Everyone's Doing It: Brands Take on Social Media

For fashion companies, 2009 is turning out to be the year of social media.

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For fashion companies, 2009 is turning out to be the year of social media.

Once reluctant to cede control, brands and retailers from low to high are embracing social media and using it to boost sales and brand awareness. Having a presence on the top five social sites — Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and YouTube — is de rigueur. The top luxury fashion brands on Facebook in terms of fans are Gucci, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, Coach and Prada (although the Prada page is an unofficial one), according to New York University professor of marketing and Red Envelope founder Scott Galloway. Luxury fashion brands with the most Twitter followers are Vuitton, Tory Burch, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior.

“Traditionally, luxury brands built relationships with customers through flagship stores, traditional public relations and advertising,” said Galloway. “Now they’re building relationships through Facebook, user reviews and consummating the transaction [online].” Of course, the product remains paramount, he said.

But companies now are going way beyond simply posting pages on those sites. They’re building their own social networks, games, iPhone applications and cross-platform advertising campaigns, and partnering with third-party social sites focused on fashion, such as the search engine Shopstyle, the fashion social network and outfit-sharing site Chictopia, and the outfit-building site Polyvore. For several years, they have been reaching out to bloggers and writing their own blogs, which boosts their rank in searches. Macy’s, Urban Outfitters, Zappos and other retailers have found user reviews (and user-contributed photos and videos) increase sales. Saks Fifth Avenue, Urban Outfitters and others show which items are most popular among shoppers, which can push a popular item to selling out.

Despite all the hype and hubbub, though, and the success of eBay, Etsy and Amazon, these remain early days for social media and fashion. Threadless, the small online retailer of crowd-sourced graphic T-shirts, is one of the first successful apparel makers whose business model is based on social media, and so far no designer has made their name using the medium.

Some brands, especially luxury ones, remain reluctant to dive too deeply into the social media waters. NYU’s Galloway last week released the first annual ranking of the digital competence of luxury brands, called the Digital IQ Index. A group of 109 companies were evaluated and ranked on a variety of metrics, including the interactivity of their site, e-commerce, traffic and how well they use social media.

The winner in the fashion category was Louis Vuitton, closely followed by Ralph Lauren. Marc Jacobs and Yves Saint Laurent were described as “challenged,” and Bottega Veneta was called “feeble.” Stila and several watch and jewelry companies also fell into that category.

Prada ranked as “gifted,” but only because it is one of the most highly searched fashion terms on the Web and therefore has huge amounts of traffic. Otherwise, the site scored poorly. “If it doesn’t get its act together, it’s going to experience a dramatic fall from grace,” Galloway said.

While the social Web is probably having the biggest impact on media, music, entertainment and making personal connections, in the fashion sphere, the Internet has made celebrities of Cory Kennedy, Fred Figglehorn, Scott Schuman of the Sartorialist, Yvan Rodic of Facehunter and Perez Hilton, among others. In fact, so much so that Schuman and fellow bloggers Garance Doré, Tommy Ton and Bryan Boy were given front-row seats at the D&G show in Milan on Thursday, complete with desks and laptops for instant transmission, knocking the likes of Neiman Marcus’ Burt Tansky, Saks’ Stephen I. Sadove and other retail heavyweights to the second row.

Another big change is that people who love fashion and are driven to constantly seek out new things can upload photos of their own discoveries or see what people around the globe are wearing in a minute, just by going to one of the dozens of photo-sharing or streetwear blogs, such as Schuman’s, that chronicle fashion. It is more immediate, in-depth and less mediated than traditional media. What’s more, it has accelerated the spread of trends around the world, users say. Print magazines have responded by posting street photos on their own Web sites.

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