As U.S. consumers continue to spend increasing amounts of time on Facebook, and as brands amass larger followings than major women’s magazines, fashion retailers are investing greater resources into the world’s largest social network.
But how can retailers optimize their Facebook presence? Should they focus on entertainment and product, or is it best utilized as a customer service channel? How far should they engage? Is it too early to think of Facebook as a sales tool?
We’ve taken these questions to some of the best and brightest minds in the business and gathered their thoughts for you below.
1. Focus on Engagement, Not Sales
Although some retailers, such as Express and ASOS, are opening up stores on Facebook, the time is not yet ripe for F-commerce, most fashion retailers agree.
While iframes is certainly making ecommerce integration on Facebook easier and more cost-effective, Facebook is still best employed as a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, says Maureen Mullen, chief researcher at luxury think tank L2.
“In the same way that portals MSN and Yahoo and then search became the most powerful shopping engines in the world, social media will be the next big wave,” Mullen believes. “But we’re not there yet. Right now [retailers] need to focus on engagement and content strategy,” she advises.
2. Develop a Product-Centric Content Strategy
Mullen recommends retailers provide information and access to products beyond what fans would find on their ecommerce sites or in their stores. She suggests retailers develop visually attractive, entertaining content that enables fans to learn more about the design and development of a product, the designer who created it and others behind-the-scenes snapshots.
“Fans really want to hear more about product and want to interact with the brand itself,” Mullen says. “Provide users with content they never would have had access to without the advent of social media, share different perspectives and allow fans to share what they think in real-time,” she adds.
Ralph Lauren-owned retailer Club Monaco’s Facebook Page is designed to give fans an inside look at the company’s brand and culture while simultaneously becoming a part of it — what Ann Watson, Club Monaco’s VP of marketing and communications, calls the “inside out” approach.
“Our goal is to use Facebook as a portal to share additional content that’s not available anywhere else,” she says, noting that Facebook is the place where news, content and lookbooks (often modeled by Club Monaco employees) are shared first. Club Monaco also offers exclusive giveaways, such as concert tickets and original art.
Facebook, Watson believes, isn’t just a channel for sales, branding, entertainment or engagement — it’s a place for all of these things. “The messaging is what differentiates it. We drive sales by humanizing the message around it — literally!” she explains. “We promote our product in a way that we hope fans feel is authentic, because we display it via real people on our team and the real way they wear our collections, offering genuine styling tips,” she says.
We also admire the Facebook Page of New York-based luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman, which creates a range of content around a certain theme or trend based on what’s happening at its store, a spokesperson tells us. Last week’s theme centered around its Jean Sequence event, which is extended across content and imagery on the retailer’s Facebook Page, blog, website, Polyvore tab and more.
“Like the store itself, we want our page to be a destination where people enjoy spending their time and looking around,” the spokesperson says. “It’s about providing interesting and compelling information as a fashion leader… [and] having a conversation with people; sales is just a by-product,” she adds.
“The primary focus for us is engaging and entertaining our fans — if in turn this results in sales, this is a bonus.”
3. Allow for Two-Way Dialogue
Whilst many of the above brands have done commendable jobs developing content around product, several have just as commendably opened up opportunities for engagement — something, L2′s Mullen says, most fashion brands are too afraid to do.
Fashion and especially luxury brands are “very protective of their brands and images, traditionally maintaining an armed distance from their consumers and creating a sense of scarcity around their product,” says Mullen. Yet many brands aren’t allowing their Facebook Pages to be truly social; “users are being allowed to opt into a relationship with [brands], but [brands] are telling them they don’t really care what they have to say,” says Mullen.
Brands and retailers need to open up opportunities for two-way discussion as much as possible, Mullen insists. She encourages marketers to employ polls, respond to fans’ comments and develop content based on their feedback.
These tools are well-utilized by brands and retailers Tory Burch, Diane von Furstenberg and Bergdorf Goodman, which allow fans to post not only in the comments, but directly on the Page. Whilst this does create some moderation work, it also underlines the value each company places on its customers.
Last year DKNY briefly turned off the ability for fans to post directly on its Page (a certain PETA protest might have had something to do with that decision). But now, with fans able to post freely on the Page, it is certainly one of the most responsive among fashion brands and retailers. The company’s communications team keeps a close tab on fan comments, furnishing timely responses to questions wherever necessary — a practice rarely carried out by companies of its size.
Flash sales site Gilt practices two-way engagement on its Facebook Page via a sophisticated “Support,” tab where fans can ask questions and deposit feedback. The tab is closely monitored by Gilt’s customer service team, so users can expect to see timely and accurate responses to their queries. (We also love that Gilt gives an early preview of its flash sales, which begin every day at noon, via the “Preview” tab — a great way to drive sales and reward fans.)
4. Build Your Fan Base
While a strong content and engagement strategy can help a Page grow organically, retailers are also bolstering fan numbers by advertising on Facebook and developing multi-channel campaigns.
According to research firm Efficient Frontier, the cost of Facebook ads jumped 40% in 2010, a number that is likely to continue to increase dramatically over the next several years. In her research, Mullen has found that Facebook advertising is the easiest way to build up a fan base, particularly when paid ads are coupled with campaigns that extends across several online and offline channels.
She cites a Covergirl promotion of a new “natural luxe” line of makeup in January. The makeup company ran TV ads prompting viewers not to head to covergirl.com or their nearest Walgreens, but to log in at facebook.com/covergirl, where fans could sign up to be part of the “Covergirl movement,” get free samples and upload videos of themselves sampling makeup. The commercials, which garnered 8,000 Likes on the first day of airing alone, were accompanied by Facebook ads featuring spokesmodels Taylor Swift and Queen Latifah, catapulting Covergirl into the number-two spot (in terms of Facebook Likes) among beauty brands on Facebook.
Oscar de la Renta also employed a cross-channel strategy to build buzz around its first fragrance launch in 10 years. The company leveraged its existing PR assets as well as Facebook ads to drive consumers to sign up for free samples on its Facebook Page. The brand ran through its initial 5,000 sample allotment within 24 hours, and because it was generating so many Likes, the brand decided to give away 25,000 samples, which it ran through in three days, Erika Bearman, Oscar de la Renta’s director of communications, tells us.
Not only was the giveaway successful in terms of press mentions and Facebook Likes — the initiative increased total Page Likes by 40% — it also turned out to be a valuable feedback tool for the company. Approximately 5,000 people took the time to answer questions on the scent in a followup survey, a testament to the two-way nature of Facebook, Bearman notes. “Sampling as a concept is old school, but with a traditional sampling you don’t get to hear what people think,” she says. “I think that the ability to collect feedback on your product is an important advantage to Facebook as a marketing platform,” she adds.
5. Let Your Strategy Evolve
As the case studies above illustrate, a well-developed, engaging content strategy, coupled with on-site advertising and multi-channel campaigns to drive Likes, is the best way to ensure that retailers are prepared for the advent of social media-driven commerce.
It’s also important to keep content fresh, and to evolve one’s Facebook strategy over time. “Be open to evolving your tactics within your strategy to avoid getting too formulaic,” Club Monaco’s Watson reminds retailers.
Jason John, senior direct of marketing at Gilt Groupe, agrees. “Keep experimenting to find the right strategy… [and] alter your communication style on Facebook [whilst] staying true to your brand. You don’t need to be quirky or funny to be successful in social media, just stick with your brand values and create an honest and open conversation with your fans. They will tell you what you need to be successful.”