By  on September 3, 2014

New York Fashion Week is more than ever going to be all about eyeballs — in real-time.

As designers plot ways to flood social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and now Snapchat during the shows, terms like “conversion rate” and “ROI” recede into the background. Instead, it’s all about attracting an audience — right then and right now.

Social media’s main impact on the show season is the increasing immediacy of the event, and how the platforms bring everyone, globally, into the tent, literally. And as those networks grow in influence and audience numbers, brands are increasingly desperate to attract their users.

Last season, Michael Kors was the leading fashion brand on Instagram, ranking third highest in terms of followers gained during February’s New York Fashion Week, after Nike and Forever 21, according to data from Totems (formerly Nitrogram). At the time, the brand had 1.8 million followers and was gaining, on average, 9,864 new fans a day and 50,085 a month, with nearly 1.9 million posts containing the hashtag #michaelkors. Seven months later, the brand has 2.63 million followers and there are 2.7 million posts on Instagram with the hashtag #michaelkors.

This season, the competition for those users’ attention is expected to be greater than ever.

“For most of these brands, they are using fashion week as a way to build awareness and equity among a fashion-savvy consumer,” said Maureen Mullen, director of research and advisory for New York University think tank Luxury Lab, or L2.

“During this time, all companies focus their social media efforts to real-time platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, rather than platforms that focus on conversion,” said a source who has worked in the fashion and digital space for a decade. “All brands and retailers have several goals during fashion week: increased engagement, fan acquisition — but only on real-time platforms.”

The thought behind this is that after fashion week, a brand can introduce its new following to other channels of acquisition, like Pinterest.

Platforms like Twitter and Instagram specialize in disseminating information as it happens — as opposed to Pinterest and Facebook, which are not as news-driven.

“It’s down to our core positioning — that Twitter is a live, public conversational element,” Chris Riedy, who leads fashion on the network’s sales team, told WWD. “When we think about where events happen and news breaks, we tend to be really strong there. When something really cool or unusual happens at a show — it breaks on Twitter.”

In March, Twitter expanded its photo-sharing capabilities and added the ability to tag people in images — something Riedy said fashion brands and retailers had been asking for for some time. “It’s hard to do fashion without visual, and it’s a testament to the nature of the platform. Even when we didn’t have visual nailed, fashion week still happened here.”

L2’s Mullen credited Twitter with doing the best job of any platform in devising products that allow brands to reach consumers through real-time events. With organic reach, promoted tweets and posts, trending topics and now an interface that makes it more of a visual platform à la Facebook’s news feed, brands can amplify the reach of an event — and make sure it gets in front of the target demographic.

Twitter said it is better positioned to emphasize visuals in its product than it was last New York Fashion Week.

But while Twitter has upped its visual quotient, fashion continues to espouse Instagram as its go-to social medium, where Mullen noted the engagement rates for brands are about 25 times larger than on Facebook. She called it “far and away” the most powerful platform for fashion week, followed by Twitter.

“For fashion week in particular, Facebook plays a bit less of a role. They haven’t been as strong as some other platforms in making investments in real-time marketing,” Mullen said.

She added that while Facebook may not have rewritten the rules of marketing, it has managed to shift advertising dollars to a digital ecosystem that sees a massive amount of traffic.

Fashion week also is having an impact on the way the social media platforms operate, as they are equally eager to be part of the conversation. For example, just in time for the New York shows, Instagram last week unveiled Hyperlapse, a stand-alone video app at Apple’s App Store that is sure to increase the output of videos during the entirety of the fashion season as the circus moves on to London, Milan and Paris. It allows users to film a video at a lower frame rate than typical Instagram videos but have the playback occur at a standard frame rate. This makes motions such as close-up fashion shots or models walking down the runway take a longer time so the viewer can watch a fashion show in its entirety in just seconds.

“Brands are so worried about the quality of the images they are putting out. Something like Hyperlapse — compared to Vine — allows you to take this beautiful imagery as a total novice and use this on your Instagram,” said Elizabeth Canon, founder and president at Fashion’s Collective, a consulting firm that specializes in online and social media.

Another issue Canon addressed: standing out in a saturated space on Instagram from Thursday through Sept. 11.

She pointed out that as fashion week is fast evolving from an industry- to a consumer-facing event, it’s become increasingly difficult for brands to be heard in such a noisy space. Canon said the ones that do end up standing out are those that think outside the box — such as the theatrical production from Opening Ceremony, a one-act play written by Spike Jonze.

Another example occurred when Maison Martin Margiela invited Instagrammer Adrien Brunel, or @neriad as he’s known to his 318,000 followers, to cover the brand’s couture show in Paris in July. Whereas fashion enthusiasts once had to wait for wire photos for coverage of the shows, the brand wanted to take this a step further. The brand itself posted backstage and showed images on its handle @maisonmargiela, but the decision to tap Brunel spoke to the designer’s decision to tell the story of the collection through an Instagram follower’s eyes.

Canon contended that there might not be actual product to sell during fashion week, but technology can be integrated into any consumer-facing initiative that captures ROI differently. In terms of fashion week, ROI isn’t the number of products sold but the amount of traffic and followers gained.

But all that effort goes to waste if ROI isn’t part of the overall strategy.

“It would be a huge miss to do a really great job in p.r. and have a ton of exposure during fashion week, but then not capture that audience in any concrete way that your marketing [team] can use in the future to drive the bottom line,” Canon said.

If a brand doesn’t continue to actively track and measure exposure, engagement, page views and every relating metric afterward, it can render the extent of fashion week programs questionable. “That’s where an ongoing content strategy, ongoing e-mail marketing initiative and offline strategy come into play,” she said. “If you’re not actively feeding people content that’s interesting post-fashion week, the extent to which your fashion week initiative is memorable is questionable.”

For the next two weeks, however, the focus will remain on traffic, and Instagram’s real-time nature is also affecting the way media outlets are covering fashion week.

For the first time, content publishers like New York magazine’s fashion blog, The Cut, will turn to the platform to publish exclusive content. Stella Bugbee, editorial director at The Cut, said Instagram will serve as a place of “fun and relief” for insiders but also provide “acceptable insight” for those who are observing from the outside.

“Two years ago when we launched, our approach was to flood the zone and post often — sometimes up to 60 times a day,” Bugbee said. “Social media has made that type of coverage unnecessary because people are following along in real-time on Twitter and Instagram.”

For instance, long-standing feature Style Diary — which chronicles the outfits of fashion insiders during fashion week — will become Instagram-only content this season.

But while Instagram might be the fashion world’s preferred social medium, it isn’t the only game in town — Snapchat is out to gain ground during fashion week, as well.

Emily White, chief operating officer at Snapchat, was instrumental in developing the ephemeral messaging platform’s first fashion week programs this season — which include geographic-specific filters for key fashion week locations like New York Fashion Week at Lincoln Center, Milk’s Made Fashion Week and the “Project Runway” finale show. This means that when users snap a photo or video at any of these locations, they can swipe right and add the corresponding filter to their image or video.

The messaging platform is certainly among the newer players (it’s not even three years old) still figuring out how it fits into the industry. But there is no denying that its user base continues to grow and is more engaged than ever. More and more brands are starting to use Snapchat as part of their social media efforts: Banana Republic launched an exclusive fall 2014 look via the network, for example. It is all part of the effort by Snapchat to move beyond the notion that it’s only used by tweens or for sexting.

“It’s communication through the content, rather than around it,” White told WWD.

This is a key differentiator for Snapchat — which actually facilitates a conversation — versus most social communication to date, which has been focused on publishing a piece of content around which users have a conversation. Instagram images are posted on a feed and open to comments, and Snapchat fuels the actual conversation. If a user opens a snap from a friend or opens a Stories snap posted by a brand, he or she is engaged in a one-on-one dialogue.

“You will spend the time to take your favorite photo of your day and put it in Instagram and Facebook, but people will be using Snapchat throughout their time to communicate about what’s going on,” White said. “It doesn’t have be the prettiest moment; it’s just a moment that expresses how you’re feeling…[it’s] in the moment, real-time communication.”

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