Just a few years ago, social media was a dirty word in the fashion industry. With all the secrecy surrounding new collections or shows, anything that gave their audience a peek 'behind the curtain' was to be considered an enemy, rather than an ally.
Fast forward to the present day and social media has given the fashion industry a complete makeover. Twitter and other social media channels have helped the fashion industry break down barriers and reach a whole new audience - Facebook and Twitter alone allow them to reach over 400 million users. But why are the world's biggest brands embracing social media now? There are two key reasons: fashion is inherently visual and it is driven by trends. Customers want the newest designs and collections, and they want instant access. Not too long ago, if you wanted information about the latest show in New York or London, you had to wait a month for the next edition of Vogue. Now, social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, and apps such as Pose and Trendabl, provide the ideal way to share up-to-the-minute information with a brand's target audience. Live bloggers and tweeters have as good as replaced traditional journalists in the front row of every major fashion show, providing instant information about new collections, while live coverage of the catwalk is offered on YouTube and other video channels. Professional photographers can showcase images of the latest designs via Instagram or Twitter just seconds after they have captured them. Major designers are able to communicate personally with their target audience and offer a working insight into the industry. Instead of being shut out or feeling excluded, customers are now connecting with the brands they love and feeling that they are part of an industry which has traditionally been closed off to outsiders. This increased level of interaction is allowing brands to monetize through awareness, engagement, passion and brand loyalty.
Now that the fashion industry has woken up to the potential of social media, how could they improve in using it? For the past two years I've been on the judging panel for the Shorty Awards, which recognise excellence in social media and in this year's Fashion category there were some outstanding examples of brands thinking outside of the box and utilising different platforms to great effect. Banana Republic, the winners of this year's award, came up with a highly original way to create excitement and buzz for their new Mad Men Spring 2012 collection - they surprised five of the most influential fashion bloggers with an impromptu fashion show on a flight between New York and Los Angeles. This was the first ever in flight fashion show and granted these bloggers an exclusive first view of the collection and they were able to live-tweet, blog and share images while still in the air. In my opinion, this was an outstanding use of social media and something that all major fashion brands should sit up and take notice of. Banana Republic are very worthy winners of this Award.
Armani Exchange were also finalists in this category with their #DressedFor campaign. The brand encouraged consumers to send in pictures of themselves in Armani outfits via a variety of different platforms using the hashtag #DressedFor, along with a secondary hashtag describing their look, such as #work or #summer. This allowed Armani Exchange to create a completely user-generated style board, offering a wide variety of looks while allowing consumers to get involved in the fashion industry first-hand. This relatively simple, but clever campaign encouraged engagement and connection between the brand and its target audience, and is a great example of how social media can be used simply, but to great effect.
It is undeniable that social media will continue to grow and the fashion industry will need to grow with it. Great strides have been made in just a few short years, but brands must continue to embrace all forms of social media and find new, innovative ways to connect with their audience and to foster a greater sense of inclusion. If they succeed in this, they will find themselves rewarded with fierce loyalty from their customers; if they don't, somebody else will.