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The Art of Going Dark on Social Media

Kylie Cosmetics and Balenciaga are the latest brands to wipe their social media accounts ahead of a major launch. Here’s the logic behind the strategy and how to execute well.
instagram, balenciaga, kkw beauty, kylie cosmetics, bottega veneta
Brands ranging from Bottega Veneta and Balenciaga to Kylie Cosmetics have rethought their approach to social media. Instagram.

Countless fashion and beauty brands push out hundreds of social media posts weekly, across Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and more. It was newsworthy, then, when a few brands went dark, ceasing to post new content or disabling their platforms altogether. Consumers and press alike wondered what to make of the move, which is no tech glitch, but a deliberate strategy that a handful of notable brands have adopted in the last few months.

Bottega Veneta led the charge, disabling its Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles and eventually, its Weibo account. Ahead of its return to couture, Balenciaga wiped its Instagram. Kylie Cosmetics erased all of its old Instagram posts ahead of a promised rebrand. And while KKW Beauty has yet to go dark, it announced it would shut down its e-commerce site on August 1 as it also prepares for a rebrand.

The strategy is sure to draw consumer and industry attention, a valuable commodity, particularly ahead of launching a splashy rebrand. It’s also a high-risk, high-reward proposition: benefits include allowing time to cohesively launch a rebrand and increasing traffic to a brand’s website, where it can collect valuable customer data that gets lost on social media. But in the interim, brands may take a sales dip, as their competitors remain active online.

That risk, however, may not be worth it for every brand. Smaller brands without the backing of a conglomerate or celebrity often depend on social media engagement to drive e-commerce sales and may not be able to temporarily sacrifice their platforms. Even for the brands who can take on the liability, in order to pull off the social media disappearing act, they need to precisely outline a timeline of exit and reentry, be transparent with customers and pay attention to details beyond a new logo or product.

“Brands that are successful in fashion and beauty, they break the rules of marketing,” said Mario Natarelli, managing partner at branding agency MBLM. “And one of the biggest rules of marketing is consistency and coherence.”

Thinking Long-Term

For brands, getting off the social media hamster wheel may seem like self-sabotage. But it’s for exactly that reason that a temporary pause can be effective.

“When brands come back to life, and with their new refresh on the new brand positioning and their voice and their tone, if done properly, they can recover that [sales loss],” said André Bessa, brand manager at VM Groupe. “It’s a short-term loss but it’s a long-term gain.”

Before disabling any account or going on a content archive spree, however, brands must determine if the path makes sense for them. Younger fashion and beauty brands that are reliant on social media for sales or do not have wholesale partners or a physical retail presence may not be able to afford to go completely dark, said Bessa.

More established brands, on the other hand, need to consider the reasons they want to go quiet in the first place and how that fits into their long-term goals, such as pivoting to reach new customers or modernising a heritage brand

The danger is that the strategy may be perceived as a stunt, especially when there is little communication around why a dark period is necessary. Stunt marketing is typically out of step with luxury brands and may alienate existing customers who were loyal to the old brand identity. To quell any concerns that going quiet is a stunt, brands can release an earnest statement ahead of the social media break to tip off consumers.

It’s very easy for brands to underestimate how much time and investment it takes to see or to nurture [a rebrand]

It’s also worth noting that even though going dark might attract initial attention, it’s not always necessary. Tiffany, for example, recently rolled out a new advertising campaign that is visually distinct from its typical ads, relying not on traditional hero shots of platinum and diamond pendants, but instead, images centred around a handful of models wearing the items, getting out of a pool or driving to a summer destination. The campaign diverges from tradition to target younger consumers, but in a more subtle manner.

“Brands evolve over time and I don’t think that every single evolution has to be marked with wiping the slate clean,” said luxury branding consultant Edith Taichman.

Keeping Communication Open

Brands that do decide to take a social media hiatus must communicate it to their followers, which depends on the “brand’s personality,” said Bessa. In Bottega Veneta’s case, it let the press lead the discussion around the still-ongoing social media break, while the brand itself declined to comment.

Eventually, François-Henri Pinault, chief executive of parent company Kering, addressed the blackout on an earnings call. He said the brand was “not disappearing from social networks, it’s merely using them differently.” Bottega, he added, decided to let its ambassadors and fans do the talking for them on social media and provide them with the material to do so.

That kind of rule-breaking works for luxury fashion brands like Bottega Veneta, whose fan base has developed an obsession with how and when the brand will return to social media, creating unofficial accounts like @newbottega in the meantime, Taichman pointed out.

But the tactic may not be as effective in beauty, where community is everything. In KKW Beauty’s case, when Kim Kardashian West released a statement on the brand’s platforms announcing “a completely new brand with new formulas,” condensing her beauty and fragrances lines under one site, speculation immediately began over the reason for the promised rebrand — particularly if it was prompted by her ongoing divorce from Kanye West.

A spokesperson for KKW Beauty denied a connection between the two events, telling BoF that West did help with the new name, but that the idea of bringing “the packaging, the formulas and even shopping experience” under one overarching brand and website was “Kim’s vision from the beginning.”

To keep a brand’s community in the loop, brands should explain a rebrand in announcing the intention to go dark. Natarelli suggested “[emphasising] the part that consumers would care about,” such as KKW Beauty’s shift towards sustainable packaging. Brands should also go dark across all their major social media platforms “so that every channel is speaking the same language,” said Carol Han, founder of marketing agency CA Creative.

Without social media, brands should offer customers other ways to connect, be it a customer service email or phone line. Whoever is managing a brand’s social media should also periodically check its direct messages to ensure there are no outstanding customer service issues. A public-facing founder can also help keep the community engaged even when the brand has gone silent.

Nailing The Finer Points

Brands that are considering a social media break ahead of a rebrand must not overlook details beyond the aesthetics of a new brand identity.

For example, deciding whether to wipe an account of its existing posts versus temporarily disabling the account can impact how tension is built ahead of the relaunch, Bessa said, given how consumers increasingly use social media platforms as a search and discovery tool. If a brand’s existing values resonate with its customers and it has also effectively communicated the reason for its social media departure, there is little reason to believe brand equity or trust will be eroded, experts said.

Wiping a brand’s social media or relaunching its website also implicates how the brand appears in search, so brands must consider SEO implications, especially as Google Shopping becomes a more important tool for marketers.

Finally, once a brand has returned to social media, it must give consumers time to adjust to the new direction. Weighing engagement on comeback posts, for example, should be met with patience.

“It’s very easy for brands to underestimate how much time and investment it takes to see or to nurture [a rebrand],” Natarelli said. “It becomes old news too fast for brands and they start moving on to the next thing instead of cementing, reinforcing and nurturing the change.”

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