Yesterday Mercedes Benz Fashion Week officially hit the tents at Lincoln Center -- but the runways got started early in the social media-verse. Among the more fashion-forward platforms, for example, Pinterest launched a fashion week hub last Wednesday, featuring behind-the-scenes peeks at a variety of brands that are racking up fans. Just look at the Michael Kors fashion week board, which has already gained nearly 90,000 followers, even though their actual show won't take place for five more days.
Whatever you think of the looks on this year's runways, one thing you should try on is the fashion industry's social media savvy. We culled tips from some of the industry's best social promoters. It doesn't matter if you're not remotely in the same business. If the shoe fits...
1. Pictures Are Worth 1,000 Tweets
The visual element comes naturally in the fashion world -- after all, image is what they're selling. But visual social networks like Pinterest, Instagram and Vine are growing in popularity, and there's no reason for your company to stick with 140 characters.
As Piqora CEO Sharad Verma explained to Inc., the visual networks tend to be the most powerful social media platforms, in large part because "the product-related conversations on Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr are mostly organic -- not driven by brands but emerging from people." That makes these a "great way to generate free earned media and traffic."
This is particularly important if your business sells products; Pinterest alone is already responsible for 23% of social media purchases.
The takeaway: Make sure you're aware of where people could be showing off your business or products, and consider whether you should be actively using these networks. Just monitoring mentions may be too passive.
2. Tailor Your Message
To deploy each social media platform to best effect, you have to understand the different audience on each. As Libby Myers, a fashion account director at Room 214, explains, "The demographic that tends to appear on Twitter -- tech users -- is different from that on Facebook, which is sort of the everyman. Instagram is more of a niche market." Fashion brands are successful because they know how "to segment their messaging, so they're able to talk to different key interests."
A glance at various brand pages underscores this message. For example, Michael Kors, which Pivot Conference called "the fashion brand to follow," presents a combination of luxe product and lifestyle shots on its Instagram page, while its Pinterest albums include topics like "style icons," "Michael's style tips," and "history of American style." Kate Spade New York offers Facebook exclusives on their wall, while tweeting day-in-the-life adventures with a special hashtag, #ohnewyork.
The takeaway: Social media isn't one-size-fits-all. Spend time looking at what your customers do on each network, and then nip and tuck your message as needed.
3. Tell a Story about Your Customers' Lifestyle (or the One They Wish They Had)
A good social media strategy doesn't just display products or push services. It targets a clear customer and tells a story that appeals to that person. Kate Spade's #ohnewyork tweets seem to be from a trendy, New York-obsessed fashionista who's gallery-hopping her way around the city (in Kate Spade clothing, naturally). Meanwhile, earlier this year, Christian Dior created a "Secret Garden - Versaille" storyline, painting a luxurious picture of its new collection. The story, which included a video component and behind the scenes photos--was promoted across YouTube and other visual social media. (See #1, above.)
As an example of how that might translate to a non-fashion brand, Myers gives the example of Crock-Pot. "We try to understand the lifestyle of a person who would use their product," she says. With Crock-Pot, that means "homey messaging, making home-cooked meals, helping moms out with recipes and inspiration. You want to understand the consumer and provide content that is helpful or instructive."
The takeaway: Think about who's using your product or brand. In a visual or realtime way, let your social media show how you're going to improve a specific area of their life.
4. Party With Fans
According to Myers, fashion brands are "great at corralling the fan base. A lot of other types of brands aren't." These companies respond to fans on social media, host contests, start hashtags and generally ask users to engage.
Some even go a step farther, incorporating user-generated content into their strategy. This is "something that started in the fashion industry and I’ve seen a ton of brands widely adopting this, putting their fans out there as the advertisement," explains Myers. The excitement for fans is the hope of being featured by a beloved company.
"It's not just to get free content, but also to elevate that fan and make them feel special. And it carries over to other fans," she says. "It's mutually beneficial. Everybody wins. The brand doesn't have to hand out some high reward, but nevertheless the fan feels very, very special."
The takeaway: If a fan takes the time to post about your company or ask you a question, take the time to answer, retweet or thank them publicly.
5. Be Yourself
Two of the best-known fashion personalities on Twitter are Aliza Licht (@DKNY) and Erika Bearman (@OscarPRGirl). With 470,000 and 236,000 followers respectively, the two self-styled "PR Girls" offer a unique mix of brand representation, personal opinions and insider insights.
Bearman told the Wall Street Journal that, in her experience, "connecting with your followers on that personal level is part of what gives you their attention when you have something to say about your brand." And speaking at a TedX event this spring, Licht explained why her followers -- or friends, as she prefers to think of them -- respond so strongly to honest, personal tweets: "These friends love to be a fly on the wall. Because they see the good, they see the bad, they see the ugly, and they see the stressful."
The takeaway: Don't be afraid to show a little personality. Let your followers become friends, and they'll supportive of your successes and forgiving of your failures.
6. Online Is the New Offline
Fashion Week is a prime example of the industry's ability to bring the offline world of the tents to the entire Internet. In addition to last week's Pinterest push, every show is getting streamed live on a number of websites, including Facebook, YouTube, The New York Times, NY Daily News, Huffington Post Style, and Who What Wear.
But live video isn't the only way that fashion brands are breaking out of the physical space. Last month, J. Crew used Pinterest to debut its fall catalog, writing, "Just for our friends on Pinterest, an exclusive first look at our September Style Guide." After all, what's a static catalog in the mail when you have a way to offer fans an interactive one?
The takeaway: Consider whether you have offline messages that you could put online more efficiently and then promote through social media.
Trend Watch: Proceed With Caution
Myers gives one warning: Fashion is based on trends, so for that industry, it's not a problem to try a new social media platform one season and abandon it the next.
"Fashion has been one of the first to innovate on social media in a lot of different ways, like by creating new apps or tools," she explains. But most businesses should consider jumping on new networks more carefully: "You have to consider, does this make sense long-term or is it a flash in the pan?"