Designers Navigate Social Networking

After Demi Moore tweeted a picture of herself wearing a feathered dress designed by Prabal Gurung, her followers wanted to know who made it.

Look for more designers and retailers to jump into social media in an effort to connect with customers, generate feedback and boost sales.

This story first appeared in the July 7, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Oscar de la Renta, Rachel Roy and Cynthia Rowley are among the many brands that are bolstering their online presence by tweeting, blogging and updating their profiles. How this near-constant communication will pay off in terms of profits remains unclear, but some see the branding component as invaluable, especially for lesser-known designers.

“It means faster brand and name recognition,” said Prabal Gurung, who launched a signature collection in February. “People become familiar with my work and name, which results eventually in sales.”

He should know. After Demi Moore tweeted a picture of herself wearing a feathered dress designed by Gurung, some of her estimated 1.3 million Twitter followers immediately wanted to know who she was wearing. The actress complied, describing Gurung in another tweet as “a wonderful young designer to look out for.”

Traffic at Gurung’s Web site, Prabalgurung.com, doubled, as did the number of his Twitter followers and visitors to his Facebook fan page. “In a sea full of new designers and established ones, how is a designer to get any kind of exposure?” he said. “Thus, when a celebrity like Demi compliments me directly via Twitter, it changes the whole perception and attracts a different kind of audience.”

Although social media has enormous potential, designers and retailers are still figuring out how best to use it. For the most part, large companies appear to be “pretty sophisticated” about using Twitter, blogs and other Internet tools to connect with consumers, particularly compared with first-time entrepreneurs, said Syl Tang, a trend tracker in fashion and travel whose hipguide.com has been running for 10 years.

“You would think smaller designers would be attuned to getting publicity,” Tang said. “But larger companies have a breadth of knowledge about marketing.” She added that the smarter ones are hiring established writers to put their fashion posts in context.

Brands are moving beyond e-mail blasts, online advertising and sampling to try “anything local, trackable or that would turn into actual sales,” she said. They are also catching on to the fact that influential consumers such as bloggers with loyal followings can sway shoppers as effectively — or even more effectively — as celebrities.