Meet the man Google charged with toppling Instagram’s influencer economy

Derek Blasberg attends the Tory Burch fashion show in David Geffen Hall at New York Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2016 on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)
Derek Blasberg attends the Tory Burch fashion show in David Geffen Hall at New York Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2016 on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)
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In June, YouTube hired Derek Blasberg, a fashion industry insider, to head up its brand new fashion and beauty partnerships division. The former-CNN Style host, once referred to as “The Gatsby of Instagram,” is now trying to make the world’s largest video-sharing site a go-to destination for fashion brands and publications.

Welcome to our field guide on luxury and fashion. Check out other parts of our deep dive here.

YouTube has the eyeballs those companies want. Vogue may have an annual circulation of around 1.2 million, but a single YouTube video published by the magazine (an interview with Kendall Jenner) has 25 million views and counting. How will Blasberg convince the luxury industry to use YouTube in new ways? Does social media render the lifestyle magazine obsolete? Read the conversation below for Blasberg’s thoughts on these and other questions.

Quartz: Could you break down what it is you do for YouTube?

Blasberg: My goal with this new job as head of fashion and beauty at YouTube is to help create more, better fashion and beauty content. In this role, that includes nurturing relationships in the industry and helping brands, fashion professionals and publishers lean into the global audience they have the ability to reach on YouTube.

Cultivate relationships, sure, but what does that mean, exactly? Is it as simple as taking a brand to lunch and saying, “look, this is the data, and this is what you should be doing on YouTube?”

It’s not so much cultivating the relationships because I come from a background where a lot of those relationships are cultivated. It’s more about closing the gap between the fabulous worlds of fashion and beauty and the incredibly powerful ecosystem on YouTube.

Before me, there was no “fashion department” at YouTube, so if someone from that world wanted to learn more about how to lean into YouTube there wouldn’t be someone they could call. Often, what I’ve found happens is that brands and publishers use YouTube as a reciprocal [place] for content they’ve created other places. The best-case scenario is that they use it as an archive for videos they’ve created for their lookbooks, or TV commercials, or online teasers for other platforms. What we’re going to do is help fashion and beauty people create content specifically for YouTube and make sure they are familiar with some of our best practices.

I know that part of Eva Chen’s job at Instagram is to impart some Instagram best practices to others in the industry; is that what you’re doing at YouTube? What are some best practices for YouTube?

YouTube best practices aren’t that dissimilar to what works online in general. Consistency is the key to keep people coming back, so trying to upload at least once a week. (Someone like James Charles, the beauty creator, does twice a week, which is incredible.) YouTube can host longer content, so it’s important to take advantage of that and lean into a narrative story with a beginning, middle, and ending, so that viewers go with you on a journey and come out of it having learned or felt something, as opposed to having just seen some pretty visuals.

What I think is important to remember with YouTube is that cash isn’t always the key to content: We’ve seen super produced videos get no traction. What’s great is personality and a point of view. I’d much rather see an intimate moment shot selfie-style with a fascinating person than a boring video shot on a picturesque mountaintop.

What is YouTube prioritizing when it comes to the luxury fashion market? Live streaming a la the Savage x Fenty show? Influencer engagement a la the Dior fashion week partnership?

Those were two early wins for us, and we plan on doing more of those types of partnerships. We’d also like to get some new channels up and running for fashion and beauty partners, maybe help them think through regular series they could produce for their channels and how to develop a YouTube-specific content strategy. We’re also thinking through some innovative ideas on the product side, so more to come there.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned about YouTube as it relates to the luxury market (or in general) after joining the company?

The numbers. The sheer numbers. When I worked in magazines, someone like Jeffree Starr is not someone I’d have thought would be able to move the needle on beauty products. But his reach is insane. He can make or break a product with the flip of his blush brush. It’s really incredible.

Has there been any resistance on the part of luxury brands to joining YouTube?

Honestly, no. A few years ago there might have been, but most people understand the power of YouTube now and they want to know how they can harness it.

Do you think social media—YouTube, Instagram, etc.—has rendered the magazine editor obsolete?

No, some of my favorite content comes out of fashion magazines. Vogue’s 73 Questions is a huge hit on YouTube. I think editors are becoming even more creative when it comes to figuring out ways to make great digital content as well.

There are some who say that Instagram better suits the luxury fashion industry; What would you say in response to that? In what ways is YouTube better?

I would say just because you like one platform doesn’t mean you have to dislike the other, and that sort of absolute thinking is so ridiculous. I use Instagram all the time, and it’s great. For me, YouTube is the future of television: longform content with fabulous Search and Discovery, and some of the most important historic moments in fashion history, all available at your fingertips.

Where do you think streetwear fits into the future of fashion? Does it become a staple like denim or does it become passé after a few more seasons?

The two biggest trends that I’ve seen in the past few years have been streetwear and gender fluidity. And no, I don’t see either going anywhere. Karl Lagerfeld first put sneakers on Chanel’s haute couture runway in January 2014. That’s nearly half a decade, so maybe I should quit calling it a trend.

This interview was conducted over email, and condensed and edited for length and clarity.