Monday, April 6, 2009

WISH Magazine: Fashion and the social media revolution

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, 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 and 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 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.


Paul said...

I'll get the ball rolling.

As you say, new media is the frontier for marketers. The traditional comms model that goes brand -> marketer -> media -> consumer is being refigured as consumers create new channels, as they communicate directly with designers and vice versa, and, importantly, with each other.

The paradigm of marketers being able to shape, manipulate and control a brand image is over.

As channels multiply, standout brands won't be producing aloof, aspirational messages (in fashion, these messages are mainly photographic); instead, the measure will be the quality of engagement with its consumers and fans above and beyond its products.

What already know that genuine innovation in new media delights and engages an audience. Brands that recognise this will thrive; those that rely on the same old formulas won't.

The fashion industry, of all industries, is perfectly suited (sorry!) to experiment with new ways of communicating.

Mike said...

Media companies and agencies related to Fashion and specifically P.R. are worked on the traditional model of public liaison. But as the internet has become revolutionary, it has accumulated more demands by these media industry professionals to not just communicate and engage with their client(s), broadcast media outlets but also having to be in the know virtually 24/7 online. Put it simply, the internet does not sleep, but we have to. And when your asleep, there are millions of other people around the world awake and writing stories or communicating with their readers already. This is the role of the social and fashion blogger whose life may well be centered around this on a daily basis and not a Monday to Friday position.

I think for this Generation Y it's taken time to mature and evolve but to have a kind of hallmark to put to its name. For the next 20 to 30 years the growth in consuming online internet coverage of news, affairs and for shopping and leisure will momentously increase. Being able to blog has been naturally responded to as an extended function to allow any person to opinionate but more importantly, to provide another point of view or observation that may otherwise render pointless, especially within a print publication.

Is this why people are saying Print is dead? I believe Print is still crucial and relevant because those editors and photographers involve in the process of creating a magazine is holistic and informs more coherently compared to online media websites. Print based publications are well-edited, written and of course, certainly individuals involved are strong writers and correspondents who have the direct experience - working with photographers, artists, travelling extensively to write up a story.

This overall discussion also touches on another topic and that also relates to this and that is print journalism vs online journalism. By having an online version, you would be able to reach to a larger and broader audience than just something print based and which would also takes days to reach over the other side of the world. For example, bloggers can instantly scan images or photographs and these can be viewed and saved. On the contrary, as may agencies and companies who ignore 'third-class' citizen writers, the quality would be suspect in projecting the kind of information and coverage one would expect from something professionally printed and covered.

In terms of the media revolution of fashion and citizen writers who may be bloggers or who run a large online community outlet served by the needs of those interested in fashion and related content, it would arise a sense of possibly intimidation, discrimination for the lack of quality and fear. Fear of not completely understanding how they can come to grips of what it means to communicate for a website or your own to an audience outreachable to them.

I believe however, bloggers and professional writers/editors and correspondents can work together if this is the case to be. Bloggers shouldn't entirely replace them since the obvious lack of experience, direct contact and educational credibility. With this being said, as the same with those self-educated, making small attributes and doing what you can do to inform people much better by challenging yourself to do things more professionally would be very suitable.

From the experience of my own that I have already gained with my own website that I have been running since the end of 2007, from the very start I've always ensured everything that I've written myself is well-presented. By that I mean, taking the time to write on paper as draft, research (online + book/s if need be) and final edit. I then correspond on my accord with many international p.r. agencies who then send me further additional information to give me a well-rounded perpective. As a result, images and text I display are complimentary to act as the kind of representation any big label would want to have: good presentation.

But this is how I have approached the online fashion media revolution. Many others haven't approached it in an organised way, saturating their own websites with numerous advertisements, clumsy short-versed written accounts and bad quality images. It spoils and gives the image of blogging a big disservice. Which may be also why those prominent working in the industry would probably choose to ignore us.

This thriving extension of online communication is as on par with for example, Stefano Pilati choosing to also highlight his Fall 2008 Homme collection for Yves Saint Laurent as a visual panoramic film. It served to both highlight the collection but also to give different interpretations to how the audience could respond. Online communication is an extention to what we already have and are capable of doing. Only just that its properties which is inherits is rapid, instantaneous for coverage and user feedback and the wide scope to the mult-dimensional fold of our need of wanting to know more.

Patty Huntington said...

wow - great comments.

and mike, you bugger, you are always too humble to include a link to your fantastic blog, so i'm going to do it for you on this occasion:

Mike said...

I hope internet companies will listen to us more because at this rate, we're all be needing say 30, 40GB + a month.

Thanks Patty!

Caroline said...

Part of the beauty of social media lies in the fact that the brand loses a degree of control, which consumers can claim. This shouldn't be a scary thing. The brands that have a strong identity and quality products will thrive in this environment. It requires trusting your followers.

Con Frantzeskos said...

Brilliant piece, Patty.

It's wonderful that brands (of any type) are engaging with social media tools - they are a direct way of communicating with "fans and friends".

As we all know, fashion brands tend to attract more "fans and friends" than many others - so social media engagement is a logical, if not necessary step in order to give fans the tools to tell their own story, to express themselves, and most importantly, to buy the product!

Maxie said...

with respect to Mike's comments:
"Bloggers shouldn't entirely replace them since the obvious lack of experience, direct contact and educational credibility."

I think this is an extremely dangerous attitute to have. There are many, MANY bloggers out there who are far more qualified to write on topics they're passionate about, without the added burden of having to please advertisers.

As for 'educational credibility'... One doesn't need a degree to write well.

dreamqueen said...

Patty - that was a great story and what stood out for me was the Sassy Bella para, we've discussed this already and I am starting to see the light bulbs coming on with brands and PR's here that working with reputable bloggers is an avenue they should be seriously working with.

But what do you think about social media from the perspective of bloggers writing incorrect information about a brand? Paul says that the paradigm of marketers being able to control their brand image is over and it is but they still have 'rights' to managing this surely? I know that print media does the same, but do you think that it's easier or harder for a brand to manage because it can be communicated to a wide audience and globally so quickly? Do consumers care? Do consumers respect social media more or less than print media?

And then there's advertising on blogs, will bloggers go down the same track as print media (mags more so) with regards to favouring their advertisers? There's already been the online debate about bloggers not identifying when they have been paid to comment positively about a product or brand.

I agree with Mike's comments about some bloggers not taking care with their presentation and not being strategic in how they represent themselves. I think it's important to consider their own reputation. And I too agree that bloggers and professionals can work together.

The social media forum is such an interesting space and Australia is behind in how we use the online world but we will catch up fast and hopefully we can learn from mistakes and be better at it.

Patty Huntington said...

dreamqueen -

one stat i didn't manage to squeeze into the story was from nielsen online's consumer generated media report 2008-2009. and i quote:

"41% of online Australians publish their opinions specifically about products, services and brands via blogs, forums or other websites. A massive 86% read this content"

whether brands like it or not, whether they participate in SM or not and whether or not they and their PR reps want to bury their heads in the sand and wish that it would all just please go away, fact is their products are already being discussed there.

i think it's interesting that marketers use the argument - and notably fashion marketers - that they can "control" what is said in traditional media. they make it sound as if they actually write the copy that is published - when any bona fide newspaper or magazine should be publishing independent reportage and news. the reality is, many of them do control what gets written. a very high percentage of the people who are paid to write professionally about fashion just simply rehash press releases, don't do any original research and accept free products as coverage inducements - usually without disclosing this to readers. and in the case of newspapers, possibly also without disclosing it to their own newsdesks, which would most likely have a very big problem if it was brought to their attention. or perhaps some of them just don't care because they don't consider fashion to be a serious news subject anyway and really, anything goes. or they think the fluffier the fashion reportage, the greater the chances of being able to secure fashion advertising. i mean i have no idea. you should ask them. last year, when i busted the fulltime fashion editor of one australian newspaper for republishing - and almost word for word - a feature i had written two years earlier for the SMH, the editor had the gall to ask, "what would you like me to do about it?" i suggested he hold his fashion reporters to the same standards as his other news staff. i gather that's a big ask.

i wholeheartedly agree that the ethics issue definitely needs to be addressed in SM. but it's not like the professional fashion reportage arena has much integrity. and you are trying to tell me that mainstream news reportage always gets the facts right? just watch media watch each week to see who does not - i note MW devoted an entire episode recently to the pauline hanson/sunday tele debacle.

you already have large numbers of professional fashion writers who have zero understanding of ethics issues. you don't need a journalism degree to work on a fashion magazine. of course that suits the marketers because they can push the writers around. look, this is the way it's worked since the women's pages first went into newspapers - and retail advertising underpinned the first newspaper boom.

at the end of the day, consumers are not stupid. they can sniff a fraud a mile off. they can also tell good content from weak content - and pick mistakes. if consumers are flocking to independent fashion blogs and web forums - such as The Fashion Spot - that are operated by passionate civilians, industry insiders and also mainstream media refugees such as myself, then that tells you that they like the content. and that there is a gap in the market for that content.

dreamqueen said...

Thanks for that Patty and wow those are massive stats and should be taken notice of.

I myself have a love/hate relationship with the media, have they forgotten that they are supposed to be objective and be opininated by giving their readers a story with all relevant facts so that readers can make an INFORMED opinion. But they don't do that, they have their own agendas, they focus on sensationalism and what sells. I know they are a business but surely there's a happy medium there? But yes you are right consumers didn't come down in the last shower, so that puts the pressure on media to be more accountable for their reporting but they're not getting it. Yes the Pauline Hansen media debacle is a prime example of putting headline and sales ahead of fact checking but it's all about fast headlines.

And I guess that's where SM is really coming up trumps now because individuals are least likely to have their own agenda that is biased because of advertising and bottom line relationships. But that doesn't mean it won't change down the track.

I myself find that a balancing act within my own forum but it's something I'm always conscious of. I advocate pretty things in life and stick to that theme. I do not advocate baseless slander in any form and journalists should be held accountable - they have the power to ruin people's lives and they do it without a second thought, there are so many stories that are reported that is so none of our business.

And yes ethics is very important but that all comes down to the individual doesn't it and if an individual doesn't hold themselves in the highest esteem how can we have a level playing field?

Sorry went off topic from fashion there but you're right fashion is seen as the 'fluffier' topic but that doesn't mean the same standards shouldn't be in place.

Mike said...

You know, we yak on about fashion, aspire to it, admire but even the fashion system is imperfect. Because the idea of so many people loving fashion, it would be seemingly natural for all of us to care for it and cherish it but it's dissected and contrived in many places. Fashion is so much better than reviews and bad articles and I think it's called for this kind of revolution, a revolution for self-publishing.

Denee said...

Patty, are you aware the Tourism Australia is behind Scott Schuman's visit to Australia?
I've just received a media release from them about it.
I guess some agencies are taking bloggers more seriously than others.
Interesting that a government agency is one of them, while so many fashion agencies aren’t…

Patty Huntington said...

denee -

hi, yes i was working on a post about that this morning - but could not reach the relevant TA talking head. i have now posted regardless. i agree, it's a very interesting development.

Gary said...

Wait…did I read that correctly? Tom Ford is what? Do you mean to tell me that an actual fashion designer is developing a collection for women? How is that possible? These days all we hear about are celebrities slithering their way into the fashion industry. Sarah Jessica Parker, Madonna, the Olson Twins, Kim Kardashian, to name a few but the list is endless. Women’s Wear Daily reports this morning that Tom Ford, is in fact in talks with Givenchy designer, Pablo Coppola and a few other notables such as an accessory designer from Alexander McQueen to assemble a ferocious design team. The Tom Ford brand is headed into the women’s business and that my dear friends is fashion news. Not Linsday Lohan has a legging line or Madonna loves Macy’s or Katie Holmes bla bla bla. Read more at my blog, IMeanWhat?! at

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