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Social Media Space Grows Ever-Crowded

Brands and retailers are planning very carefully to get their voices heard online this holiday season.

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The social media party is starting to feel a little cramped.


Brands and retailers are taking to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and other social media sites this holiday season, promoting their offerings with photos, videos, tweets, posts, pins, contests and more. The overall result is a cacophony of content that can be deafening to the consumer.

 

As a result, marketers of all stripes are facing a key question: how to be heard above the din?

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There are still more questions than answers for brands, but consensus is building around a few key digital truths:


• Users want a more personalized experience than ever.


• Brands need to constantly evaluate and adapt their social strategies.


• A good digital flagship with e-commerce is vital in connecting with consumers.


“We already know how to make money, it’s how do we give people a place to talk that we’ll never have to show sh--ty ads on?” Sophia Amoruso, founder, creative director and chief executive officer of Nasty Gal, told WWD.


The 29-year-old ceo seeks to cut through the clutter by directing consumers to the Nasty Gal online flagship, which is being overhauled. The online store doesn’t have customer reviews — but Amoruso envisions an updated site where users have a type of profile page and the ability to interact with one another, the product and create content that lives on nastygal.com.


The e-tailer has already incorporated some user-generated content into its site. Using Olapic — a technology that secured $5 million in Series A funding led by Fung Capital USA in July — brands can take pictures or videos shared by fans on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, collect those images and then post them on their Web sites with links to e-commerce product pages.


Amoruso wants to create a place that also has Nasty Gal’s voice in the mix. The e-tailer’s customer wants to talk directly to the brand — but right now they can engage only via a slew of agnostic platforms — which she said is “great, [and] we’ll be wherever she is, but we want to give her a place that’s home.


“I want people actually interacting with the Web site instead of importing social interactions,” she said. “I want content, community and commerce to all live together really elegantly. I don’t want it to be just a mess of selfies. I want it to be smart and beautiful, and what that means is to be determined.”


With so many options, brands need to make numerous choices.


Quynh Mai, ceo of digital agency Moving Image & Content, said that brands must be strategic about which platforms they want to “win” and those where they wish just to maintain a presence, or ignore. Once priorities are outlined, organizations can properly allocate time and resources.


Then there are smaller, more personalized platforms — such as Path and Vine — that Mai thinks could be interesting for brands looking to develop a deeper relationship with a niche consumer. This should not be mistaken for potential return on investment, as she said these platforms are most effective for one-on-one communication and real time influencer marketing rather than driving e-commerce.


Oliver Walsh, chief marketing officer of Aritzia, believes the space is cluttered because social media is no longer optional for brands.


“We have also moved past the notion that social is the holy grail,” Walsh noted. “It’s become part of the standard integrated marketing mix, which means that every brand is participating, some better than others.”


As the number of social media posts grow, so do the chances that marketing content gets missed. In order for brands’ messages to not get lost, it’s more critical than ever to deliver relevant content that cuts through the clutter. Likes, retweets and shares —­ which Walsh refers to as “advocacy actions” — will help resurface the best content “provided it doesn’t get buried too quickly when it first launches,” he said.


His advice on managing clutter differs from that of Amoruso’s, who wants to own the platform. Walsh said consumers should curate the best content out there — following only the feeds of “top quality producers” — while the brands themselves focus on creating the best content and positioning it in the right place at the right time with the right frequency.


He cited an example from his own company: Aritzia’s organic likes per photo on Instagram have not increased as quickly as its growing number of followers, now at 109,000. He said this is because as users continue to follow more and more brands and companies, the content gets buried more quickly.


To solve this problem, the brand has begun to post more frequently to achieve the same (or greater) level of visibility on Instagram. A slight increase in frequency has worked for the brand thus far — but Walsh said he remains cautious.


He noted that Facebook’s positioning in the social media scene has weakened since incorporating ads in its feed, coupled with an increasingly diverse user base, “diluting its cool factor.” It’s the visual social networks — think Instagram and Pinterest — that are dominating with, among other things, the rise of iPhone photography, in his view.


“Pinterest and Instagram will stay strong — Pinterest because it drives sales, and Instagram because it can hold the user’s attention for a prolonged period,” Walsh said. “Twitter isn’t going anywhere, thanks to its open application programming interface, or API, that makes for easy filtering of messages.” He said Google+ is making strides in this space for several reasons, too, including an ad-free user experience and the fact that nearly everyone has either a Gmail or YouTube (owned by Google) account.


The evolution of social media harkens back to another digital marketing phenom.


“It is a lot like e-mail — once people realized how impactful e-mail was, they started to send more e-mails,” said Bridget Dolan, vice president of digital marketing at Sephora. “And then the open and click-through rates began to decline over time. E-mail is more important than ever, and the consumer is still very interested, but she may choose to tune in more or less often depending on the demands on her personal time.”


Dolan, who is among those who believe the social media space is crowded, said marketers are refining their social media messages depending on how consumers react.

 

“Social platform algorithms are less likely to show her something that she rarely responds to,” she said. “We try to learn from the posts and creative that have low responses to avoid having her feel like it is clutter.”


David Hirsch, cofounder and managing partner of venture capital firm Metamorphic Ventures, contends that there is no “one size fits all” strategy when it comes to online socialization. Two things are happening with respect to social media right now: product- and situational-driven socialization. And while consumer packaged goods companies have social stories that resonate best through engagement and video, he said social marketing really shines when it can be agile in real time, based on the situation.


“Remember when the lights went out at the Super Bowl — and basically Oreo in real time changed their marketing message, and as a result the social take was one of the highest social engagements on Twitter ever,” Hirsch said.


But when it comes to fashion weeks and the surrounding hubbub of social activity, does this hold true?
Not for Aritzia’s Walsh, at least on Instagram.


“Instagram is quite limiting in the way it allows users to participate with content — users must stay within a single scrolling feed, there are no links out — [so] it is more difficult to weed out that redundant content. And for a brand, it is more difficult to ensure the visibility of brand content as the amount of overall content increases,” Walsh said.


Kate Spade chief marketing officer Mary Beech said some times are more cluttered than others for social media — and while the her brand wouldn’t necessarily launch a major new initiative online during fashion week, it would show what’s happening behind the scenes, food served at events and DIY projects.

 

The brand, owned by Fifth & Pacific Cos. Inc., has been mapping out strategy by social channel as part of an all-encompassing, years-long plan that contains seasonal strategies by touch point, including social. Beech explained that Facebook is about a customer who wants information on products and to be kept in the know about sales, events and new store openings; Instagram is the visual story of the Kate Spade approach to life in New York City, and Twitter is the verbal view of this girl — whether she’s tweeting about local goings-on or something great she just saw on the street.


“When we’re thinking of our holiday campaign this year, there is a specific strategy for Pinterest within the overall holiday campaign. That helps us manage the clutter,” Beech said.


Even as brands hone their social media strategies, some continue to believe that the concept of “the more the merrier” continues to apply.


Uri Minkoff, ceo of Rebecca Minkoff, doesn’t think the space is cluttered — either in terms of saturation of platforms or content within each platform.


“I think it’s too much when the consumers say it’s too much — and from the indications that I see, I’m not seeing them saying it’s too much,” he said. Minkoff’s perspective is based on a user’s point of view, how they want to control their feed and where they want to be. They have a choice to opt in or opt out of what they desire — and if during fashion week they’re following 100 people at the same show and they want to see 100 different views of the same shot, they can have that, Minkoff said.


Valentine Uhovski, Tumblr’s fashion evangelist (yes, that’s his title), argued the point both ways.


He acknowledged that there is a lot of content out there — but noted that most of it is recycled and produced by a small group of news breakers and influencers. Since most of the same content is shared on multiple platforms, clutter is inevitable.


“Tumblr helps a lot of folks within the industry,” he said. “A lot of designers, art directors and editors use the dashboards to escape creatively, connect to other creators and avoid every breathless sample sale update.”


Tumblr is not driven by follower counts or popularity, he said.


For most social media platforms, the push seems to be for more followers, more social interactions and more voices for the conversation. What’s not clear is whether consumers will get overwhelmed and revolt.

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