Why is Fashion so Anti-social?

Stella McCartney Twitter Page

Stella McCartney Twitter Page

LONDON, United Kingdom Facebook, Twitter, MySpace. Many large fashion brands have pages or accounts on at least one of the big three in social media. As a whole however, the fashion industry has been slow to embrace these tools — certainly a lot slower than their customers.

Of the 38 tweeting fashion brands listed by WWD, only nine are based in Europe. Of those nine, Henry Holland is the only one not associated with a large multi-national company (Adidas, Dior, French Connection, Gucci, H&M, Lacoste, Louis Vuitton and Stella McCartney round out the list). While Twitter is not the sole representative of fashion’s social media presence, the list offers a fairly representative picture of who’s experimenting with social media and more tellingly, who’s not.

Reputation, controlled communication and messaging are all cornerstones of fashion promotion and PR. While fashion has historically been a reluctant participant in new media, it offers the tools to develop all three. It’s time for fashion to get on the social media train.

Particularly for emerging designers and independent brands, building brand awareness can be a long journey, often requiring frequent self-promotion to editors, journalists and industry representatives. If the end goal of all of this is to reach an interested audience, why aren’t these upstarts building and communicating with that audience directly? While the time and cost of securing editorials, press mentions and awards is high, the time and cost of establishing a reputation online is significantly lower, and while social media can’t replace a thoughtful offline PR strategy, the two approaches are complementary and mutually reinforcing.

As for larger brands, many of whom are subject to counterfeiters and dubious resellers, social media can promote authentic online points of sale and interaction to potential consumers. Not everyone who encounters sites selling fake items online will realise they’re purchasing an imitation, particularly if a brand has a weak e-commerce presence. Having a social media presence could address this.

So, assuming that the “why” of the fashion industry’s participation in social media is no longer in doubt, here are some suggestions on “how” you can get started.

1. Protect your name. Everywhere. Even if you only plan to be active on a handful of networks, secure your name on as many as possible. It’s much easier to do this now, than to stop someone communicating under your brand name down the road. While most sites are responsive to brand owners about removing unauthorised accounts, the process will undoubtedly take longer than the 2 minutes it requires to register today.

Namchk is a free tool that allows you to check username availability on over 100 networks and a targeted list of fashion-focused online communities can be found at exponetial.

2. Have a plan. Bigger may not always be better at least not to start. It will likely not be possible to participate on every network. While Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have the largest general audiences, starting on a smaller, targeted network may help in building a following on the larger sites. On networks like Twitter and MySpace where connections are often based around interests rather than personal relationships, this is a good way to find more people who might be interested in your work. Larger brands may have the name recognition to build a community of followers on general networks more quickly, but a presence in niche communities may still be valuable.

Identify 3-5 niche communities that address a specific audience. Recognise that your network on a site like Kaboodle will be different from your network on Twitter, and establish your presence in a way that fits. Establish guidelines for the sites you select and dedicate one day a week to updating information.

If you’re working with more resources and maintaining separate conversations is manageable, Ping.fm updates as many as 40 different networking sites from one place.

3.  Connect the dots. Most of your target consumers are not exclusive to one social network. Once you’ve laid the foundation of a social media plan by participating in targeted communities, ask your network to connect with you on one of the more general networks. As soon as you begin to build your audience on one general network, clearly indicate your presence on others. One out of every 20 friends on MySpace may become a fan on Facebook. Perhaps you’ll find one out of every 10 fans on Facebook also becomes a follower on Twitter. The overlap may not be tremendous, but most brands will find value in cross-promotion of social media accounts.

YM Ousley is founder of exponetial, an internet marketing company.

Follow The Business of Fashion on Twitter here.

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7 comments

  1. I think the reason why Fashion brands are reluctant to join social media is that though there are pros about joining the new wave, there are also consequences to joining such chatty networks.

    Fashion brands like to control their image, and with fashion magazines for a time, they knew that the content published to consumers was edited in a way that only flattered their image. But with social media, there are no rules, there is no control. You only need a handful of influential social media gurus to say one bad thing and their reputation takes a huge hit. In this recession, fashion brands need all the support and “fans” they can get to keep their profits afloat, so to go “social” is a huge risk.

    I think why fashion has been so slow in adapting to new technology is that technology itself moves at an exponential rate, mega fashion companies are putting a lot on the line and to constantly keep up with the technological changes on the internet, I would think it would be very difficult to implement and adapt at the same rate, thus explaining why they’re only catching on much later.

  2. I agree, a lot of fashion brands have missed the boat with social media.

    Dahlia is right that social media outlets do not have rules and the brands, as well as the artists, in the fashion industry need a platform that is somewhere in the middle.

    MyFDB.com is a new site that is in private beta, but they seem to have created an environment that brands and artists might be interested in working with. They credit all the artists and companies that take part in covers, editorials, and campaigns in magazines. The visuals are great and you can get lost in site, which I love….

    Samantha from Los Angeles, CA, United States
  3. @rollergirl, Thanks for the tip on Smythson. The fashion media who’ve taken advantage of social sites have fairly large audiences. Hopefully more designers will take notice and start trying their hand at direct communication.

    @Dahlia, Not all social media is the same. It’s an umbrella term, but a site like Kaboodle is completely different to a site like Twitter, which is nothing like YouTube. While it’s important to select the social sites where you participate, I have to disagree with the risk. If you’re present in the social channels, your company has an opportunity to address criticism immediately and directly – not to mention to a wider audience than most magazines offer.

    Particularly in challenging times, to rely so heavily on third party communicators is at least an equal gamble.

  4. Great article. It is interesting how some large fashion brands have not embraced social media even though it seems like it’s here to stay. I think it’s great and very important for not only the fashion brand but also the designers themselves to connect to their consumers or potential consumers in hopes of luring them to their brand and gaining a loyalty. I can see how ‘control’ over their image may pose a problem but I think there are still controls within the different social media outlets to maintain a certain image and even improve upon their existing one. I think any fashion brand needs to stay fresh, relevant and constantly evolving in these current times because there is so much competition and opinions. Thanks for the great insight!

  5. I couldn’t agree more with the article and comments. The fashion industry is notably behind the curve with its use and understanding of social media. I think one of the major reasons is because the industry players like to keep their cards close to the chest – partly due to habit, and partly due to high risks of cheap knock-offs. Secondly, As you guys have already mentioned, fashion brands are used to having control, and one of the commonalities of participating in social media by brands is that they have to give up some of the control. Or so it would seem.

    IMHO, not participating is actually more hazardous to your brand than participating. People are going to talk about you regardless of whether you are on Twitter, so you might as well join the conversation. You absolutely need to be listening and monitoring first. If there are quality issues, your customers will let you (and 1,000 of their closest friends) know, so you better be there to acknowledge and remedy or debunk (if information is false). But please please please, listen before you speak: social platforms aren’t simply a one-way broadcast system (like a TV), they are conversation platforms and long-term relationship building.

    I agree with the 3 starting points the author makes. Just make sure that listening is a huge part of it. And if you need hep with all of this, hire a community manager, at least a part-time one – to help you deal with the chatter, understand trends, manage your own community and participate in external ones.

  6. I agree with @YM and @theMaria. While it’s important to select the social sites where you participate, risk is limited. People are going to talk, so wouldn’t you rather address negative reviews or opinions, answering in and helping find a solution to the problem?

    Most often, addressing the complaint trumps the original incident because community/social member are so impressed by the brands listening. It also prevents larger flair ups or negative reviews in the future because they know the brands are listening.

    @YM is also correct that there is very little overlap in social communities. So having and actively engaging in 5 targeted spots broadens your customer base and draws in new customers to the brand. People trust people, that’s the basis of social media. So if a friend recommends a brand to another friend, that person’s likelihood of becoming a customer is three time greater than if they found the site on their own with no information.

    In current retail times, revenue is important. Social media marketing is hybrid PR/marketing tool that should be strategically integrated into a brand’s overall marketing plan to drive continued brand awareness, build relationships with customers and drive sales revenue.