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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Topshop’s Facebook page.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Topshop’s blog is the home for everything that inspires the staff, and everyone in the office contributes. “Maybe they’ve gone to a fantastic exhibition or gig or they’ve seen an amazing pair of vintage shoes in a shop,” she said. Many customers comment, “so it’s becoming a great forum to hear what people think of our brand and product,” she added.

Two people on the e-commerce marketing team focus on digital marketing, of which social media plays a big part.

American Apparel is one of the biggest online advertisers, with more than 100 million impressions every month, much of it on niche social sites that its customer frequents. In August, the retailer ran ads on Chictopia featuring users on the site who were also fashion bloggers. The ads also ran on the blogs. One of the models also became a photographer for the company.

“They converted very well, although I can’t give you specific numbers,” said American Apparel’s Ryan Holiday, who handles the company’s online advertising. “A big part of it was showing that American Apparel is paying attention, and we appreciate the contribution these girls and these sites are making to the industry. We’re trying to look at advertising as more than just a way to put our ad on a site and hope it generates sales. We’re using them as a way to become active or support or be a participant in some of these communities.”

Social media is so pervasive in everything the company does that Holiday does not see it as a separate form of marketing or Internet activity. Both print and online advertising are important, he said. “Offline American Apparel ads — people talk about them; they are a source of discussion and controversy. I think the term is ‘social objects.’ That’s how our Internet ads work, too. In our case, there’s no distinction between social media [marketing] and advertising. If our advertising isn’t social, then it’s not working.”

Yet, according to Forrester Research Inc., companies are shifting their marketing dollars away from traditional media and toward interactive marketing. The category will grow to $55 billion and represent 21 percent of all marketing spending in 2014, the company predicted in a July report.

The study surveyed 204 marketers in a variety of industries, including finance and health care, and 60 percent said they planned to increase their budget for interactive marketing by spending less on traditional marketing. Direct mail, newspapers and magazines were forecast to take the biggest hits. This year, marketers will spend $716 million on social media marketing, with the bulk of their online advertising budgets going toward search, display advertising and e-mail. Forrester predicts social media will see the steepest growth of any vehicle over the next five years, with a compound annual growth rate of 34 percent.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said they are involved in social media, and 22 percent said they plan to be by the end of this year.

A small online streetwear boutique in the heart of Silicon Valley with employees who are veterans of digital companies is a case study in how to use social media. made its debut in December and specializes in unknown indie labels usually too obscure to show up on search engines.

“Independent fashion is all about finding, searching, wearing and discussing, so in a lot of ways, our category is tailor-made for social media,” said ceo Jon Farhner. Farhner came from Zappos, and director of marketing Julie Kung is from Google. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company received $1.1 million in funding from Alloy Ventures in April 2008.

Blog outreach has helped the unknown company create trust among potential shoppers, and the company uses Twitter to introduce new lines. Rather than use Twitter to hard sell, the company uses it to inform people about “cool stories” about designers and the inspiration for a product.

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