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NEW YORK — Forget those who “like” you. Go after the ones who don’t.

That’s the new strategy emerging in the ever-evolving world of social media. As fashion firms scramble to add even more content to their Web sites, they’re battling a shifting tide. Now the future of digital marketing isn’t about bulking up a firm’s own branded to inform followers of the company – it’s about getting their content onto someone else’s to reach more consumers.

This story first appeared in the June 8, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The advent of social media and Web 1.0 allowed brands and retailers to build robust and loyal followings, but it’s converting new fans that will be paramount going forward. The single most important thing fashion companies can do in the digital space is seek alternative, off-site ways to spread their message to attract new visitors to their own sites, said Quynh Mai, founder and chief executive officer of Moving Image & Content, a digital agency focused on content and marketing.

Mai urges companies to shift their digital marketing approach away from branded Web portals to outside, third-party sites — although she maintains that editorial content is still a vital part of a brand’s social media persona. A Web site can house a brand’s messaging, Mai said, but the place to put it is on blogs, online publications, Facebook and aggressively encouraging fans and advocates to post and share on those outlets rather than simply on a company’s own site.

“I believe editorial content is necessary — it’s the crux of your company — but in 2.0, that content best lives off-site, outside of a brand’s site and drawing the consumer back to your digital flagship store. The whole purpose of branded content is to engage the consumer where they live, which is on Facebook, blogs and more, and to put that content primarily on the branded Web site is speaking to the already converted,” said Mai, who counts Yves Saint Laurent, Mugler, BeachMint, Shiseido, Natori, Acne, The Row and Olsenboye — Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s junior line for J.C. Penney — as clients.

Users visiting branded sites already are engaged fans — and while company-produced editorial content is paramount in maintaining a faithful customer that keeps returning, brands also need to concentrate on attracting those who are not yet part of their loyal audience.

Fashion brands continue to navigate the digital waters, taking what they’ve learned from the first social media wave and using it to secure a firmer hold on the medium going forward. A digital boom gave way to an influx of editorial content, blogs, livestreams and more — and designers and brands leading the industry digitally, such as Coach, Kate Spade, Tory Burch, H&M, DKNY, Juicy Couture, Ralph Lauren and Diane von Furstenberg, are now strategizing their next moves accordingly. The same goes for more recent adopters of social-based platforms — including Oscar de la Renta, Rebecca Minkoff and Alice + Olivia — who have all been aggressive over the past year about ramping up their digital outreach.

Brands that want to remain on the digital forefront must fine-tune existing strategies — whether this is cultivating a voice or establishing if the manner in which they engage is through broadcasting messaging or a two-way conversation (both equally effective, yet entirely different approaches). By carefully studying strategies past and present, companies can alter, update or get rid of initiatives altogether that failed to garner consumer response or drive traffic and sales.

Karen Robinovitz, co-founder and chief creative officer of Digital Brand Architects — a digital agency that works with Juicy Couture, Olsenboye, B Brian Atwood and Nine West — agrees with Mai that brands need to reallocate their energies online and put their focus off-site.

“I think that you have to be where your consumers are —which is everywhere — and you need to have meaningful and authentic dialogue on those channels,” Rabinovitz said. She believes that brands need to organize around people, and people live in such a distributed manner online that in order to connect with users, brands must operate in a similar fashion.

“You have to start communicating with the consumers who have a propensity to shop your brand, versus doing your marketing on your site, which speaks to the already converted. I’m seeing this as a major shift,” said Mai. “When you look at brands’ unique monthly visitors, they are actually very low, so as brands are robustly building this content, the best thing to do is use their marketing prowess to find multiple and diverse distribution points for that content to draw the consumer back to their digital flagship.”

Diverse distribution points: Check. Elaborate editorial content both on- and off-site: Check. Satiating current consumers while continuing to raise brand awareness: Check.

In addition to its content on the recently revamped, Tory Burch maintains active Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as a Tumblr page and a recent blogger collaboration with The Man Repeller — whose founder Leandra Medine cross-promoted a Mother’s Day post on her own site at that also appeared on Burch’s site.

But the brand is now going beyond that. It recently tapped Demandware for its new e-commerce and mobile commerce sites built upon the Demandware Commerce platform — the fastest-growing channel of revenue for the company, according to Miki Berardelli, Tory Burch’s chief marketing officer. Berardelli told WWD that while e-commerce transactions that occur through mobile commerce may not be the largest channel of revenue for the company, she believes m-commerce will soon become the most important, usurping desktop and laptop access.

The brand also unveiled “Torypedia,” its Tumblr blog, following a total Web site redesign in January, completed by Wednesday London, a digital creative agency based in London that specializes in the fashion and luxury category.

“Our viewpoint is from that of brand and content creation and brands becoming content owners so they could have that dialogue with consumers one-on-one,” said Oliver Walsh, founder and managing director of Wednesday London, whose clients also include J. Crew, Net-a-Porter, Mr Porter, Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga and Bobbi Brown.

Walsh contends that consumers get the best engagement when there’s a tailored strategy, which takes into consideration not only the specific nature of the platform, but how users interact with that platform and the mind-set that they’re in when interacting. He advises clients to ask themselves if they are engaging with a consumer in a way that resonates, which has to take platform specifics into consideration, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Polyvore or Lookbook.

“Content comes in many guises, and obviously if a consumer is in a frame of mind where they want to be engaging with a brand such as Tory Burch or Mr Porter — they are visiting the site cognizant that any information is coming from the brand, and of course has a motive,” said Walsh.

He stressed that in addition to authentic, relevant content, the main issue moving forward is that brands are now media owners and generators — and they need to live by the same rules as other media content creators in order to maximize investment. This means that fashion brands must have criteria in place about the nature of the information they cover and don’t cover, set guidelines as to how they interact with users on the various platforms and very clear messaging, which includes what the message is about and how they respond to questions.

“The market has changed a great deal over the past few years, and at first, brands were just diving head first into what they saw as a new phenomenon,” Walsh said.

Some of them learned the hard way, he added. “Many brands weren’t getting the traction they anticipated, or even worse, some started commenting on how inadequate their approach was. That’s when brands also started to realize the power of this platform and investing in the strategy and resources and infrastructure required.”

Those with a firm grasp on the medium know that figuring out their brand’s voice online should be a priority. According to Kate Spade’s senior vice president of global brand marketing Kyle Andrew, social media 2.0 is less about particular functions and more about the tone.

“The tone we are learning has to be much more human. It’s about creating a relationship and giving value to them [the consumer] rather than just trying to push out promotions and what we think we want them to hear. It’s about a conversation,” Andrew said. “When we first started it was very one-sided, and it was us telling them what we wanted them to know, such as the latest bag or promotion. And we realized that we just can’t do that. You have to treat them more like a group of friends, just like you would update your Facebook page with what you’re doing with friends.”

Andrew said that it’s the more mundane posts that get the most reactions, such as images of root beer floats and cupcakes from an office party that were uploaded to the brand’s Facebook page, which differs from what the brand initially used the platform for. Content has to be adjusted per channel, and Kate Spade learned that Facebook is turning into a place where consumers can voice their dislikes, concerns and questions about the brand and product. Twitter, on the other hand, is fun, inspirational, quicker and very much in the moment, while Tumblr is the most visual of the mediums.

She cites a limited edition tote bag the brand designed to help with relief efforts in Japan — and how posting a preview about the new product on Facebook unleashed a strong response and ignited a conversation among fans without the brand even interjecting. While the bag sold out within 20 minutes on Kate Spade’s Web site, Andrew learned from the reactions that consumers who love the brand want product right away and don’t want to be teased about it.

“It’s more about constantly refining and loosening up about how we handle the whole thing and not being so uptight about it. It’s about experimenting and trying different things and realizing that this world changes so quickly,” Andrew said. “You can’t wait to see what everyone else is doing because it moves too fast. You have to have confidence to try things and pull out if it’s not working.”

Next up for Kate Spade: figuring out how to monetize the Facebook experience, currently approaching 272,500 fans, and taking mobile commerce to the next level.

David Duplantis, Coach’s senior vice president of global Web and digital media, agrees with Andrew when it comes to starting and maintaining a dialogue with fans. Although he said he firmly believes in engaging with consumers, he also learned that brands — as much as they originally wanted to speak at people and be the originator of the conversation — need to sit back and let the fans spark their own dialogue.

He cites blogs as being especially instrumental in this — and boasts strong relationships in the blogosphere as the reason why last year’s design collaboration with personal style bloggers was so successful. The founders of Cupcakes and Cashmere, The Glamourai, Karla’s Closet and What is Reality Anyway? worked with the brand on the design of their ideal handbag, which was sold online and at several flagship locations — and all four styles sold out.

But in terms of the most growth within a specific social medium, Duplantis is quick to point to Facebook, where the brand just surpassed 2 million “likes.” He said it’s the “rich visual and interactive environment” the platform provides that allows such a positive consumer response and engaged fan base.

“Social media 1.0 was the Wild West, but no one wants 2.0 to turn into boring tract housing. The brands that embrace authenticity, innovation and strategy over safety and sameness will succeed during the next wave,” Duplantis said.

As they enter Web 2.0, Kate Spade and Coach had to overcome a learning curve with respect to the dissemination of content and information. The two brands found that what worked best for them was taking a step back and learning to converse with fans, rather than just dictating the dialogue — or what Mai refers to as becoming an “engagement brand.”

She divides the fashion industry’s digital initiatives into two categories: broadcast brands — where the communication message is based on broadcast, and companies produce the content they’re broadcasting through various channels — and engagement brands, where consumers are truly engaged in a two-way dialogue with the brand.

“Not all brands want that two-way dialogue, especially those that are higher end and more luxury. It’s not within their DNA and social structure,” said Mai, citing JewelMint as an engagement brand and Yves Saint Laurent as a broadcast brand. JewelMint is a social shopping e-commerce platform founded by MySpace founder Josh Berman, and it allows consumers to participate in the business. Users are encouraged to get involved in the creative process and vote on content, and the site also uses crowdsourcing to choose and name product.

Oscar de la Renta is another brand whose social media personality has had a strong year, even though it did not dive in as early as some other designers. Vice president of global communications Erika Bearman actively started tweeting under the handle @OscarPRGirl in 2010 (even though the brand launched the Twitter page in June 2009), and followers on the medium have grown by 133 percent since February 2011 to over 70,000 and almost 450 percent since September 2010, when the brand had just 12,800 followers.

Bearman cites a recent Facebook initiative that celebrated the launch of the fashion house’s new fragrance Esprit d’Oscar as being effective in attracting fans on the platform. The brand’s “likes” grew by 40 percent in a one-week period, and 5,000 users participated in a feedback survey on the scent, post-sampling (25,000 fans “liked” de la Renta’s Facebook page in order to receive a sample of the fragrance).

Bearman added, “Every day we look more like a publisher — creating stories for our fans, and tailoring them in a unique way for our different social platforms. This is social media 2.0, and brands are not just creators, but distributors of content. As the landscape quickly changes, we feel it is important to be somewhat fluid. We are constantly evolving the way that we communicate.”

With hardly any social media outreach in place just over a year ago — Alice + Olivia had just a few hundred Facebook “likes” in early 2010 and now boasts over 7,000, as well as 20,000 followers on Twitter — the brand plans to aggressively forge ahead in terms of engaging with its fan base.

“It took me so long to find someone that I thought could create a site and understand my aesthetic. I really refrained from all Internet until I felt I found someone that could bring to life what I wanted,” said Alice + Olivia founder Stacey Bendet, who announced a relaunch of the company’s blog today.

She is quick to acknowledge that she sees more of a response from fans when she personally tweets from the brand’s Twitter handle herself — versus another member of her team — and certain things, such as sending e-mail blasts twice a week, aren’t as effective as sending one a week. The same goes for Bendet’s “4AM Finds” column (where she highlights what she’s inspired by at the moment): She found that when she produced two a week it was “getting diluted.” When she tried penning one post per week, people were opening and viewing the link in much higher numbers. She adds that the new blog will be produced by herself, an in-house stylist and plenty of contributions from Bendet’s famous friends — including Gwyneth Paltrow, who edited this week’s edition of “4AM Finds.”

“The content is changing. It’ s becoming this sort of Alice + Olivia world magazine, a combination of my voice and all the images, ideas, people and places that inspire us here,” said Bendet. “I think it’s a true look inside our world. It’s like written reality TV and a glimpse inside what happens here in a very organic, everyday way.”

Rebecca Minkoff, one of the more active in fashion’s digital sphere, was another to join the party a little later than some of its contemporary counterparts (the brand currently has over 35,000 fans on Twitter and almost 26,500 “likes” on Facebook). But this has only affected the company positively, and according to ceo Uri Minkoff, in addition to learning the value and power of directly connecting with the consumer, the brand has only grown through this direct involvement, coordination and inter action.

But he admits he might have taken it a bit too far when colleagues tried to answer and please “everyone.”

“This can be tough when the numbers get overwhelming, so we created a better system,” Minkoff added. “It was a better business intelligence system to filter data and get weighted opinions. There is the sorting of key data from taste makers, bloggers and press, as well as general consumers, and how to best process this data for consumption internally to key resources who need to know, and then how best to go out to each segment with replies and responses.”

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