story and photos by Charles Beckwith
Last night’s Third Wave Fashion Meetup was a packed house with many guests turned away at the door due to capacity issues, despite being held in a fairly large space. Why was it standing room only? Social media. On the panel were the women behind the tweets at Fashion Indie, Bergdorf Goodman, Michael Kors, and Bauble Bar. They were followed by a keynote address from the former VP of Brand and Social Media at American Express. Before anyone even arrived, a powerful lineup in great shoes, to be sure.
After a short demo from a startup called Olapic, which produces an application that allows online retailers to display moderated customer-submitted images on product pages and reportedly results in significantly increased purchase rates, Third Wave Fashion founder Liza Kindred introduced the panel…
… Cannon Hodge (@Bergdorfs), Social Media Manager at Bergdorf Goodman since 2009; Samantha Lim (@iamsamlim), a fashion writer, stylist, and digital strategy consultant, formerly the editor in chief of FashionIndie.com (until it was sold to a media agency back in December); Farryn Weiner (@MichaelKors, @JetsetFarryn), Global Director of Social & Digital Media at Michael Kors, formerly at Gilt and Jetsetter; and Grace Atwood (@GraceAtwood), director of social media at BaubleBar.com as well as an independent blogger at Stripes & Sequins.
[UPDATE (February 28th, 2013): To clarify, Farryn Weiner attended the event representing her personal endeavors, and not in an official capacity for the Michael Kors brand.]
Liza’s first question, mixed in with the introductions, was “how many social platforms are you on?” Sam Lim,7; Bergdorf Goodman, 14; Michael Kors, 10; BaubleBar, 8. The question was also asked, how many people work on them, with Cannon’s response for Bergdorf Goodman being one and a half, contrasted to Farryn’s answer for Michael Kors, employing about 10 people focused on social media.
Moving on, Liza mentioned an unattributed tone-setting quotation she had heard earlier in the day, “measuring ROI on social media is like measuring ROI on business cards.” It has certainly been a hard fight for several years to get brands to wake up to the new reality of social media and ecommerce. I’ve definitely struggled with it for modaCYCLE, being told “just let an intern do it” was something I heard a lot. I got into an argument with the editor of a major UK fashion magazine a few years ago, who was using his company’s Twitter account to drunk tweet about local soccer. His reply was, “they’re just tweets,” but it looked like a soccer hooligan had hacked the magazine’s Twitter account. Certainly there is more on an awareness now that social media is your voice, but the panelists at this event represent more or less the exceptions, and many brands still lag far behind and dedicate no real resources to meeting their customers half way in the digital realm. I don’t think a single major textile mill has any idea how much business they could generate casually interacting with designers and end consumers online.
Continuing in the direction of ROI, there are ways of analyzing your impact. Speaking about analytics platforms, Farryn said “you should be swimming in data,” and followed to say the Michael Kors social media team has two modes of operating. They do general branding to generate awareness, but during gifting seasons it is all about pushing products and generating ROI (directly measurable or not).
Bergdorf Goodman often posts phone numbers with its unique products which are not sold online, so followers can call the correct store department to immediately inquire.
Grace said Pinterest is the most important sales driver for BaubleBar, but for Farryn, with Michael Kors’ 5 million subscribers on its fan page, said Facebook is the social revenue engine for her company. “Every other social network is five years behind Facebook,” said Farryn. She also said it would be almost impossible to pick up that many fans today, due to changes in Facebook’s content display algorithm, which make it much harder to reach a broad audience through the site without paying to promote posts. Comparatively, Cannon Hodge indicated Bergdorf”s only has about 200,000 Facebook fans, understandable because it is a single store in one city, saying, “people who love the store and story are the people we care about,” and, “for us it’s about connecting and sharing our story.” Grace Atwood simply said that the Facebook changes have been, “maddening.”
“Social media is about personal connections,” said Cannon. Followed by Sam, saying, “the new Facebook algorithm is designed to cut back on spammy posts,” and, “you generally need to be more authentic.”
What is the most popular thing you’ve shared via social media, was the next topic.
Grace Atwood said BaubleBar’s most popular post ever was a simple image card that said simply, “I’m sorry about what I said when I was hungry.”
Farryn said that Michael Kors wishing Nicki Minaj a happy birthday on Twitter went unbelievably viral. There is a lyric in one of her songs about the designer. Apparently the retweeting was intense. On her personal account, @JetsetFarryn, the most popular post was something about being fearless.
Cannon Hodge said, “people love this randomness,” indicating that generally the highest engagement is for more whimsical posts, like random pictures snapped on her phone walking around inside the store.
“You think, ‘should I?’ When you’re the most self-conscious, do it,” added Farryn.
Sam said her most popular post was a behind the scenes photo of Victoria’s Secret models on the beach before a swimwear shoot, no Photoshop, followed by an article about DIY eyelash growth serum.
“There are five things: Liquor, Beauty, Puppies, President, and Shoes,” said Farryn, of the sure-fire hot topics.
“Hashtags are spammy,” declared Liza. She instituted a company policy to ban them except for events. Cannon agreed, saying Bergdorf’s also doesn’t use hashtags except for events and other very special things, like the #BGWindows tag for a contest. “They’re great for punchlines,” Liza added, which had the entire panel nodding and smiling.
The topic turned to contests. “Anything more than one or two steps, you lose engagement dramatically,” and “the more commitment-free it is, the more it just takes off,” said Sam.
Farryn said there isn’t much point in Michael Kors just giving out product all the time, you don’t want to give away luxury for nothing. However, when she first started she noticed there was an unusually large Michael Kors wristwatch fans community. She created the MK Timeless contest, “show us your watch,” and got over 10,000 entries in 3 days. Suddenly the fans were directly engaged with the brand and doing so publicly in front of their friends, which is exactly what she was going for, but far beyond her expectations in terms of results.
“The simpler you make your contest, the better,” said Grace, citing when BaubleBar once pinned a graphic on Pinterest, “pin something red or white from our site with this hashtag, and three people will win $50 gift cards from BaubleBar,” and the response was seriously over the top.
“It’s about finding something special about your brand and sharing it,” said Cannon.
There was some discussion of Vine, which is a fairly new mobile app that lets you share 6-second video clips. A lot of people are playing around with it. Sam likes that it includes audio. Cannon said, “I can’t wait to see where it goes with the next few upgrades.
The panel discussion was followed by a keynote by Julie Fajgenbaum, on “Brand and Social Media.”
Julie splits marketing efforts into two categories, top of funnel and bottom of funnel. Top of funnel is “brand warming,” where you make consumers familiar and comfortable with your product, and bottom of funnel is the “click to buy” drive.
Television and print advertising is mostly top of funnel, and it is expensive. So, if you can change out some of that with much lower cost social media outreach, there is an immediate return on investment, in savings alone.
She pointed to a particularly insightful May 2012 tweet from a brand strategist named Mike Arauz (@mikearauz), “If I tell my Facebook friends about your brand, it’s not because I like your brand, but rather because I like my friends.”
There are certain truths about branding, she said. Scrutiny is high, tolerance is low. Branding is not a discretionary act. Your brand is not what you say you are, it’s what your customers think you are.
Before the event, Julie had tweeted, “I’m planning to quote F Scott Fitzgerald in my talk at @3rdWaveFashion’s #fashiontech meetup tonight. Am I going overboard?” I replied back, inquiring if she was looking for a green light, but she didn’t reply. I don’t know if she caught the joke (“a single green light, minute and faraway, that might have been the end of a dock.”). The Fitzgerald quote she put on the project or at the event was, “Personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures,” leading to a discussion about consistency of image being the key to a brand’s identity. “You can control brand identity, but not brand image.”
“What does your brand stand for?”
“What’s our brand voice?”
“Can all your employees state your brand identity in one sentence?” Be internally consistent, and it will ripple out into the world.
Speaking of the future of online marketing, Julie said that the 90s were about browsing, the 2000s were about search and buy, and that the 2010s are all about design and demand.
She referenced an uptown store owner who went to fashion shows this season and took Instagram pictures of interesting shoes she was thinking about selling. She then took pre-orders through her web site and only bought the exact wholesale stock she needed.
With 3D printers, instant audio-visual communication, and a mass drive into e-commerce (“eTail”) by traditional brick and mortar purveyors, this design and demand economy seems more than possible. It’s happening now.