How Your Brand Can Break Through the Social Media Clutter

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How Your Brand Can Break Through the Social Media Clutter

With social media changing at lightning speed, you need to keep up, know your story, test new strategies and course correct as you go

By Lauren Parker

At a recent WWD Style Dimension panel, designer and social media early adopter Rebecca Minkoff and Court Williams, the Creative Lead of Luxury Fashion at Instagram, chatted with WWD’s Sophia Chabbott about the importance of making social media a meaningful part of your brand. The main takeaways:

SOCIAL MEDIA WAS A GAMECHANGER

Don’t forget, social media was a radical concept for brands when it was first introduced. Especially for wholesale brands that weren’t selling D2C, social media’s direct to consumer channels upended everything. “We launched in 2005 and Instagram allowed us to cut through the editors and retail buyers and be in direct touch with our customers,” says Minkoff. “Since day one we’ve been talking to our customer directly and getting her feedback. It’s important to keep that dialog true and authentic, and my brand is really here because of that.”

KNOW YOUR STORY

This cannot be stated enough. You can’t tell the world your brand’s story until you understand what it is. “Lean into what makes you unique and different,” says Minkoff. “But don’t overthink it.” And with people scrolling through social media so fast, you only have a few seconds to grab their attention. “As people fly past your content, think about why they should come back to focus on you later,” says Williams. “It’s about finding that differentiator that’s really genuine and specific to you.”

IT’S OK TO FAIL ON SOCIAL MEDIA

“People and brands think that everything on social has to be perfected in advance before it can go up, but it’s ok to fail on social,” says Minkoff. “We do all the time!” The key is to learn from your mistakes and course correct as you get feedback. “Don’t make it so precious,” advises Williams. “You already have a starting point if you have a product, but you have to figure out the most compelling way to tell that story to people. Put something out there that you believe is representative of who you are, then test and try.”

SOCIAL MEDIA IS A CONVERSATION, NOT A PROCLAMATION

“Social media is super relevant right now, especially in the luxury space,” says Williams. “Back when luxury was based on proclamation, the industry would say something and consumers would fall in line. Now it’s the era of conversation. Consumers expect to be taken into consideration by the tastemakers. And the brands that are struggling with incorporating that external voice and perspective into how they communicate are finding it hard to function in today’s world. For brands, it’s a shift from ‘I want to say this’ versus ‘I want to say this but people want to hear this’ so how can I have a role in their lives?”

 LESS TALKING, MORE LISTENING 

“It’s not the dictatorship of old; we are constantly listening,” says Minkoff. “But as a designer you have to synthesize the feedback through your lens; you can’t just do what people say. We recently got a lot of requests for vegan handbags so we’re looking into that. Other examples would be changing the base of a bag that was deemed too wide, or taking a vote on a color of denim.”

Williams agrees. “The point of view that you kick back out to the audience still needs to be you.  “It’s not a 180; it’s more of a 90 or a 45 degree change! Brands have to do a lot more listening than talking these days. If things aren’t picking up and starting conversations, then you’re not engaging. When you start to see people respond, interact and build a relationship with you, then you may see that they spark conversations with other people. They will incorporate your brand into their messaging.”

 SOCIAL MEDIA CONTENT DOESN’T ALWAYS CROSS OVER TO ADS

 “A post is not the same as an ad,” insists Williams. “I think people are afraid and they get too tactical. They think if an image gets a ton of likes on social media, than they can turn that image into an ad [digital or print display], but things don’t always cross over. It’s complicated. Something that is great as an organic post might not perform the way you think it will. It might tank.”

 ‘THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE’

 What’s really changed for brands and marketers is producing content that lives on multiple surfaces, each with different specifications (Instagram posts are square, Instagram Stories are vertical, YouTube is horizontal…) “You used to be able to make a linear iteration from the idea to a marquee asset, then chop it up in a million different ways,” says Williams. “But now, you have to think of the distribution of the story and then put it into how you approach creating the story. The medium is the message today. You can’t just put out a video because you want to make a video, then have other people chop it up. It’s better to think you’ll make a brand film, then think about what part will show the bag? What part can be turned into a gif? It all has to be thought out and planned in advance.”

 The concept is important, concedes Minkoff, but the plan is equally important. “You have to start with where the assets will be living so you can maximize them. Can you use pieces for a podcast? Are there pieces you can tweet out? You have to look at it like a pyramid, with all the creativity at the top then little stones that create the whole.”

 It’s key to know what works best and where. “We find for social media, it’s best to use your phone, not a professional camera,” says Minkoff. “Anytime we post an overly retouched, overly perfect photo, it does not do well. Our photos with the iPhone perform best.”

FORMAT HAS IMPACT

 Brands need to understand how consumers consume media per each format. “In my experience, very rarely is campaign failure due to formats,” says Williams. “It’s a failure to understand how the end consumer is using the end format and how you can create the narrative for the format. And you have to understand short versus long formats. As a creative, you have to do the due diligence. You might make a beautiful, moody 2.5 minute 16x9 YouTube video, but you can’t convert that directly to Instagram. One is a horizontal screen and the other is a vertical screen on mobile… so now it’s viewed as a tiny screen. Instagram’s carousel function that lets you swipe through images works best when you mix formats. We start with a video to grab attention then go into still photos.” However, he notes that the video must be Instagram-relatable. “A video you produce for YouTube that’s a few minutes long will have a certain arc, but on Instagram when people are just scrolling, video has to catch them in a few seconds.”

 Minkoff agrees. “When we launched our I Am Many campaign, it was a nightmare because it had to be cut for vertical, horizontal, square, etc. You have to make the stories work for all the different formats.”

 AD CONTENT IS DIFFERENT THAN EDITORIAL

 “In an ad context, people are shocked at how often a consumer can see the exact piece of creative before they buy the brand,” says Williams. “When I work on ad campaigns, people think that even though they have a limited budget they still need to make 10 different pieces of creative for one month, but in one month you really just need one video and one ad. In ad content, you really can scale back on what you’re producing.”

 KEEP THE DIALOG GOING

 “People want to participate with social media, so ask your customers questions in the comments, or with a poll,” says Minkoff. “Then use that feedback to evolve and tweak. You have to find the point between what the brand stands for and where the customer is on that journey and where you meet in the middle to get them to go with you on that journey. You need to bring her along. If you only listen to your customer than you don’t stand for anything as a brand. You have to continually pave the highway. We do a lot of testing and reacting, and our feed is always changing because we test and optimize. We’re testing 2 pics a day versus 3; and we’re testing if we have outtakes of the same shoot of me in Stories. And we are often surprised. A pic of my family drove more people to our website than anything other post that week.”

 RELEVANCY IN THAT MOMENT IS KEY

 While a personal photo that shows the designer might top other posts, it’s not a guaranteed formula for success every time. “What’s really at the center of that type of engagement is relevancy,” says Williams. “There are different tactics to get to the consumer. If they’re thinking about the holidays at that moment and you post your family celebrating the holidays, then it works. But you can’t extrapolate that all personal content will always work. You have to think what is most relevant to them when they’re seeing it.”

 KNOW THE SOCIAL TRENDS

 “The digital space is blowing up and it’s a really exciting times for creatives leaning into alternative formats,” says Williams. “Augmented Reality is growing, and one brand did a sneaker drop via AR. They had seen that when they did sneaker drops at festivals, there were altercations at the booth. So they got around that by showing people a clock via AR that was counting down to when they could go online and reserve/order their limited-edition sneaker. It created excitement, plus there weren’t people at a desk waiting and fighting with each other. It was fashion peace. Also exciting is how brands are going live in creative ways. Some are using live broadcasts to introduce the new faces of their brand. Another brand might have a famous model introduce the brand by dialing in a friend and people can watch their live conversation. Another excitement is one-to-one messaging, which used to be engaging with clients, or Clienteling. But now brands are using bots that can walk you through a story, or even a choose-your-own-adventure series.”

 KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER’S PLATFORM

 “You have to look at where your consumer sits,” says Minkoff. “If she’s older and she’s living on Facebook, then you want to go there. The younger ones are on Instagram, and the even younger ones are on Snapchat. You have to know who you’re targeting and prioritize. There really hasn’t been a new platform in a while. When Snapchat came on it was very lonely. It was practically just us and Taco Bell! Then a year later everyone was on it.”

Noor Nanda