Likes, comments, links in bios - social media has well and truly taken over, and if you don’t exist on social media, to many consumers you might as well not exist at all. Considering the average person looks at their phone 2,800 times per day, most of which include social media, steering clear of a digital presence is no longer an option for most businesses. It’s a shark eat shark world out there, and social media often provides the hype that can put one fashion brand squarely ahead of another. Having said that, the area is still shrouded in a level of exclusivity and mystery, making a ‘social media following’ an elusive and intimidating goal for many brands who can’t seem to get their engagement right. So what does increase your following? Is social media even necessary? And will slipping Kylie Jenner a cool $75,000 in unmarked bills in return for an Instagram post finally get your brand off the ground?

At the centre of social media, beneath all the likes (and photos without proper credits), is the central purpose of communication. This is, arguably, part of the reason consumer print media has faced difficulty, as many consumers who previously turned to a glossy fashion magazine for brand updates can now get news and inspiration straight from the brand themselves via social media accounts. But magazines are not the only people with declining traffic due to social media’s rising influence - digital is also being usurped. The majority of customers now simply open up Instagram to get the news - which, of course, is curated to their interests based on the brands they follow. This change in behaviour means it is social media managers need to be at the top of their game in order to capitalise on all the eyeballs viewing their posts, as well as widening their following in order to increase brand reach. “The important thing for brands to consider is why they are on social media,” explained Murray Bevan, Director of Showroom 22 and a veritable fountain of knowledge on the topic of fashion social media. A common mistake Bevan has observed across fashion brand accounts is the posting of large amounts of content which brands think their followers want to see. Often this content comes across as transparent and only serves to dilute the brand’s personality. “Without a purpose, social media just becomes white noise. It is much more important to have well thought out content, which is cohesive across all platforms, and sends a clear message to consumers.” Tone and voice are vital, as these set brands apart and can reshape how customers perceive the brand. A sophisticated monochrome aesthetic sends a different message to consumers than a caption including multiple emojis. Playing into meme culture or jumping into a social media trend because competitors are doing it is a quick way to derail a unique brand voice - a pitfall which often traps less confident brands. “Engagement and authenticity are the keys to a successful social media strategy,” said Bevan, who believes the best examples of fashion social media are the brands who are having real conversations with their customers. He cites I Love Ugly as an excellent example of social media use; for their genuine approach to consumer interactions and unique tone. “I Love Ugly was born on social media and grew with it. It’s where they live, and it’s also where the core of their database is.”

While longevity is not something one necessarily associated with social media, neglecting to consider the future may be the downfall of brands who see it only as a method of increasing immediate sales. “It’s important to remember that social media is a long game, it’s a way to build a relationship with customers which will bring benefits over a long period of time,” added Bevan. Herein lies the frustration for many fashion businesses; a quick fix overnight (hundreds of likes or views) will not translate into direct sales or revenue - and can feel like a waste of time. But wait it out, and over time a bond of trust can be established which can bring a greater degree of customer engagement and brand loyalty. “A lot of people think you have to post on social media all the time, but it’s more important that what you’re posting is worthwhile.” Again, the example of I Love Ugly is applicable - despite recent difficulties with their bricks and mortar stores, the brand remains stable and with a social media following involving high customer engagement. The reason; because they were one of the first brands solely marketing through social media, their social media presence is the central pillar of their brand strategy - which stimulates sales and continued growth regardless of their bricks and mortar presence. They’re thinking long term and not aiming for the immediate sell - a method which earns trust and evokes stability.

For the record, Showroom 22 does not manage any of their clients social media accounts. The exception to that rule was Topshop NZ’s social media accounts, which were used in place of a New Zealand Topshop website and provided a succinct communication vehicle for the New Zealand stores. As Showroom 22 were the only people handling brand communications, the arrangement was successful. But according to Bevan, the outsourcing of social media is where discrepancies in message and style can creep in. “No one, not even a PR agency, can speak in the brand voice like people working in-house,” explained Bevan “that voice is ingrained in the philosophy of the brand, and it usually comes naturally.” Showroom 22 does, however, offer their brands a wealth of guidance regarding tone, aesthetic and post timing to help brands maximise the impact of their social media while ensuring their content conveys the brand message.

While traditionally, fashion designers needed a significant amount of capital in order to launch themselves as a bonafide brand, social media appears to be levelling the playing field slightly. Whether this will change the industry in the long term is yet to be seen, but it is clear that a strong social media strategy can put a brand ahead of the game. However tempting it may be to look for that strategy externally, the first step should undoubtedly be looking within-  to the heart of the brand. From that basis, a brand can establish their unique voice and rise above the barrage of other brands posting copycat content. One final top tip from Bevan; “it isn’t a number of followers which is important, it’s the quality and engagement of followers - that is what translates to brand loyalty in the long term.”