”,’ says Durko, on a conference call from LA with Fortner. As soon as the pair began working with Brown, they helped her start telling the story of how she was preparing to be an entrepreneur, explaining her creative decisions and naturally teasing some product. By the time the line launched, the community was inbuilt, and that’s key. ‘There’s so much clutter out there and so many brands trying to push product,’ says Durko. ‘The biggest way to differentiate is to create the experience with an emotional attachment. Everything we do, we ensure that our customers feel seen and heard.’
 
We all know that social media has changed everything in the past decade, but The Edit’s work reminds us that it’s not just there for us to gawk at, but to do some serious purchasing. Look at the success of Mitchell’s Béis, where 93 per cent of sales have been accomplished through Instagram. For Gen Z especially, shopping via social media is now entirely normal – they were born into it. And they are by no means passive; they want to engage with the product and stay engaged. ‘Shay is super vocal on her Insta Stories,’ says Fortner. ‘She gets followers involved, asking, “What colours do you want to see next? What bag types do you want next?”’ The same goes for Florence by Mills, which has made a tradition of Florence Family Friday and Selfcare Sunday, where consumers are asked to share their experiences of the products. ‘It’s funny,’ says Durko. ‘Before we even prompt them, they’re already doing it on their own.’
 
The Edit’s success at creating online families is surely due to being founded on one, too. Durko and Fortner attended the same schools and college, and remember making commercials and music videos on their parents’ VHS camera as children, in almost a professional way, for imaginary commissions. They always had a serious work ethic. And, in a larger sense, due to the success of their teamwork, they were destined to work together in later life. Their paths diverged for a while, with Durko focusing on fashion PR and Fortner on music, until social media united them. They each had their own agency and would often cowork, until they realised they could go even further by pooling their talents and founding The Edit. The relationship is deeply symbiotic. ‘We’re in each
other’s brains,’ says Fortner. ‘We can babble a few random words and the other one knows what we’re talking about.’ Fortner is the first person Durko calls in the morning. ‘She knows everything about me, I know everything about her,’ adds Durko. ‘There’s not much of a detached professional relationship, but it works.’
 
They both laugh when it’s suggested they’re as symbiotic as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen; it turns out a lot of their childhood was spent watching the twins’ breakout sitcom, Full House. ‘I’d be Ashley,’ says Durko, although clearly that’s a whole other conversation. What is clear is that they’ve turned a lifetime of communicating into a powerful way of doing business. ‘When I was 10, my parents had to get a new phone line installed in the house because Katie called me so much,’ says Fortner. ‘Now, it’s the same thing.’
 
 

You’ve got yourself an online following. Now what?

Plenty of people are au fait with gaining an audience nowadays, but how do you hold onto it? How do you turn followers into a family? Here are The Edit’s top five tips…
 
DON’T sit on your laurels. Always give your followers new content. Stay up to date with the latest trends and don’t be afraid to post too much if you have the content to back it up.
 
CREATE ‘content pillars’ like Florence Family Fridays — regular slots that fans can keep coming back to and continue engaging with.
 
ENSURE that your consumer feels seen and heard. Make like Shay Mitchell and ask your followers what they’d like to see next. Or alternatively, just have a ‘love fest’ – tell them how amazing they are and how thankful you are for the support.
 
ANALYSE the relevant data if you can. The Edit’s work isn’t about randomly posting pretty pictures of coffees; it’s based on fierce daily analysis of the stats.
 
KEEP on top of all the relevant platforms. The Edit does the strategy for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for Kourtney Kardashian’s Poosh.
 
Illustrations by Anna Bu Kliewer