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Tweet nothings: are luxury brands making the most of social media?


Hermès does not follow, it is followed.

And yet this maxim comes into question for the French tastemaker’s Twitter account, which is well behind other luxury labels with its number of followers. That is, if the ‘@Hermes_Paris’ profile, which isn’t in possession of the blue badge that Twitter proudly stamps on verified accounts, is even genuine.

Qualms over brand message control have generally held lux labels back from joining the social media landscape, an example of which is late adopter Prada, sending the world its first tweet in February 2013, 7 years after Twitter’s launch.

While it can be difficult to measure the return on investment, there’s no doubt that social media is perennial, with brands from Chanel to Valentino tweeting around the clock. In the Twitterverse however, Hermès remains to be seen, and while Hermès has an Instagram account, tactical product imagery is rare, heightening its mystique of course.

Socialising in a similar fashion to the famous Birkin manufacturer, is Swiss watchmaker Rolex. Both brands have Facebook pages, and then Twitter profiles that were created in March 2012, albeit without tweets. Perhaps Twitter accounts were adopted by both brands to reserve their own names?

The privilege that comes with the global celebrity of Hermès (and Rolex) is that it isn’t in any need of the attention Twitter would bring it; although a brief glance at Louis Vuitton’s profile might suggest otherwise. The LVMH owned luxury goods specialist has over 4m Twitter followers and having come out above Hermès as the world’s most luxury brand for nine consecutive years in Millward Brown’s Brands Ranking, Hermès may need to take a cue somewhere from Louis Vuitton.

So is Hermès just late to the party, or is the notion to dismiss Twitter judicious? What value does social media even hold anyway?

“Luxury marketers have struggled to accept that exclusivity does not have to be compromised with social media” explains Cat Carroll, Digital Planning Manager at media planning agency Carat, “but what they need to remember is that it’s less about pushing communication, and more about how innovative they are with it.

From a paid media perspective, in terms of targeting, social media has become very granular. It is far more than just standard demographic and interest targeting: now brands are able to take CRM data, upload that to the likes of Facebook and actually talk directly to audiences with tailored messaging.”

It’s impactful for luxury brands to focus on what they can get out of social media. There are fantastic customer insights to be gained and monitoring tools available to in turn improve communications.

“In the past high end fashion houses have dealt with major PR crises, such as the use of fur. This is an example of how social media can play a part in managing issues and reputations” Carroll adds.

Join the conversation

Story telling plays a large role in the luxury space, where brands are able to tell tales of heritage, craftsmanship and the beauty of their products.

Traditionally, these very fashion and accessory labels were found on billboards or in print but brands need to be where the consumers, who are changing their media habits, are. Where customers once spent hours on a Sunday flicking through Vogue, now they are on social platforms, especially as the mobile market expands.

Behind the seams

“It’s important that brands have an authentic social presence, rather than following a ‘script’” Carroll tells Retail Gazette.

Examples of brands that do this well, are American lux labels DKNY and Oscar De La Renta, Although not directly involved in the Twittersphere, both successfully managed to give their brands a voice on Twitter, in a way quite unlike those other designers who showcase at Fashion Weeks across the four fashion capitals. These voices are bought to you by the brands’ public relations executives, who set up ‘@DKNY’ (DKNY PR GIRL) and ‘@OscarPRGirl’ (OscarPRGirl), just two months apart in early to mid June 2009.





The DKNY PR Girl avatar


What DKNY PR Girl Aliza Licht and Oscar De La Renta PR Girl Erika Bearman have done for the fashion labels, is connect them to a new and younger audience. These are the brand execs, the fashionistas, the key influencers, who were amongst the first to recognise the potential of Twitter for a fashion house. Neither DKNY nor Oscar De La Renta are seen as ubiquitous and accessible, instead, these Twitter accounts are viewed as innovative invitations into the ‘backstage’ world of two prestigious labels.

Despite all of social media’s uses, it’s not essential for everyone to be everywhere. Rather, it’s important for luxury goods specialists to consider what fits their brand positioning, as some platforms suit content better than others. Better to be selective than to blast out to the masses.

“Hermès hasn’t shunned social media altogether, likely, the decision not to keep an active Twitter profile is to help maintain an illusive aura,” says Jonathan Smith, Managing Director at HotPot Digital: an agency that specialises in helping iconic brands reach the Chinese consumer.

With a third of all luxury sales made by Chinese consumers, it’s essential that brands find a way to interact with this audience. Since most social media outlets are banned in mainland China, the only way to do so is to be active on microblogging site Sina Weibo.

“The mechanism of broadcasting the Twitter way may not be very ‘Hermès’,” Smith tells Retail Gazette.

“It’s where you tweet a short post, in the hope it’s retweeted and shared, all amongst a very large network of people. The problem is that the messaging can sometimes get taken away when users reappropriate content.”

For Chinese consumers who are outward looking, things change very quickly.
Around two years ago, WeChat became the big thing. It is similar to WhatsApp but WeChat pushed into mobile commerce territory and allows users to purchase products as well as follow brands.

“Brands must tread carefully with Chinese social media platforms” Smith warns, “Hermès only joined Weibo recently and from Rolex, it is a strategic choice not to have joined at all.”

A huge percentage of prestige watch sales in China go to the moneyed elite who will want to be private. Given the amount spent, and that with the crackdown on ostentatious shows of wealth, high net worth individuals will not want to be viewed as fans on a public forum,

Content matters

Quality of content and numbers are the two things to focus on when looking at social media. Numerically Rolex is very successful, but then there are brands like Mulberry, which successfully communicates its unique personality. Mulberry does this in a traditional and yet contemporary way, promoting its ‘from town to country’ thing well. While the brand’s numbers aren’t up particularly high, the storytelling is notable and it resonates well with the Chinese consumer.

Facebook is socially enabled; Twitter is visual to some degree but that was really an add-on that came after the text only tweets. Twitter is likely not ‘brandable’ enough for Hermès.

Oscar Yuan, Partner and Head of Brand at Millward Brown Vermeer, agrees:

“I think it’s certainly intentional, and Hermès hasn’t forgotten Twitter. I think brands are dipping their toe into it with Facebook, and still working out how to leverage that. A lot of these very traditional luxury houses, particularly some of the French ones, take very measured decisions with what they do.

Hermès is amongst the most exclusive brands out there, those bags are not cheap at all, and Twitter could democratise it.

The marketers have probably said ‘What our brand stands for is not in line with what Twitter does, which is share everything with everyone’.

Twitter is a platform used mainly to keep people updated but Hermès doesn’t release products in a large scale way. Instead, new launches are special, either as one time limited editions, or out in selected stores or perhaps available to certain customers first”

In China, it’s a different marketing tactic; the Chinese aren’t used to the slow methodical product release cycle and are more demanding of speed and the new thing and so in order for brands to be legitimate in China, they will need to be active on the Sina Weibos and the WeChats.

“It’s the mass luxury brands like Coach and Burberry who are personally very active on social media. For Hermès, the considerations are likely ‘We may not have news every single day, we believe in slow, well crafted stuff’” Yuan concludes.

An Hermès Twitter account would probably be inactive most of the time anyway.

Published on Tuesday 20 January by Veebs Sabharwal

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