By  on September 14, 2009

From bridge to luxury, labels are gathering around people wherever they roam and entering social media in droves. They’re building pages on Facebook and Twitter and linking up with popular accessories blogs.

They can’t afford not to. According to Forrester Research, consumers spent $23.6 billion shopping online for apparel and accessories in 2008. That number is expected to increase 13 percent to $27 billion this year.

Brands ranging from Coach and Anya Hindmarch to Kate Spade and Nine West are all running their own social media operations, with online followers reaching into the hundreds of thousands. Accessories firms can especially benefit from these forums. Women don’t need to know their size to buy a handbag, and fit is often irrelevant in purchasing a pair of earrings.

“Within accessories, you have the potential of driving sales in social media, as opposed to a brand that offers couture gowns,” said Mark Curtis, president of enter:new media, a social media marketing agency for luxury brands. “I can buy my wife a bag online after doing the research in the stores and figuring out exactly what I’m looking for. Accessories are more viable from an e-commerce standpoint. There’s a greater immediate value from the way social media can direct their business model.”

One of enter:new media’s most recent clients is Versace, whose Facebook and Twitter pages go live today. Curtis’ New York-based firm designed and strategized the rollout of both sites. Visitors can now receive updates on Versace events, as well as view runway collections and red-carpet looks and preview ad campaigns on its Facebook gallery page.

“Social media fits into our overall brand strategy of strengthening our presence and relationship with our clients and community around the world,” said a Versace spokesperson.

Coach’s Facebook site has more than 400,000 fans. The firm developed interactive online campaigns for consumers to design their own totes and engage in conversation with other fans. David Duplantis, Coach’s senior vice president of global Web and digital media, cited greater traffic to its Web site and stores.

“Our visibility has increased tremendously, with more information on upcoming collections, events and celebrity sightings online now more than ever,” Duplantis said.

At Kate Spade, which is owned by Liz Claiborne Inc., director of marketing strategy Lindsay Stevens spearheaded the firm’s foray online to educate fans about the brand. She said much of the public wasn’t aware that founder Kate Spade was no longer with the company.

“We’ve been slowly building up content after we realized what a powerful tool it is for us,” said Stevens. “It’s a place to give a brand dimension, to tell a story in interactive ways, have a conversation. And because of the depth and level of consumer interaction, we can create and design a very clear brand story. We can provide them with content that we think is interesting and they can get to know us better and we can get to know them better.”

Nine West recently added a feature on its site that allows friends to share a desired boot or bag with other friends on Facebook. Creative director Fred Allard also has taken to tweeting on the firm’s Twitter page. Anya Hindmarch finds it “imperative” to update and inform her customers since “information is transferred so quickly these days.” Tory Burch enjoys interacting with her consumers from all over the world.


“I am always pleasantly surprised by how many of our followers respond or re-tweet the things we post on Twitter and comment on our Facebook updates,” Burch said. “We have Facebook fans across the U.S. and around the world, including Japan, the Philippines, Italy, Argentina, etcetera. We value all the feedback we receive and try to integrate their input whenever possible.”

Firms also are linking up to popular fashion blogs, such as Bagsnob.com and Purseblog.com. These forums often help spread a new handbag trend or have been known to discover talent. Designer Jessie Randall of Loeffler Randall attributed her company’s success to the exposure she gained from these sites.

Bagsnob.com is a four-year-old editorial blog founded by Tina Craig and Kelly Cook. It offers content as well as “where to buy” links for the latest styles by Marni, Jimmy Choo and various brands ranging from contemporary to luxury. The blog also offers individual discussion forums for each brand. Bags they mention consistently sell out at Net-a-porter.com.

While brands at the luxury level have generally taken longer to link in, Meaghan Dusil, who started Purseblog.com four years ago, said she’s been contacted recently by high-end firms looking to pitch stories or send samples. The 210,000-member forum partnered with Bottega Veneta on an “exclusive” day that featured styles entirely by the line.

“People are looking to feel close to designers,” Dusil said. “I see a lot of passion, especially when buying handbags. People think a lot about designers, and being able to read about them and get to know them is great. Why not give a customer what you’re channeling for next season?”

Anna Sheffield, designer of Bing Bang/Anna Sheffield jewelry, launched her blog earlier this year and enjoys the cross traffic she receives from other fashion blogs posting her wares. Since going social, Sheffield has reevaluated traditional marketing and public relations strategies.

“We’re more focused on Web-based marketing initiatives, and having a blog can be so much more powerful and gives the ability to send a clear message from me to someone else,” said Sheffield. “We’ll always read magazines and there will always be space for that, but I do feel like I’m reaching the general public. A print ad or editorial clipping won’t be as powerful in coming years as in years past.”

Cindy Krupp, whose public relations firm, Krupp Group, represents accessories lines such as Irene Neuwirth, Gryson and Phillip Crangi, said she is encouraging all of her lines to blog and join social sites. Krupp is often surprised by how far social media can take a brand.

“I’ve been doing this for years and there’s never been a shift like this,” Krupp said. “That being said, we still take our print efforts very seriously. There’s a certain cachet to print. Social media does not validate your brand. It gives you exposure, but having an editorial feature in a magazine gives your product validity.”

But there is a downside to so much exposure. According to Curtis, companies going social must stay specific in their branding efforts or risk veering down-market. A firm can spend years carefully cultivating an image through print advertising and runway shows only to see its efforts undone once it posts its first tweet.

“Some luxury firms present their brand on Facebook the same way ‘Joe’s Plumbing’ does, or lets interns run their Twitter feed,” Curtis said. “Social media is such a huge opportunity for brands, and every detail — whether it’s putting out a post that is off-brand or not correctly handling this frenetic conversation — can undo so much effort and investment that’s been built up for so long.”

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