how important is social media in building a fashion brand?
Everyone from superbrands to emerging designers are prioritizing social media to communicate with their fans. We investigate what it's actually worth.
Remember days spent on MySpace and MSN? When social media was little more than digital socializing (picking a song, choosing a wallpaper, arranging where to meet your friends). Nowadays? It's so much more; social media has grown up. In the right hands, every carefully considered Tweet, Facebook post and Instagram shot is part of a brand building exercise - whether you're positioning yourself as a cult up-and-comer or are already one of the biggest luxury brands.
Let's face the facts. Social media is predominantly visual, so it follows that there's perhaps no other industry where its power is more relevant or poignantly felt than luxury fashion. Caroline Rush CBE, Chief Executive at the British Fashion Council nails it: "innovating digitally is a perfect way to help designers drive forward sales and increase their profile on the global stage. We always encourage designers to embrace technology to amplify their brand messaging." While the financial payback may be notoriously tricky to gauge, the benefits of being plugged-in and active are unmistakable and hugely desirable for young designers.
Social media, with its foolproof functionality and ready-to-go audience, is often an easier digital option for nascent brands to approach than a website, which opens up a costly can of worms of user journeys, online stores and order fulfillments. That said, many designers use social media to candidly support the hard task of selling with stockist and e-commerce shout-outs and promotions. But always pushing the next sale can be alienating. So how do designer brands maintain and build popularity online?
The short answer is personality. In London's hub of creative talent, leveraging the thing that makes a brand unique — often its well-dressed and well-connected designer makes good business sense. The British Fashion Council often reiterates this to designers: knowing your USP is key to telling a brand's story — and what's more unique, not to mention genuine and engaging, than the creative behind the brand?
In the same way that MySpace had profound effects on the music industry, fashion's platform is arguably Instagram, where the image is king. Personality curated comes naturally for designers, who have image research embedded in their design approach thanks to London's design schools' encouragement of creativity above all. Many designers have created mood boards for their collections, but using these reference points as a social media strategy in itself takes a love for the visual one step further.
The cleverest use of this has arguably been Funkyoffish (current Instagram followers: 23.2k), who astutely built hype in anticipation of sales via Instagram. The brainchild of designer Ashley Williams and BFF Pixie Geldof, they built a cult-like following posting glam rockers, 90s cartoons and vintage editorials. Without creating any content themselves the collective built a following and an understanding for its aesthetic and culture. When the e-shop launched, its audience not only got it, but wanted in.
Whether designers simply enjoy it, or have cottoned onto its importance, building a world around the brand is tantamount. Here, fans can follow news and interact on a level that previously didn't exist and brands can learn about their audience. But it's not just about posting the coolest images, obviously the product has to speak for itself too.
Case in point: Shrimps. Designer Hannah Weiland (current Instagram followers 32.8k) harnessed an online audience to launch her label and gain a spot on the London Fashion Week schedule. "There's no specific strategy for Shrimps and Instagram," she admits, "it's very much a reflection of who I am, what I like and what resonates with me and the brand. I think most people love color, sweet things, interesting visuals and an insight into a brand, this is generally what I post on my Instagram, as it's what I love too!" There's no denying a high profile fan base helped — Laura Bailey, Natalie Massenet and Alexa Chung were all early proponents of the zesty faux fur line — but a pick 'n' mix of backstage shots, press, references, product and friends modeling the collection has worked thanks to an over-arching visual identity.
As audiences are flooded with information from all channels, a strong identity is required to stand out. Without a point of difference, it's easy to become just another voice in the feed. Developing a signature visual identity, tone and hashtags help to make sense of multi-channel marketing and attract attention in the ultimate short-attention span era. Balancing business and pleasure (LOL-worthy snaps sitting alongside sales promos), with this unique identity and voice, brands can join in a conversation that's already taking place — London Fashion Week, trends, current affairs — to turn the spotlight on them, or start their own conversation.
After all, reaching audiences is the whole point; what's the use in a good product if no one knows about it? Before social media, editors had to deem designs worthy before featuring them in the pages of magazines. Now, social media goes above the editor and allows brands to speak directly to consumers, find their audience and build their own following. Encapsulating London's DIY spirt, what could be more appealing?
Katie Jane Rose runs The Bridge Co., a 360 solutions agency that works with emerging designers to help them master the business side of fashion.
Text Katie Jane Rose