Social media: the challenges faced by fashion brands

By Tamara Littleton

Fashion brands, from ASOS to Burberry, are using social media sites to connect and engage with fans and customers on a much deeper level than they previously could. Retailers are even using linking in-store initiatives to the social sphere. For example, John Lewis used virtual fitting rooms where in-store customers could get an idea what items would suit them, and then share the image with friends on social networks.

On Facebook, trainer brand Converse has the largest number of fans (32.5 million). Burberry is the most ‘liked’ luxury brand on Facebook with over 13.2 million fans. TopShop is the most ‘liked’ UK fashion brand with over 2,400,000 fans, closely followed by ASOS with over 1.7 million fans. Fashion brand Anthropologie was reported as one of the top 20 most pinned brands in April 2012. (Victoria’s Secret also makes good use of Pinterest with boards like #VSTeenyBikini which encourage fans to engage by submitting their own content to the brands page). UK fashion chain TopShop uses Tumblr – a particular favourite of fashion bloggers – to showcase looks, items and styles. (Even the film industry is using Tumblr to promote films through fashion.)

But all that engagement and transparency can lead to pitfalls, best avoided. Ethical issues regularly raise their heads; websites such as Ethical Consumer uncover, publicise and campaign against brands with unethical practices. Social media has given lobby groups a powerful voice, one which could have a potentially global impact on a brand’s reputation.

It’s not clear if the changes that some brands have started to make are solely down to social media reach, but it’s likely to have had some impact. H&M is one of the best known names in fast-fashion but their ethical status is now important enough for it to have pledged to change behaviour throughout the supply chain.

If you don’t get it right, social media also brings with it the risk of a full blown crisis developing. Avoiding social media doesn’t stop you falling victim to this – if a customer or campaigner feels passionately about an issue and there is no official page or profile to post to, they will simply post elsewhere, and if the brand isn’t paying attention to social media its reputation can be comprehensively trashed before those in charge are aware of a problem.

And there are some really clever techniques used by campaigners to promote their causes – such as the DKNY “Bunny Butcher” Facebook page hijack by PETA, a co-ordinated (and visually clever) attack that was covered far and wide.

The final major issue is an important one for fashion brands to tackle. Accusations of intellectual property theft have been made against a range of well-known fashion retailers, and issues like these represent perfect causes for social media users to rally behind. When independent jewellery designer Tatty Devine accused high street chain Claire’s Accessories of ripping off designs, fashion blogs, national press and social media lit up with the controversy. It was still making the news months later.

Urban Outfitters, also accused of making cheaper copies of an independent designer’s product, faced a hail of social media criticism. The news made the major fashion blogs and trended on Twitter.

But, handled correctly and quickly, these problems needn’t drag on into months-long reputational crises. When influential fashion blogger Susie Bubble called out Top Shop for copying the design of Yasmin Kianfar, it listened. Susie is a big promoter of the Top Shop brand, and an important person to keep on side. It took a mere two hours for her to be contacted by the chain and told that the dress was being removed from sale.

Fashion brands can, and do, get great things from using social media. It allows them to engage with individual fans and get detailed feedback on new products. Platforms like Pinterest drive traffic to their retail sites and help spread their actual designs – and for people who love fashion a picture is worth much more than a thousand words. Brands just need to be aware that there is another side to social media. It’s not controllable. It’s not the brand’s personal domain where no criticism can be voiced, no concerns raised. It’s simply a channel for brands and people to interact, and you can help to steer that interaction by intelligent management.

Relevant link

eModeration White Paper – How fashion retailers use social media

About the author

Tamara Littleton is CEO at eModeration. She founded eModeration in 2002, with the vision of applying the best moderation and social media management practices of the digital media to branded online channels. Her background is in content management, publishing, consultancy and operations; she worked as the Content Delivery Director for Chello Broadband, and managed the Online Operations team at the BBC, where she supported the pioneering BBC online communities team. She has extensive experience in community management, social media, crisis management and child safety, and is a member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), advising the British Government on moderation of communities to help safeguard children. She regularly speaks at conferences and contributes white papers to aid learning and development within the social media industry.

About eModeration

eModeration Limited is an award-winning social media management agency. It works with some of the world’s biggest brands (including BBC Worldwide, ITV, HSBC, MTV, Sony Mobile, ESPN, Hyundai, Smirnoff, the LEGO Group, Sprint and The Economist) and agencies (including Starcom MediaVest Group, Wieden + Kennedy, Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi, DDB Worldwide, Crispin Porter + Bogusky and Publicis Groupe). Based in London UK, with offices in Los Angeles and New York, eModeration provides multi-lingual moderation and community management services, consultancy and social media crisis management training to clients in the TV, entertainment and digital publishing industry and blue chip clients hosting online communities.

Committed to ethical business practices and to the promotion of child online safety, eModeration’s CEO Tamara Littleton recently worked with the UK Government department UKCCIS to produce its guidelines on how to moderate online environments for children. eModeration contributes to the growth of knowledge in the social media world via its white papers, blogs and seminars, and has a strong roster of returning clients who appreciate the high quality of its services.

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