By Marcus Leach
The second women's fashion seminar, run by Like Mids at Social Media Week, saw the focus turn to the future of social media in the industry.
Once again chaired by the highly engaging Hannah Kane, Editor of Phoenix Magazine, the debate discused how social media is shifting our relationship with the women's fashion industry, and the effect of consumer behaviour above and beyond marketing — and what the future holds.
Hannah was joined by a panel of industry thought leaders, including Reemé Idris, We Are, Jennifer Roebuck, the Marketing Director of FCUK, Emily London, the Editor of Refinery 29, fashion journalist Katie Baron from Stylus, and Sara Brinton, Head of online for Peopletree.
There are a few topics that we want to cover, so let's start by looking at how social media is shifting our relationship with fashion?
KB: "We are moving into an era where so many more people can engage and interact with brands. Consumers are going to expect that engagement going forward from here. It's not a little add on, it's now essnetial. It's just how you present your identity and across which channels."
JR: "Customer service is now almost entirely dealt with through social media, and mostly twitter. It is all transparent, which can cause problems when you are trying to keep everything positive. You have to balance that you are responding and leave things up there, even if they are negative comments. You need to accept that and how to manage that."
ZP: "I think it is also about relinquishing control. No longer do brands have total control over their image. The sooner brands realise their customers have a voice the better. I find it fascinating that some luxury brand shave left it so long to get social and start engaging."
EL: "We take the stance that we are standing shoulder to shoulder with our readers. We make sure that we respond to everyone and that we respect what they are saying."
KB: "It is the fine line between staying in a position of power and maintaing your voice, but at the same time being on a personal level with your followers. You are dealing with a creative audience so it is good to give a certain degree of access, but you must maintain your USP."
ZP: "That brings the data side into it. Just because data shows that something isn't working, if you feel it is good for your brand then sometimes it is worth doing it. Your content strategy has to be layered. Ultimately you have to drive your brand message forward and stick top your principles. At Topshop that is quite tricky as we have such a broad range of customers."
RI: "I think you generate brand trust when you don't always just dive in because it is what everyone else is doing. If you take Topshop they are very forward thinking and experimental and brave to a degree."
ZP: "That's what we are aiming for, and we will never give that up, even if our audience changes from time to time."
SB: "For us social media is a new way to tell our stories and remain who we have always been. Story telling for us is vital, and we don't have anything to hide and more than happy to show people what we do, how we do it and why we do it."
KB: "It used to be all about Facebook, but now brand creativity is taking over and different things work on different channels. Instagram is amazing for fashion designers. What I am fascinated in is their mood boards and the glimpses inside their studios. All of these mediums makes the industry so exciting."
Fashion and social media are almost the perfect partners, as it is so visually appealing.
JR: "I think you still have to choose what you want to share. Because of the transparency there is almost a temptation to share too much. But at the end of the day your competitors remain just that. We can't afford to show too much as we are a year ahead of the industry and if too much is given away we will lose so much. A reveal in a campaign is so important and people who get too in to social forget about the real fashion world and what certain elements mean to us."
KB: "It doesn't have to be ground-breaking cointent. It can just be about something that is going on in the industry."
EL: "It is about fostering a community and sharing more than just the products. It is about building a story around your brand that will engage and retain people."
ZP: "I think it is about being human. Find out what your consumer is interested in and resonate with that on a personal level. It is a fine line between too much product on the channels, but mixing in emotion as well. At Topshop we are not just pushing products, but a lifestyle that fits around our brand."
KB: "You have to remember you are operating in a social space, which is recreational, which is why people don't want to be sold to when using Facebook. I feel my space is being invaded a bit when people are just trying to flog to you."
EL: "You can still push product, but you have to be subtle and organic about it."
JR: "It comes down to what channel you are using as to what tone you take and what content you push. The channels need to cross over as well, and work as a collective."
ZP: "It can be about turning some of your customers into ambassadors for you. Engage with people who have a big influence in your space. People within the community have started answering questions for us on social, which is a huge help and shows how loyal they are to the brand."
EL: "We make sure that each and every one of our stories are so easy to share, no matter what the content. The reason we do this is because people are aware of it, and then when we have something special and a big piece of content, they are much more aware they can share this with their sphere of influence."
SB: "We have tried to generate content that people want to share, and now getting customers to generate content with us, involving them in the journey and story. At the start there was a little bit of fear in our brand, but we found overwhelmingly is that it has been a hugely positive thing, and also we have got information we might not have otherwise gotten. It has built a great level of trust."
KB: "I guess sometimes customers trust other customers more than brands at times, because a brand can become this big thing that despite what they do people think are unreachable. This makes having customers onside so important as the become brand ambassadors for you."
There is a buzz about the fact people want to be an active part of your brand, not just an end buyer.
JR: "We had a campaign where we made an entire shoot's worth of film available for people to cut and curate their own edit, with the prize being a trip to a fashion show in Australia. It's about letting people participate, but making it easy so the maximum number of people can join in. You don't want it difficult for people to engage with you."
KB: "You have to treat people like fans, and not just shoppers. We actively look to use photographers who follow us, we look at them on Instagram and then contact the ones we like the look of their work. It is such a positive experience and builds great brand awareness and trust."
Can we talk a little about the future of social then? What's the next big thing and would you get involved with it?
ZP: "I think you have to be careful about getting on social channels as a brand, because once you are on, you are on. You should never put anything out that you are not proud of. Also be aware that on different channels you need a different strategy."
EL: "I think more visually lead channels are starting to emerge, and these are obviously good within our industry."
JR: "We are the same, we tread carefully and ensure we remain who we are on each channel. We test things, mess around with things and then launch our brand properly once we have the hang of it. With new channels some explode onto the scene and then just fall away, so you have to be careful what you go in for."
SB: "We just focus on Facebook and Twitter primarily and make sure we do them perfectly."
KB: "I think the future is very much about conversational channels. It's about merging what we have into something a little more complete for me."
RI: "Creating the benefit of the data we already have and how can we use that and say 'let's make life and easier and more beautiful thing for you' and get away from the information overload we are currently having."
KB: "Combining digital and the in-store experience. Realising people do a lot online before going to stores, but then having that personal experience in store."
ZP: "We have tried a few things with sound, and trialled it at London Fashion Week to try and give people a better idea of what it was like to be at the show and give them a more interactive experience. Ultimately we want to let people know what it is like to be involved in fashion, from every point of view, and educating people about the various careers that are open to them is big for us. It goes beyond fashion for fashion's sake, it is about a social responsibility where we are educating as well."
RI: "That hands on experience from big brands is so important, and it is so important to educate people now."
Audience: "What is the future of advertising?"
EL: "It has got to be integrated with the online space."
HK: "It is to do with quality. And from there you can integrate it."
KB: "A lot of companies now and doing shop-able media online, where you can see the advert and buy the item instantly. Advertising and sales will become one space."
JR: "No matter what is happening for me it is still about top quality advertising content. Traditional media is still catching people's eye."
Audience: What does success look like to you?
ZP: "Engagement. If you create something and your audience engages and creates conversation around it that is just as powerful as looking at how much they spent because of content or and ad. Long term branding is so important and that's what those conversations do."
JR: "I'm the same, it's eyeballs on content at the end of the day."