The social media strut – How fashion brands should join the social buzz surrounding London Fashion Week

Once a trade-only event held behind closed doors, London Fashion Week now gives consumers an all-access pass to the runway thanks to a digital revolution. But just what should brands be doing to capitalise on the buzz?

From 14-18 February London Fashion Week will play host to 78 shows, 20 events and countless other parties, presentations and gatherings – all of which will be fervently tweeted, Instagrammed and Facebooked in a social media storm. During last September’s Fashion Week there were 250,000 mentions of the official London Fashion Week hashtag (#LFW) over the five days, while the #LFW Instagram saw 75,000 images added over the same period. Enhancing consumer experienceLondon Fashion Week has increasingly become one of the best occasions for forward-thinking fashion brands to connect directly with consumers. Digitally dapper brands are continually seeking out new and innovative ways to engage audiences both inside and outside the tents, meaning competition is rife not just in the fashion stakes but in the realms of social media too. In September 2013, thanks to an aggressive social media plan and star-filled FROW (that’s front row to the less fashion-minded), Burberry dominated the social media buzz, garnering 33,492 mentions in social media posts.The brand also upped the ante one step further by teaming with Apple to release exclusive photos and videos from the show using the then-unreleased iPhone 5S. Topshop too took a similar tack, joining forces with mobile start-up Chirp to transmit images through ‘digital birdsong’, which allowed users to post and receive content and also visit a Chirp and Twitter ‘garden’ in the retailer’s Oxford Circus store. Iain Matthews, head of planning at social media agency Jam, says LFW is now less about the fashion itself and more about the social media hype: “London Fashion Week has the potent combination necessary to drive a huge volume of online conversation: a young engaged audience, a bucket-load of celebs and brands that are willing to experiment with the latest digital technology to hawk their wares.“What was once a trade show has now become a mass digital participation event and interestingly, less and less about the clothes,” he adds.The British Fashion Council, the team behind LFW, builds on its own digital offering each year and will host a series of events this week, including a reprise of last year’s Q&A session on Twitter and Vine, where followers can ask questions to special guests using the hashtag #AskLFW with replies captured in a six-second Vine video. This year the BFC will be live screening 19 shows from the BFC Courtyard Show Space, eight from the Topshop Show Space and also live-streaming Burberry. Social media means that brands can interact with consumers in a way they couldn’t before, according to Ana MacCarrick, digital marketing manager at British Fashion Council, who says: “Social media is now the first place that consumers are looking for content surrounding LFW, whether that’s searching by the hashtag or specifically following designers, brands or front row guests. “Social media is a useful tool for brands, it can be very effective if managed well and used alongside more traditional marketing campaigns and communication plans.”For those brands not showing collections at LFW, utilising the social media buzz that surrounds it is still an integral way to interact with consumers. Even for young fashion brands making their first foray into the industry, social media is instrumental. Debra Hepburn, co-founder of Young British Designers, an online retailer that sells the work of emerging fashion talent in the UK says social media provides opportunities that otherwise wouldn't exist: “For a fashion brand like Young British Designers, social media gives our team the chance to engage customers from all over the world.“That ability to offer a personal service by being genuinely engaged with our customers is what we know our customers love and what gives us our unique position in the fashion space.”Building on innovation If last year's hyper-connected shows impressed audiences, LFW 2014 is set to see even more investment in digital trailblazing. Topshop has revealed it will be bringing a world’s first in telepresence and virtual reality to LFW with a 360-degree virtual world. Visitors at the brand’s flagship Oxford Street store will enjoy a fully immersive fashion experience incorporating live feeds from the catwalk show, backstage and VIP arrivals. Special cameras recording the scenes will be deployed on the catwalk and backstage, giving a compelling sense of being at the show. Each participant will be able to look around at the models walking past them, see what’s happening behind the scenes and take a look at the celebrities they are virtually ‘rubbing shoulders’ with.In a move to engage customers further, Topshop is allowing fans without a ticket to visit the catwalk site at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, where the whole show will be visible from a variety of viewing platforms. A Topshop spokesperson tells The Drum: “There is so much excitement around London Fashion Week and social media is crucial not just as a marketing tool but an incredibly good way to democratise the event and see how our customers respond.” Even brands without the gargantuan budgets of Burberry and Topshop are continually upping their game at Fashion Week. Luxury brand Matthew Williamson, which last February debuted Vine with the #MatthewMagnified campaign then followed in September with the crowdsourced #OhMW hashtag, plans to introduce the Twitter Mirror – a first for Fashion Week and the UK. The mirror, which works like a photo booth, will be placed backstage and everyone from models to make-up artists will be able to take a snap of themselves. The images will automatically be tweeted from the Matthew Williamson Twitter page and be watermarked with the #OhMW hashtag. Rosanna Falconer, head of digital at Matthew Williamson, says engaging customers through social media at LFW is integral to the brand: “Through those phones on the front row, our audience is huge, and huger than we could reach at any other point in the year. It shows on our web traffic and certainly on our social buzz – it really is our biggest peak for the year.”For Falconer, focusing on the fashion itself is still key to running a social campaign. This year she is using Vine, along with photographer Sean Cunningham, to follow the whole journey of the Matthew Williamson collection – from the first sketches to right before the models walk the runway. “The reason all our campaigns work is that they put the collection first. So we don’t plan months and months in advance, as the digital and design could just jar completely. “There’s a lot of noise out there and if we’re going to join that noise we need to do it with complete integrity. So I bring it down to three words that I can sum up the show with and think how I could put it across socially – it often develops at the last minute,” she explains.A New York Buzz Running just a few days ahead of February LFW, New York Fashion Week (10-13 February) provides an interesting look at how fashion brands across the pond utilise social media. Marc Jacobs opened a ‘Tweet Shop’ to promote its fragrance portfolio. Instead of exchanging cash, customers instead use ‘social currency’ to make purchases by simply Tweeting, Instagraming or Facebooking using the hashtag #MJDasiyChain. Tommy Hilfiger also enhanced the digital experience around its runway shows with the return of a ‘Social Concierge’, which for the first time was open to the brand’s social media followers. Using Instagram and Facebook, fans were able to make photo requests – be that an image of a favourite item or a handwritten message from a model – and a ‘concierge’ working behind the scenes fulfilled the request.The brand also hosted its first ‘Instameet’ on 10 February, which brought together a group of 20 local Instagrammers and took them past the runway and into backstage areas. The Instagrammers got exclusive snaps and shared their images using the hashtags #tommyfall14 #nyfwinstameet. Speaking ahead of the event, Hilfiger said: “By introducing the Instameet concept at a global fashion show for the first time, we are harnessing today’s potential for truly democratic event coverage.” Making the digital shoe fitPinterest, Vine, Jelly, Instagram – the list of social media platforms is endless, growing, and at times overwhelming. There can be a tendency for brands, desperate to grab a slice of the pie, to throw content onto each platform regardless of its intended audience. However, it shouldn’t be just about using technology for technology’s sake, but to drive forward a deeper customer connection, as BFC’s MacCarrick explains: “Brands should always prioritise quality over quantity. Having a clear strategy for each social media platform is the key for success, so whether that means you're only present on one or two, it’s important that you do it properly.“Each platform has a different audience so it's important to understand who they are and tailor content specifically for them.”MacCarrick says the British Fashion Council is keen to aid brands in creating a digital footprint and encourages everyone involved in LFW to use the official hashtag across all platforms, which means they will be included on the #LFW screen on-site. “We’ve also asked designers to take part in our inspirations board on the BFC Pinterest account by collating their mood board images for AW14 which we’ll promote in the run up to LFW.”

Tommy Hilfiger

Matthew Williamson

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