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Conceived as a networking event in cyberspace for luxury industry insiders, Luxury Society has attracted about 2,000 members so far, several hundred of which are executives from luxury firms.
For many, it is their first experience with social media. The Paris-based social network site, which quietly launched in February, offers profiles and the ability to link to others as well as discussion forums and an editorial section with articles and links to other publications. Later this year, it will add services, reports on the luxury industry and job postings.
The four founding members, all luxury veterans, started the site by sending out handwritten invitations with red wax seals to 200 people they knew personally. About 70 percent accepted, and the site took off from there.
“We felt there was a big need for a tool bringing different subsets of the industry together” globally, said Imran Amed, a cofounder and the editor in chief of the site. (He is also a consultant to luxury companies and is editor of the blog “The Business of Fashion.”) Other founders have experience in human resources (Philippe Barnet), Internet marketing (Irina Dunaeva) and design (Pierre-Yves Poulain).
“One of the things we didn’t expect is that this would also be a way for senior people in the industry to understand firsthand how social media works,” Amed said. “Put yourself in the shoes of a seasoned luxury exec who hears about Facebook and MySpace and Twitter all the time. Everything is changing so fast. So, while they can conceptually understand how it all works, until they actually use it, they don’t really understand it. As people use the site, they understand the power of what [social media] has to offer.”
Luxury Society, which is still in private beta, has funding from mostly French angel investors. The company is looking for venture backing and plans to charge for premium memberships later this year when it adds features. Social networking sites that emphasize career networking for all professions and use this business model of charging for premium subscriptions, such as LinkedIn, Xing and Viadeo, are profitable.
The turmoil of the last few months has benefited the fledgling community. The economic crisis and the role of social media in luxury firms have been popular topics of discussion. Recent posts in the forum have included “Real estate in Spain,” “Looking for investors,” “Vision for changing markets and the world,” “Luxury jewelry on the Internet,” “Social media and luxury” and “Using Twitter to bolster brand.”
Said Amed: “We found that people are looking for insight to understand what’s been going on and to help them navigate what is a rapidly changing industry situation. There’s a market need here and social media is finally hitting the radar screens for a lot of people in our industry.”
Luxury Society has partnered with Walpole for content and marketing. Later this year or in early 2010, it plans to coproduce a luxury conference in France with Les Echos, the French financial newspaper owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton chief Bernard Arnault.
The founders estimate there are more than one million people working in the luxury industry around the world. The site is invitation-only, and every member is approved by management. Members are encouraged to accept as contacts only other members they already know in the real world.
Members can fine-tune their privacy settings, and can only view profiles at one or two removes rather than the whole network. Students, journalists and consultants are allowed as well as those working for luxury firms.
Some of the companies represented include Gucci Group, Starwood, LVMH, Bulgari, NetJets, Hermès, Tiffany, Cartier, Prada, Compagnie Financière Richemont and Chanel. The site receives about 10,000 monthly unique visitors and 100,000 page views.
Other fashion-industry-focused community sites and social networks include Iqons, HauteNet and Fashion Industry Network.
“Generally speaking, people want to network with people in the same industry,” said Amed. “By being vertical, we’re providing a high level of value. People have between five and 10 sites they visit every day on the Internet. The goal of any Web site should be to become one of those trusted sites where individuals go every day. My aim is that we become that site for professional people working in the luxury industry.”