Social Media's Issue: Does It Drive Sales?

Facebook's disappointing initial public offering has increased scrutiny throughout the social media space, including in the fashion world.

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Zindigo's Be&D branded page.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Target declined to comment on details on sales metrics relating to its use of social media, but Dustee Jenkins, vice president of public relations, said the store connects to its customers through several online channels to listen to consumer feedback, share enthusiasm and help create the best online and in-store experiences.

Erika Bearman, Oscar de la Renta’s social media personality and senior vice president of marketing and communications, has attracted nearly 150,000 followers on Twitter under her OscarPRGirl moniker, but are these fans actually buying anything? Maybe not right now, according to Mullen, but in five to 15 years from now, most definitely.

Oscar de la Renta’s chief executive officer Alex Bolen thinks it will happen even sooner.

“I don’t think it’s that far out. We would hope that through engagement — whether it’s through social initiatives or our [Web] site in general — we will develop customers much sooner. Initially, it was all about developing future customers, but how far in the future seems to be getting shorter and shorter,” Bolen said.

For, which saw an extensive relaunch last month, referral traffic from social activities and sales are both up by 30 percent in a three-week period. Bolen calls it a “coincidence” that these two numbers are the same — but it’s not a coincidence that things are moving in the same direction. He adds that e-commerce sales year to date have more than doubled.

Part of the plan with the relaunch of the site was to make it easier for consumers to buy online, and see if Bearman could drive sales, instituting a feature called “OscarPRGirl’s Picks.” Until now, she’s rarely promoted branded product through the various social media channels.

The brand’s social media strategy has always relied on establishing a personal relationship with followers. It’s latest endeavor in the space, a blog called George & Ruby that launched last month, is centered around the children’s wear collection that launched last spring. The blog is written by Marissa Kraxberger, head of the company’s creative team. “It’s a demographic that we didn’t think made sense for me to speak to,” Bearman said, calling George & Ruby a personal account of Kraxberger’s life as a working mother of two. “I don’t have kids and we didn’t think it was realistic for our fans to hear about children’s clothing from OscarPRGirl.”

The approach is slightly different for contemporary priced brands, though, such as Kate Spade. Rather than using social media in hopes of forming a personal collection that will lead fans to transact, the brand effectively uses Facebook to gather pertinent data about its users so it can specifically market and target to them though e-mail outreach, according to Mullen, who sees this as viable evidence of ROI.

She credited Kate Spade as serving as the best example of an organization that uses social media to power its e-commerce business. All of the brand’s Facebook and Twitter activity is a means of capturing data that the company can remarket to consumers to fuel its online business.

Even though there still isn’t a metric to measure social media’s impact, platforms are popping up aimed at making social commerce. They seek to empower consumers to transact on Facebook, for example, while at the same time making it worthwhile for companies that get involved.

For Zindigo founder Michael Bereck, the most important element is to really hone in on the notion of “direct social selling,” which sees a brand’s followers on Facebook facilitating in the promotion and selling of product on the medium.

The technology allows users to implement a customized e-commerce experience with any of the more than 80 participating brands on their Facebook pages, with the ability to build a network of ambassadors. Bereck believes Zindigo allows brands to monetize social media with the platform agnostic technology (which upon its launch is only compatible on Facebook, but will roll out to other iterations in the coming months). Bereck even brought on board Kareen Mallet, who was the Neiman Marcus Group’s senior women’s ready-to-wear director for 17 years, to serve as fashion director. Brands so far using the technology include Erickson Beamon, Be&D, Dallin Chase, Geren Ford, Kara Ross, Jay Godfrey, Ruffian and Isabella Fiore.

The platform allows users to open a brand page and establish a new revenue model. Users are motivated by the commission made from items purchased on their brand pages — which is 40 percent — and all partners maintain administrative access to branded content. Content looks the same on each ambassador’s page (which has to be vetted by brands) to ensure individual brand consistency, although users can highlight whichever products they wish.

Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist is a photographer who has built his entire business on the medium, and he has found that various platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram can be a lucrative way to make money for stylists, photographers or other creative talent that might get commissioned to work with a brand. Schuman’s blog, which garners close to 15 million page views a month during fashion show seasons (with 12 million in the slowest months of May and June), sees about 1.8 million unique visitors per month.

“How does it pay off? It gets people to see you in a different facet. Most of the time, the designers show one thing and they are very much in control. I feel so much closer to Dolce & Gabbana now because I follow Stefano Gabbana on Twitter,” said Schuman. “He’s aspirationally cool, but I feel like I know him better. It makes me look at their brand differently and say, ‘They aren’t so different from me.’ I am more likely to consider them [when I make a future purchase] because I relate to them more. How great would it have been if Armani had Twitter in the Eighties?”

To him, exposure on social media platforms is negotiable for any creative, rendering a presence in the space mandatory. If someone has a following, they can charge premiums for tweeting or Instagramming throughout the process of working with a company — something Schuman began to learn at meetings with potential brand partners. “You can ask for ‘X’ amount on top of your fee,” he said.


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