Monday, April 6, 2009
“Talk of the town has Alessandra Facchinetti (ex Valentino) already working on Tom Ford's nascent women's line.” So reported The New York Times’ T Magazine from Milan Fashion Week on February 28, floating the juiciest rumour of the month-long Fall/Winter 2009/2010 show season. The news was not, however, broken by the print edition, nor even by the style magazine’s blog, The Moment, but rather, via a BlackBerry alert that was posted to The Moment’s Twitter account - whispering in the ears of 100,000 followers in the tap of one “Tweet”.
Within seconds, the information was re-routed across cyberspace by The Moment's fans to their own individual Twitter flocks and to an international constellation of “member community websites” which consist of over 130 million blogs and over 350 social networking sites.
According to last month’s Nielsen Online Global Faces and Networked Places report, two thirds of the global internet population view and/or participate in these social media networks, accounting for one in every 11 minutes spent online. And that allocation of time is growing at more than three times the rate of overall internet use. Given Internet World Stats’ estimate of the size of the global internet population – 1.5billion - we are talking about a social media audience of one billion people.
Nielsen Online says that 7.5million Australians visited consumer-generated media sites in January 2009, up 17percent on 2008. Users averaged 13 sessions a month and 13 minutes a session. That compares to 8.3million visitors to the news and information category of mainstream media that month. Of those 7.5million users, over five million Australians – a quarter of the population – used Facebook (+100percent on 2008), 2.4million looked at MySpace (-17percent) and 2.3million viewed Blogger blogs (+21percent). And 150,000 of them used Twitter – which did not even register on Nielsen Online’s radar last year.
The Tom Ford womens line intel had leaked via one of Ford’s luxury industry intimates. And although 72 hours later, there was still no confirmation – or denial – from the Ford camp, The Moment had manage to engage its customers as brand ambassadors who traded the information, created buzz and inspired confidence in The New York Times as a go-to destination for hot fashion news.
The Moment had attempted “as live” show coverage in previous seasons, publishing mini field dispatches under the tag “The Fashion Telex”.
But Twitter turned that Fashion Telex into a real-time reality.
Launched in 2006, the free public microblogging service via which people communicate in 140 character alerts, is rapidly emerging as a social media revolution, experiencing 1382 percent growth in the 12 months to February this year – fuelled by a media profile completely disproportionate to Twitter's actual size.
Twitter’s six million users are dwarfed by the over 175million users of the five year-old Facebook – which grew 127percent in 2008 to become the world’s most popular social network, doubling the traffic of MySpace in December, according to the internet marketing research company ComScore.
But Twitter is the media darling du jour. Harnessed by Barack Obama to win the so-called first Web 2.0 presidential campaign and celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore to declare war on celebrity tabloids and communicate directly with their fans, Twitter has also empowered citizen journalists as news breakers. Examples include eyewitness dispatches from the Mumbai terrorist attacks and the Hudson River plane ditching.
On Twitter since April 2008, The Moment began the Fall/Winter 2009/2010 show season with 3000 Twitter followers. In three weeks that number had grown to 121,000, facilitated by the integration of a Twitter module on The Moment’s main style page. As of mid March, The Moment was the only fashion news site in the Twitterholic Top 100, which ranks the world’s most popular Twitter feeds (it ranked 53rd; the main New York Times Twitter feed placed sixth). The Moment's site traffic surged by 46percent in February to 1.8million page views.
“The growth was exponential and it surprised me actually - we update Facebook quite a lot and I thought Facebook would be the one which would take off” says Sydney expat Horacio Silva, features director/online director of T Magazine.
“Every time I turned around, there was The Cut [New York magazine’s blog], Marie Claire, Grazia, Allure, ELLE…” notes Silva, of New York Fashion Week’s backstage Twitterati. “I don’t know why this was the watershed. It happens in the same way that designers tend to uniformly agree on a trend that’s floating in the ether. I also think it’s a question of, if you’re a kid in Michigan, reading a post three days after a show has taken place, it doesn’t quite cut it. You want minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow accounts”.
Yet if both the explosion of social media, and the knockon effect when combined with traditional media have the potential to generate “mind-blowing numbers” – as news site Mashable referred to the CNN/Facebook Live Inauguration 2009 integration (136 million pageviews and 21.3 million live video streams) – why are so many marketers allergic to the medium?
Nielsen’s Advertising Information Services estimates Australia’s mainstream offline media adspend - including tv, print and magazines, but excluding Pay TV, suburban newspapers and classifieds - will be anywhere from A$9.5billion and 10billion in 2009, compared to A$9.4billion in 2008.
According to the Price Waterhouse Cooper Interactive Adverting Bureau [IAB] Online Advertising Expenditure report, Australian online advertising surpassed A$1.7billion for the 2008 calendar year, up 27percent on 2007. The IAB predicts Australia’s online adspend will surpass A$2billion this year.
Bureau chief executive Paul Fisher predicts that Australia’s online adspend could reach A$2.5-3billion within four years. That would rival newspapers and tv for adspend and share, if not overtake them, as is forecast to happen this year in the UK, said Fisher.
In the interim, according to Fisher and analysts, social networks continue to strike the fear of God into many marketers.
This is curious, given the difficulties faced by the traditional media: nosediving profits; a global advertising economy expected to shrink by 10-15percent in 2009 [Interpublic]; and a so-called “game-changing” shift in consumer behaviour, one that emphasises word-of-mouth over traditional marketing.
Notes Fisher, “The viral nature of these [social media networks] has produced a marketing network, the likes of which no marketer has ever experienced or been able to tap into before. And that breeds a group of marketers which sees this as an opportunity - and others who see it as a threat”.
“As a marketer, you are in for the ride of your life” says Sydney-based media analyst Steve Allen. “You cannot control it, so for a marketer it is quite is risk and it also does not necessarily behave rationally - double danger”.
Stuart Pike, director of industry solutions at Nielson Online Asia Pacific says that social media is “underappreciated, underutilised and poorly understood”.
“It’s the white whale for our industry at the moment” says Pike. “Captain Ahab spent his entire lifetime trying to find that elusive Moby Dick. It’s out there somewhere. When somebody wakes up to the potential of that space and gets the value proposition right for marketers, they’re going to make a lot of money”.
Relying on the advice of their PR interface, many traditional “top down” marketers appear equally cautious of embracing those “bottom-up” new media specialists who are already engaged in conversations with their audiences: bloggers. And this seems particularly true of the fashion establishment.
“[They are] the red-headed bastard stepchild of fashion - third class citizens” notes The Times’ Silva, who originally moved from Sydney to New York in 1998 to co-found the Chic Happens gossip column on the independent fashion site Hintmag.
The four year old Australian fashion blog Sassybella boasts Google Analytics-audited site traffic of 45,000 unique visitors a month, which is equivalent to the 47,691 audited print circulation of Harpers Bazaar Australia [ABS]. Founder/editor Helen Lee has also filed to the more popular British fashion blog CatwalkQueen.tv, which attracts 250,000 unique visitors a month.
Yet Lee’s offer of a total monthly audience approaching 300,000 unique visitors for her coverage of last April’s Australian Fashion Week failed to cut any mustard with local fashion publicists. Lee claims the majority ignored her. One of those who did turn Lee down declined to comment for this story.
“Magazines have been around for decades, newspapers have been around for decades - the internet is new” says Sydney fashion publicist Adam Worling. Although he regularly deals with the online arms of mainstream Australian publishers, Worling said he has yet to liaise with a single independent blogger – including Lee, who has never approached him.
“None have provided any information” adds Worling. “I think that’s going to be something new for internet and blogging sites to actually get out there and sell themselves. People are going with brands that they know”.
That said, being established with established media brands and some of the highest online news traffic in Australia did not help this journalist gain Paris show accreditations in 2007. (At that time, Nielsen NetView put the monthly unique visitors to smh.com.au and NEWS.com.au at 1,482,608 and 1,258.721, respectively).
Having already dealt with Fairfax and News Limited for decades and after according me accreditations for two 2006 seasons as the fashion reporter of The Sydney Morning Herald, Paris show organisers, the Chambre Syndicale de la haute couture Parisienne, refused my accreditation request for the Fall/Winter 0708 season, because I was filing exclusively to The Herald’s website that season and not its print edition.
It happened again six months later, after I had joined News Limited’s Australian online news portal NEWS.com.au as fashion reporter. Several major fashion brands, notably Italy’s Prada, also stopped providing tickets after I moved online.
Now in 2009, more and more companies are taking babysteps into the social media wilderness – with several companies making extravagant claims about who got to the edge of it first.
In February, Roberto Cavalli claimed (apparently unchallenged by several media outlets) that he has 11million Facebook fans. Cavalli’s official Facebook page in fact boasted 73,697 fans as of mid-March.
Gucci claims to be the luxury company with the biggest number of Facebook fans (366,527). Burberry’s “official Facebook page” boasts more (579,415). Burberry confirms that this is not their official page, but a fan page. Social media gurus would argue: what’s the difference?
In December, Britain’s Agent Provocateur claimed to have been the first luxury company to launch a multi-platform social media campaign. However Italy’s Costume National was already highly socially active early last year, with a portfolio which embraces Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, three corporate blogs and 44 employees on Twitter.
In December, former Forrester Research social media analyst Peter Kim launched a Social Media Marketing wiki. Of the 500 brands listed, fashion, apparel, retail and beauty account for only a tiny percentage.
Some examples cited include Zappos, Nike, Victoria’s Secret and American Apparel’s recent ad campaign modelled by Chictopia bloggers.
The wiki does not include Dolce e Gabbana’s Swide website (or the brand’s pioneering use of live streaming runway videos), Viktor & Rolf’s virtual SS09 live-stream runway video, Burberry’s Facebook-MySpace-Bebo-YouTube tie-in with its The Beat For Men fragrance, or the recent DKNY and Lane Crawford ad campaigns (shot by The Sartorialist’s Scott Schuman and Jak & Jil’s Tommy Ton, respectively).
Nor does it include the Marc Jacobs/Bryanboy case study.
After making a tribute YouTube video to Marc Jacobs in late 2007, Manila-based fashion blogger Bryanboy wound up with a Marc Jacobs handbag named in his honour last year - and a deluge of worldwide publicity. At press time, Marc Jacobs Japan had just commissioned Bryanboy to narrate a behind-the-scenes documentary on the FW0910 Marc Jacobs and Marc by Marc Jacobs shows.
The internet research and analysis service eMarketer expects ad spending on social networks will grow 10.2percent to US$1.3 billion in 2009 (a revision from the earlier US$1.8billion estimate).
But how much of this new activity is being driven by recessionary budget cuts, with marketers forced to look to cost-effective social media in a new light? Another hallmark of the FW0910 season was a spate of low-cost video/online alternatives to traditional runway shows.
“It’s actually been a long time coming” says US social media commentator David Armano, the Chicago-based VP of Experience Design at Canadian interactive marketing agency Critical Mass. “[Online ad revenue] definitely started accelerating about two years ago and I would say that the environment probably tipped it even more in that direction - now people are really looking at their dollars.”
At press time Critical Mass was developing work for Gucci and D&G, as well as advertising for a fulltime social media director for another client, Adidas.
In February, the agency helped develop an Adidas social media campaign for the National Basketball Association’s All-Star weekend.
As “seen” through the eyes of Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, the campaign incorporated Howard’s YouTube, Flickr and Twitter content, all posted to a microsite which also showcased an anchor tv commercial that eventually generated over two million views online.
“This is a very different type of marketing. Not a lot of people are doing it, it’s pretty new” Armano says, adding that the biggest challenge faced by marketers is losing control. Marketers, he suggests, are nervous of taking a leap of faith into the hands of those who could prove to be their ultimate brand ambassadors - their highly-engaged customers. He calls them “citizen marketers”.
“Word of mouth is more important to brands than it’s ever been" says Armano. "Because the old school of branding was about creating stories and a sort of a myth around your brand. And word of mouth is not compatible with myth. It’s the opposite. Things don’t get talked about unless there’s something worth talking about.
“It’s not just about marketing and it’s not just about products. It’s about keeping them interested in your brand. Having them become your advocate, having them become marketers for you. Because that’s, like, the best advertising you can have”.
Originally published (in a slightly more condensed format) on April 3rd, in the April 2009 edition of The Australian's style magazine Wish. Click here to read the online version of that story, 'Net Gain', on The Australian's website.
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