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02/27/2013

Fashion Social Media Managers Tell All

Fashion tech firm Third Wave Fashion convened a panel during New York's Social Media Week to discuss how brands can use social platforms to drive sales.

The session, held at LIM College, kicked off with a demo by Olapic, a new social sharing startup that bridges the gap between social media and e-commerce by allowing brands to harness social content and leverage it on their own properties, according to Jose de Cabo, one of the company's three founders. Olapic lets brands collect user-generated photos from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and incorporate them on their websites to essentially "make [consumer] content shoppable," de Cabo explains. A shopper who sees a photo of a real person wearing a company's garment is more inspired and motivated to purchase, he adds.

Brands such as Free People and lululemon athletica have already signed on with Olapic. Fashion e-tailer Nasty Gal has seen conversion increase by 5 percent across its website since working with the startup. What's more, consumers who view and interact with Olapic content on the Nasty Gal site are twice to three times more likely to convert, according to de Cabo. And shoppers are now spending an average of 17 minutes on the website, up from seven minutes.

Social media managers tell all
Iconic New York City luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman can be an overwhelming place, says Cannon Hodge, the store's social media manager, and her job in overseeing its social efforts is to "create an experience so you feel like you're on the inside," she says. Bergdorf has a presence on 14 different social platforms, from Instagram and its 5th/58th blog to Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

According to Hodge, in addition to creating global awareness about the brand, she wants Bergdorf shoppers to become brand advocates. Instead of adding URLs to its social media posts, Hodge's team often includes phone numbers for specific store departments to encourage that more personal approach. In Bergdorf's daily morning staff meetings, the store manager often reads the latest positive messages from Facebook followers, which helps to keep morale up.

To counteract the algorithm challenges on the Facebook platforms, brands need to carefully craft their posts to ensure they're not getting filtered out as spam. Including phrases such as "check this out" or "read this" are calls to action that are more likely to get posts included in followers' news feeds instead, says Samantha Lim, a digital strategy consultant.

You can't control brand image
Julie Fajgenbaum, former vice president of brand and social media for American Express, says there are three essential brand truths.
  • Scrutiny is high but tolerance is low.
  • Branding is not a discretionary act. That is to say, every aspect of a consumer's interaction with a brand from marketing and advertising to customer service is part of that individual's brand experience and must be done right.
  • A brand is not what you say it is; it's what customers say it is.
"You control your brand identity," says Fajgenbaum, "but not your brand image."

That's a lesson that luxury brand DKNY is learning the hard way in the wake of an alleged photo-stealing scandal on Feb. 25. A DKNY representative had approached popular photographer Brandon Stanton, who runs the photography blog Humans of New York and has nearly 570,000 Facebook fans, about using some of this work in its spring 2013 store windows for an "Only in NYC" campaign.

After Stanton declined the offer, citing $15,000 as too low a price for 300 images, his photos turned up in DKNY's Bangkok store window anyway, and the photographer took to social media to address the issue. The backlash against DKNY was fierce and immediate; the company's Facebook wall was flooded with negative posts — which the social media team scrambled to delete and the company's Twitter manager, DKNY PR Girl, spent much of Monday afternoon researching the issue and responding to the problem.

"Is it now guilty until proven innocent in the US? Has no one has ever made a mistake? We're also human & we're sorry," she tweeted, with a link to her Tumblr post fully apologizing and explaining how the photos ended up in the Bangkok window. The brand insists that the mistake was an isolated event, with the Bangkok staff using an internal mock-up as the final product in the store window.

The social media skirmish certainly has tarnished DKNY's brand image but the company's swift and thoughtful response — and $25,000 donation to Stanton's charity of choice may have helped reverse some of the damage.

Fajgenbaum says that going forward, the fashion industry will move toward operating on a "design and demand" basis. The best example of this new paradigm, she says, is Chanel's high-concept oversize hula-hoop purse shown on the runway last fall for its Spring 2013 show. After fans overwhelmingly tweeted, pinned and shared photos of the unusual accessory, Chanel put the purse into production in a smaller version and carried it in its shops.

Update: At the brand's request, this article has been edited to remove any quotes from any Michael Kors employees who participated in the panel.