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.
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.
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.