Do Digital Rankings Really Mean Anything?

In this week’s column, BoF editor-in-chief Imran Amed questions the real value of the digital and social media rankings that have flooded the fashion industry.

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LONDON, United Kingdom — Lately, it seems that, everywhere I look, there is another ranking of fashion and luxury brands’ digital and social media prowess. While they may make for great press releases and attention grabbing headlines, I have to wonder what real value they are adding to the conversation about Fashion 2.0 — and in some cases I really question the methodologies behind these rankings.

A couple of weeks ago, it was the World Luxury Index China 2013, published by the Geneva–based Digital Luxury Group, that announced: “Chanel overtakes Louis Vuitton as most sought-after global luxury brand.”

The statement was based on the volume of Internet search queries mentioning the two brands. Reading the fine print, however, it seems that the reason Chanel outstripped Louis Vuitton was largely due to its beauty business, which provides consumers with a more accessible access point to the brand and would naturally result in more search queries. It’s no secret that Chanel’s premium-branded lipstick and nail polish are highly prized by voracious consumers in the Chinese middle classes who are eager to be part of the world of Chanel.

But does this really make Chanel the most sought-after luxury brand in China? You can draw your own conclusions.

Then, last week, social media agency Room214 sent a tweet about their new ranking of the “World’s Top 50 Fashion Brands in Social Media.”

In the introduction, the report states that “it is often difficult to create benchmarks and standards of measurement for any brand in social media. Part of the problem is there is no accepted industry-wide standard for measuring success.”

I couldn’t agree more.

But still, the report opened by ranking the top 50 brands based on how many followers they had on Twitter and Facebook. As any smart social media or community manager will tell you, the size of a brand’s follower count is more directly tied to the size of the company’s social media budget than it is to the overall success of the brand. Indeed, anyone with a big enough budget can acquire legions of new fans and followers.

Only later in the report did Room214 distinguish between simply acquiring fans and actually engaging those fans, pinpointing Christian Louboutin, Michael Kors and Tiffany as the most engaging brands based on consumer interactions per post on Twitter and Facebook.

Using engagement metrics makes a lot more sense. If I were running a fashion brand, I’d much rather have a smaller group of highly engaged fans, than a large group of followers who don’t pay attention to, or amplify, what I am sharing.

A couple of days later, still another digital ranking was published by the Dachis Group in a report entitled “The Best Fashion Brands in Social Media.” The report grouped brands into three categories — Innovators, Leaders and Achievers — though the difference between these categories was not readily apparent. What’s more, the methodology behind the report was not available for review unless I requested a “demo,” which required sharing my personal details.

Indeed, it seems that this is the biggest reason of all for creating these reports: to build email databases of our contact information. They grab you with a juicy and sensational headline, then ask you for your data so you can understand how they came to their conclusions.

Last week, the New York-based “think tank” L2 released their latest Digital IQ Index, this time for department stores, awarding Nordstrom the top spot. L2 now has a ranking for virtually every subsector and geography of the luxury industry and beyond, from Autos, Beauty and Fashion to APAC, China and Brazil.

To their credit, L2’s rankings are more rigorous than any of the others, but are still based on a tick-box methodology of digital best practices. As we have discussed previously on BoF, you are awarded Digital IQ points by doing things according to general best practice, but not necessarily by creating a specific strategy that is well-suited to your business objectives.

Which brings me to my final point. The best metrics for business success have not really changed. In the pre-digital age, before we could easily track the impact of our marketing efforts, brands had to measure success based on sales metrics, or something similar. If a particular marketing campaign drove measurable increases in sales, then the agencies and their clients knew their messages were resonating.

Today, the art of persuasion is more complex — and we have so many more metrics to keep track of. But this does not mean that all metrics are meaningful. And, indeed, they are certainly not that insightful without the broader context of financial metrics, social media investments and the return on these investments.

While social media remains a powerful way of building direct relationships with consumers who have indicated a personal interest in your brand and measuring engagement with your content is a great way to understand what’s resonating with your fans, basic social media and search metrics are not the holy grail of a brand’s success and should not be treated as such.

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  1. These rankings are really only important to those who truly understand statistical analyses and can utilize them accordingly – which would be the brands themselves. It’s not whether a brand a has x number of followers more than brand b, but it’s whether brand a can make all x more followers purchase their products instead of brand b’s products.

    Yna Aggabao from Bagumbayan, Albay, Philippines
  2. I agree with you Imran!
    In the multichannels world everything must be connected with the final result. Exactly the same of what happened before that the social media outlets were born.
    The truth is that nowdays the number of data that you have to gather and analyze to forecast and optimize your future investments is huge!
    10x before and exactly as before there is no shortcut: what you need is not simply an amazing dashboard to monitor and compare data, but the time and the capabilities to crunch these data for finding out some useful insights!
    The rankings are simply a marketing tactic to achieve trust!
    And honestly as CEO of one of the company in this industry I can say to you that they have really no other reason!
    On my side what I’m try to do is to change perspectives switching from the battle for the last beautiful graph to the challenge for providing real so-whats behind the data!

    Simone Lovati from Italy
  3. Hi Imran, I do Marketing for a social media analytics firm called Fashionbi, and also help out doing some analysis on social media metrics. I see your point about analytics not being the holy grail of a brand’s success, and I understand your point about questioning these rankings. I do think that the basis for who is best cannot really be determined as there are so many different ways to gauge this – as already mentioned by Room214. However, I guess another way to look at it is simply that, these research studies put special attention on brands that they think other brands can learn from. Undoubtedly, saying that these brands are ‘the best’ will put a whole lot of weight on it, but perhaps these labels are mostly used as a marketing technique to catch attention. Simply stating the words ‘the top 5′, ‘the most sought-after’ or ‘the best’ on a title, makes it sound all the more intriguing, and makes readers want to see who’s on top. But at the end of the day, social media managers and brand managers are still highly encouraged to create their own strategies suited to their market, their product, and their branding. Even for us, as a social media analytics firm, we always emphasize the importance of results, and we point out that getting results always varies per brand and per target market. There is no clear-cut equation for measuring social media success or for achieving social media success for that matter. You are right that not all metrics are meaningful, in the end it really depends on the brand to determine what means something for them.

    Ria Fernandez from Quezon City, Quezon, Philippines
  4. As you mentioned, it’s dangerous to make definitive conclusions about digital marketing success from a brand’s number of followers or fans. Since companies can now literally purchase these kinds of endorsements, it’s questionable whether they realistically reflect much more than the company’s robust marketing budget.

    I agree (with a resounding YES) to your point about measuring social influence and presence by engagement. Our philosophy at Tribe Dynamics echoes your sentiment: having fewer, active and engaged fans is far more advantageous to brands and designers than the superficial popularity contests that unfold when brands assign too much value to follower count. Instead of Facebook “ilkes” and Twitter followers, brands should be far more concerned by the number of brand ambassadors and influencers they accumulate, and the extent to which these proven, committed followers are creating and sharing original content.

    It’s no coincidence that the brands we deem to be the most “successful” in social media (taking into account earned media value, posts per ambassador, estimated impressions, and audience size) are those that have an unapologetically unique and recognizable image and voice. Sure, they may discourage a large number of potential fans customers unable to relate to its message. At the same time, these brands typically enjoy higher social media engagement rates, whether it’s blog traffic or YouTube actions, because they are better able to facilitate ongoing conversations with fans who feel implicated within the brand’s story.

    I also agree, that it is a shame that social media rankings have sent much of the world flailing, desperately trying to boost their “numbers” without taking the time to understand what these numbers really mean. They are by no means irrelevant, and yes taken within a larger context, serve as a helpful launch pad for any digital marketing strategy.

    However, this is where my opinion may stray from your insightful article. I do believe that there is a far stronger connection between social media influence and “success” as a brand. There is maybe no stronger call to action then when brands engage with fans on a personal level, once they’ve taken the time to develop an intimate understanding of their interests and needs. The key to “success” comes down to correctly using social media to find new ways to connect with ambassadors, encourage them to endorse your brand, but most importantly turn fans into loyal customers and ultimately drive ROI and sales.

    Christina Goswiller from San Francisco, CA, United States