PARIS — The days when luxury brands were reluctant to adopt social media strategies seem far away indeed, yet it was only four years ago that Morin Oluwole moved to France to spearhead Facebook’s luxury division.
Since joining the social media giant in 2006, the Stanford graduate has seen the company grow from a staff of 150 to almost 30,000. Her unit, meanwhile, has expanded from two people initially to a network of support teams across the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.
As Facebook and Instagram have added new functionalities — amid a steady stream of controversy and scandal at the parent company — the platforms’ collaborations with luxury brands have bloomed: Louis Vuitton was the first house to use Instagram Stories, shooting exclusive video content to launch its spring 2017 men’s collection, while Dior was the earliest to adopt Facebook Stories after it launched in March 2017.
The statistics suggest luxury brands are wise to engage with their customer base on Facebook, which counts 2.2 billion monthly active users worldwide, and Instagram, which has 1 billion. Luxury consumers have almost twice more followers and like three times more content than the average Instagram user, Oluwole points out.
“They’re on the platform every single day, seven times a week, connecting about 14 times a day — that’s an average,” she said. “The lesson here from the brand perspective is, if a brand is thinking about posting once a week and thinks that they’re reaching their consumers, they’re reaching just 1 percent of the time that the consumer spends on our platform, just because they’re so active.”
A case in point is Bottega Veneta. In the midst of a complex turnaround, the maker of Intrecciato handbags ran a series of ads on Facebook and Instagram in April in a bid to boost brand awareness, attract new potential customers and increase sales conversions. Thanks to a combination of video ads, photo ads in carousel format and dynamic ads developed with Facebook marketing partner SocialCode, the Kering-owned brand registered a 68 percent incremental lift in sales online and in-store, and a doubling in incremental return on ad spend.
It’s just one of the examples of how high-end brands are leveraging the power of social media. In an interview with WWD, Oluwole talks about using mobile phones to drive customers to stores, who gets to eyeball online data, and how Facebook deleted 1.3 billion fake accounts in the space of six months.
WWD: How did you come to launch Facebook’s luxury division?
Morin Oluwole: I’ve worked across both product and engineering as well as, now, sales and business in our HQ in California and New York, before moving to Paris four years ago.
This was the first time that the company had chosen to create the global hub of business for a particular business outside of the U.S. So you have here in Paris my team and myself who lead the global luxury vertical and our global luxury partnerships. We work with the biggest groups and, of course, the biggest houses around the world to develop their communication, media and content strategies on Facebook and Instagram.
Even though the brands either produce their own content or work with agencies, we guide them on how to develop the best mobile-optimized content for our platforms, Facebook and Instagram; media strategies, how to reach the consumers that are most pertinent to them, normally high-net-worth consumers; how to also measure impact of their media investments on both their online sales in-store and overall brand development — all that aligned with innovation as well.
We do so with a core marketing team, as well as with cross-functional teams, support teams that we call “creative shop,” so they work on creative aspects, marketing sciences. They work on measurement and making sure that we can measure impact and ROI for brand investments on our platform. The third key team is what we call “solutions engineering,” so they really help us with the technical back end, because some of this work is actually quite technical, and making sure that campaigns are activated, running properly.
WWD: When you look at Instagram now, it seems like everyone is on there. When you started four years ago, was it still quite hard to convince luxury brands this was a necessary strategy?
M.O.: Yes, because we hadn’t been present in front of them, so the challenge was helping them understand what to do and why it was important: helping them understand that luxury consumers are on Facebook and Instagram, helping them understand that we can drive business results, helping them understand they have to rethink — that doesn’t mean create specifically, but rethink — the way they create content for the mobile experience.
I don’t think today that there is a hesitation to be present on digital. I think that there is a potential misunderstanding, or even lack of understanding, on how to do it and how to be best at it, and how to make sure it drives both brand impact and business impact. That’s where we come in.
WWD: A key challenge for luxury brands is to be close to their consumers on their smartphones while retaining an aspirational quality. In the four years since you’ve established the practice, what’s been the change that has most marked you?
M.O.: I would say the eagerness to innovate. Brands [were initially] hesitant to really be in this world, but I think that that’s shifted quite a bit over the past few years. And again, it has a lot to do with helping brands understand and feel comfortable about how they can best communicate on our platforms and how to create the imagery that creates desire, without necessarily cheapening the value of the brand.
There’s this desire to innovate and to be first in market, first to test, but that is built on a base of trust. Would we have been able to do that four years ago? Not necessarily. So there’s trust, there’s a deeper understanding of our platforms, deeper understanding of their consumers on our platforms, and deeper understanding of the value that we bring to their brand image, notably.
WWD: Does this mean they actually believe in the platform enough that they think the risk of failure is fairly low?
M.O.: Well, there’s two things. They believe in the platform, and also we have taken the time to understand what their needs are and to minimize risk where possible.
We needed to have a separate team to have a different approach for luxury. You couldn’t talk to luxury the same way you talk to consumer packaged goods or other sectors. It really has to have an intimate understanding of the savoir faire and heritage, and the way that luxury brands communicate, and respect that, to be able to also propose then the right opportunities to innovate and test.
WWD: How do you see influencer marketing evolving?
M.O.: We’re just at the beginning of our integration into this branded content world. I say that because we essentially took a bit of a back seat prior to this year, in that we saw that brands are having these communications and relationships with these content creators and we knew it was happening on our platform, but our goal was not to be the intermediary, to be an agency, or to create links between brands and consumers.
Our focus is on creating an experience that is very authentic for the consumer on our platform, but of course, we’ve observed how this has evolved over time. Where we stand now is to make sure that we foster an environment that is authentic, meaning we want consumers to be able to see content that is original, that is relevant to them. We want to focus on integrity, meaning we want to stop bad actors, potential fake accounts, fake likes, many potential deceptive behaviors on our platforms. We want to create additional transparency, be able to give more visibility to brands to understand, if they work with a content creator, what is the reach?
We think it’s important to be able to build tools that give that transparency, because that doesn’t really exist in this world of influencer marketing.
How do we measure what that impact is for the brand, either in terms of brand equity or in terms of sales? I don’t have much to say on that aspect now because we really are at the beginning of that conversation, but again, authenticity, integrity, transparency and measurement are what we see as our role in how we can support this world. And so, what kinds of creators are going to be more present tomorrow versus today? I really strongly believe: those who are the most authentic.
WWD: When did Facebook intensify its crackdown on fake followers?
M.O.: Our efforts have always focused on really preventing the number of bad actors and fake accounts on our platforms. Certainly in the past two years or so, we’ve devoted even more resources to safety and well-being on our platform. Just to give a bit of context or to quantify that: in terms of the teams that work on safety and well-being on our platforms, we had about 10,000 teams about 18 months ago, and our focus is to have 20,000 in 2019.
And if I want to be even more specific on fake accounts, from October 2017 to March 2018 this year, we deleted 1.3 billion fake accounts — just think about that scale.
It’s ongoing work, and most of these accounts are deleted before people even see them, at the point of creation, because they use bots and animation to create these fake accounts, and so we literally catch them with our spam, integrity and security systems.
WWD: What have been some of your notable successes in recent months in terms of campaigns by luxury brands on Facebook and Instagram?
M.O.: A key focus has been not just on innovation, but also on driving business results.
We ran up a test with Louis Vuitton over the summer to be able to have the opportunity for people to discover products in the Stories feature. Historically, the shopping feature was limited to feed and limited to images. And so they tested shopping on Instagram Stories, which was video.
Stories is really where we’re focusing efforts and we’re seeing that consumers are spending more time — even up to half of their time on Instagram.
The reason why we’re focusing on the shopping experience is that we see that Instagram is a very strong tool for discovery. People discover products on Instagram. We started getting anecdotal feedback from our clients that people would come in-store to showcase a picture on Instagram saying, ‘I want this purse, I want this dress.’ So we wanted to create a way for consumers to know that, ‘O.K., if I see an image on Instagram, how do I translate it to the brand and where can I find it?’ And so that’s why we’ve created these shopping features that create that link. You can’t purchase on the platform, so it’s not about purchasing on Instagram: it’s really about discovery, and how the consumers either find the products that interest them or similar products.
On the business aspect, we are very keenly focused on how we can support and notably measure drive-to-store impact.
A key partner with whom we ran a test is Bottega Veneta in the U.S., where they integrated their customer relationship management (CRM) consumer database.
We showed a set of ads to consumers on Facebook and Instagram. When you purchase in-store, you provide your information: e-mail address or phone number. We are able to use a system — that’s encrypted, of course — that matches the e-mail or phone number to one’s account on Facebook to showcase that when consumers see an ad on a platform, that can translate to in-store visits. That’s how we’re able to match the people who saw ads and who went in-store.
How we can drive sales online is really key and really important, and what kind of formats really drive that desire for the brand, at the same time, to purchase. Cartier is one of our key partners that worked on a new launch of a feature called Collections that was on Facebook. We worked with them on their Valentine’s Day 2017 campaign and they were beta testers for the Collections functionality. What is Collections? It allows you to essentially see an image or video and then also see a product catalog.
This notion of “brandformance”: Here you have the brand message and the performance by seeing the products and pricing. This is really what we’re aiming to work on and develop with our partners, because our focus is not to be too pushy, too commercial, but to really help brands tell their story in a creative way and an immersive way.
WWD: What are the big projects and challenges you’re looking forward to in the next 12 to 24 months?
M.O.: I would say the two keywords are innovation and value. Innovation is that we continue to work with our partners and ensure that luxury — especially given the creative, visual nature of luxury — is a leading sector to help us drive innovation on Facebook and Instagram. When I say innovations, it’s what are the new ways in which content can be shared and communicated on our platforms? Tomorrow, even starting today, we’re going to be working on augmented reality and virtual reality experiences. We have brands that are already testing this and exploring what this means for their interactivity and helping consumers connect with their brand. Dior Couture tested their new collection of sunglasses. Chanel tested their new collection of sunglasses as well.
You are essentially able to have the experience here where you can try on the product.
WWD: Are there any mistakes or failures that have helped you learn about what you shouldn’t be doing on the platform?
M.O.: For me, personally, yes. But from the brand experience, I think we take the time to really look at how we launch products on our platform and what this means for the consumer experience, because what we don’t want to do is to be disruptive in a way that we create more work for our consumers.
When we launch new products, new features, we test them beforehand even before brands test them. So we have consumer focus groups that test these functionalities.
It’s a fine line, because when we test with brands, we are pushing them to test the unknown, but we also have confidence that our goal is to build for a better experience. And we take very seriously brand input and feedback. For example, the Collections example that I mentioned, that functionality was built for all sectors. We found that fashion and luxury sectors were really big users of that, but for luxury in particular, we found that showcasing the price was not necessarily a preferred tactic, because it’s either sticker shock or the prices are quite elevated. We worked with Gucci, for example, who shared feedback that for luxury, it needs to be possible to have this functionality without the price. Our engineering teams listened, and they evolved and changed the product so there’s an option to utilize Collections without showcasing the price.
WWD: What would be an example of a functionality where you’re creating more work for me as a consumer?
M.O.: I would relate that to our approach to time spent on the platform, specifically on Facebook. Because our focus historically has been to maximize, if you will, the time that consumers spend on our platforms.
Since the beginning of the year, we are very much focused on creating a more relevant experience for consumers. What does this mean?
We are going to make a shift in terms of content in the news feed to focus more on content shown from friends and family, versus content shown from media and publishers. That is a very tactical strategic decision that the company took to make sure that the time spent on the platform is time well spent, not just maximize amount of time spent. And we did that with the knowledge that that could mean that people spend less time on Facebook or that the time spent doesn’t grow, but we are focusing on measuring metrics on what we call ‘cares about users.’ They’re metrics that help us determine what’s the sentiment behind the consumer experience, versus focusing only on quantitative metrics, like number of minutes spent per day.
WWD: How does the launch of IGTV play into this?
M.O.: It’s a functionality that we launched in June of this year to give the opportunity to creators to develop long-form content.
We want to cater for all kinds of experiences, because at different points in your day, you could be in the subway, where you could just watch 10-second Stories, or before bed, where you have more time to watch more long-form content. IGTV is an opportunity for creators to develop authentic content that’s built for the mobile experience.
It’s still very much in its infancy, but our focus here is to ensure that people are able to get the content that is most adapted to them, to their experience, and that they also feel as though they can get a richer, more immersive message from the brands.
WWD: What other evolutions are you focused on?
M.O.: We’re going to evolve and really build up the Instagram shopping experience across the platform. The first piece that we developed was Instagram shopping for the news feed, where you can discover products; Instagram shopping for Stories, that we’ve tested, and we’re also looking to think about what that looks like in the explorer tab. Because the explorer tab is really this kind of unexplored, ironically, area where people can discover new content that is relevant for them or relevant for their experience.
It used to be a little bit of a dead page, if you will, it didn’t really showcase much, and we turned it very much into an active space.
WWD: What is interesting from the media sector’s point of view is that Instagram is providing a platform for emerging voices in fashion who are not tied to advertising budgets and have greater freedom of expression.
M.O.: Exactly, and I think that’s the aspect that scared the houses a little. We kind of came in and said, how do we make sure that we don’t lose the message that we want to communicate, that we still maintain this one-to-many point of view which, quite honestly, is really a bit of an archaic way of thinking about things, for thinking about communication? But our focus is to respect the sector. We’re not here to disrupt the sector, but to respect them and think about and share what it means to communicate in this new world.