The Oscars red carpet can be a lot like the high school cafeteria, with social media starring in the role of the know-it-all gossip — and notching up the schadenfreude along the way. Who can forget the avalanche of Twitter memes spawned after Lady Gaga walked the red carpet in Azzedine Alaïa and a pair of bulky, red gloves that some on social media deigned to be designed by Captain Planet, while others Photoshopped the songstress in front of a pile of dirty dishes or other domestic settings? Then there was Jared Leto in a Givenchy suit that largely got the thumbs-up, but was hardly enough to buffer him from the sniggers about his striking resemblance to a certain biblical character. So it’s no surprise design ateliers and luxury houses have in the past been wary of engaging in the kind of discussions that reside on various social media platforms.

That’s changing now.

This story first appeared in the February 25, 2016 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Within the luxury fashion industry, there’s been this reluctance to join social media because traditionally, this has been a more exclusive crowd and social media is about ubiquity. Anyone can chime in and speak about any brand,” says James Lovejoy, content researcher at social media analytics firm Brandwatch. “For an industry that’s traditionally held a tight grip, to not be there is to lose a little bit of control.”

Those who have embraced social as a legitimate marketing tool have notched some successes.

Rakuten Marketing’s review of brands’ efforts on search and social called out Versace for having the most well-rounded presence during last year’s Oscars across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as it shared posts of Zoe Saldana, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Aniston, all wearing gowns from the atelier. Zuhair Murad nabbed about 3,000 followers from its activity on Twitter and Instagram during last year’s awards show. Marchesa’s success on Twitter bore out in a gain of about 2,000 followers during the 2015 Oscars.

In the past year, Marchesa has focused on building its Instagram following and is strategic in how posts are handled, often running vignettes of three related images, explains chief executive officer Edward Chapman. That could be a photo of a celebrity in a Marchesa gown, followed by a second post featuring details of the embroidery and another from the fitting.

“This has been very popular with our followers and allows us to show the world of Marchesa in more detail than you can see on the red carpet,” Chapman says.

Marchesa counts about 938,000 followers on Instagram as it aims to show what Chapman described as “the full spectrum for the brand,” as opposed to simply looking at sales numbers to gauge efficacy.

“With social media, it’s more difficult to draw a direct correlation to sales,” he says. “To measure success with our social media channels, we look more closely at engagement with each post, to see what our followers are responding to.”

Stuart Weitzman’s global communications strategy has matured into what chief marketing officer Susan Duffy describes as a layered approach, with media buys promoting celebrities and its hashtag #inourshoes. That includes an Oscars initiative with Vanity Fair involving digital banners that began Feb. 17.

Shoppability of the Weitzman Instagram page could prove a game changer for marketing around the Academy Awards, Duffy says. The company launched the feature in late summer, with total revenue from social up 25 percent since.

“For us, with the Oscars, it’s part of our 360-degree storytelling arc because social media is obviously part of that magic mix that’s available to us as marketers nowadays,” Duffy says. “Our goal is to be a part of the conversation, 24-7.”

Even for brands that don’t anticipate their gowns or accessories on the red carpet, it’s still important to participate.

That’s the case for St. John, which is focused on growing its custom eveningwear business. Participating in the Oscars conversation is an opportunity to build brand awareness among new customers and keep the discussion going with existing ones, according to senior vice president of marketing Tiffany Anastasakis.

This year is the first time the company will engage with viewers around the Academy Awards, following an in-depth analysis in 2014 that examined where the brand could make improvements on social.

“[It’s about] the idea of not only the actresses, but the costume designers or the filmmakers or the writers, and we think that’s important. It also supports one of our brand pillars — we believe that, as a brand, we dress women of accomplishment and we like to support them and salute them in many different ways,” Anastasakis says.

The real test of efficacy will be in the weeks following the event, when the company studies increases in followers, engagement and ultimately how much traffic flowed to the company’s Web site.

Ready-to-wear firm Donna Morgan also doesn’t anticipate its eveningwear to be on the red carpet, but that’s not stopping the company from joining the party in an effort to continue the momentum that began in the fall to broaden its business beyond bridal and into eveningwear. This year’s Oscars strategy will focus on nominees and designers alongside how those looks can be translated by Donna Morgan.

“We create our own content that we know is going to be relevant to our readership,” says Amy Madonia, vice president of e-commerce and marketing at Donna Morgan. “[Shoppers are] very interested in new looks and executing trends based on the inspiration they see.”

It’s a similar opportunity for Galia Lahav Haute Couture, the Israel-based bridal and eveningwear company that recently opened a 6,000-square-foot boutique on La Brea Avenue to make the brand more accessible to Hollywood and help grow its eveningwear business. It’s expected to make up about one-third of the overall $3 million in sales projected this year for the store.

The company, which counts more than 1.2 million Instagram followers, is taking advantage of the lead-up to the awards show, teasing fans to guess what celebrity might wear one of its dresses and other conversation starters to increase engagement.

“The ROI is tricky because each couture dress for the Oscars has [an] operational cost of at least $50,000 and we’re required to take the best opportunity to get the best exposure, so that people will talk about the dress,” says founder Idan Lahav.

That’s the whole point, says Danny Kourianos, senior vice president of product strategy at Rakuten Marketing, because not everyone talking up a brand on social media may be buying.

“Not everybody can afford a Versace gown,” Kourianos says. “Still, [luxury houses] might be able to do tie-ins with other brands to which consumers have an affinity.”

Those higher-end brands, as their social strategies mature, will have to get savvier about how to talk to what is likely to be a different audience from their traditional customer base — hardly a simple task.

“It’s not so easy to manage the social community today,” Lahav says. “You must be creative, interesting, talk about the upcoming events at the right time and analyze the [last] year’s numbers. Not easy at all — but worth it [in] the long run.”

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