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- 14 Jun 2010
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Social Media: Handle with Care


Experts say that to fulfill their potential for luxury brands, social media channels must be managed carefully.

The internet has undoubtedly made managing a brand’s image a much more complicated process. Through Facebook, Twitter and private social networks, luxury brands must now manage online communities of tens of thousands of fans. But amongst the masses, how many are actual customers? And do the benefits outweigh the pitfalls?

Support for any brand or a cause is cheap in the world of social media, and luxury brands are no exception. “It is most definitely a tenuous relationship,” remarks Samir Balwani, an internet marketing strategist. “Luxury means inaccessibility, uniqueness. And social media means the opposite. Everyone can talk about it, everyone can pass it round.”

Joining a Facebook fan page does not necessarily indicate any meaningful engagement with a brand, so the numbers pledging their ‘allegiance’ do not easily translate into sales increases. Moreover, the democratic and interactive nature of social media means that luxury companies can easily lose control of the way in which their brand is portrayed.

Brands therefore face the dilemma of whether increased web exposure can be translated into additional revenue while leaving the brand itself intact. “It’s about finding the balance where you don’t lose your brand allure, but still are able to reach the core consumers,” says Balwani.

According to Balwani, Gucci, Chanel and Coach are all getting it right on Facebook with sleek, meticulously curated pages which limit the input from fans who, despite their enthusiasm, potentially detract from a brand’s key message.

Yet Gucci have not limited who can join the group, which means that the brand has an effectively captive audience largely made up of the very young, aspirational consumers of tomorrow. In contrast, Mercedes Benz have created their own channel- Generation Benz, made up solely of young, previous customers who they feel it is worth targeting.

“Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” says Reggie Bradford, chief executive of Virtue, a social media management company. Bradford believes that the traffic on Facebook alone demands engagement from luxury brands: “That’s where people are connecting to the internet. [It] has to be the centre-point of your social media strategy.” Even if that means accepting that exclusivity is not the name of the game.

Experts believe that the devil is in the detail and that an all too common mistake is to add too many tabs which complicate the core message. Instead, brands should focus on communicating a few key posts a day, which will filter onto fans’ individual homepages. “The engagement happens in the news feed,” explains Bradford.

When it works well, the result is text-book word of mouth marketing which translates into real sales. “Seventy-eight per cent of consumers buy product based upon a recommendation on a peer or friend,” says Bradford.

For many mainstream brands, this advice may seem rudimentary, but luxury brands have been notoriously slow out of the starting blocks in the race to harness digital tools such as social media.

Even well-established brands such as Bergdorf Goodman are just launching their first forays into the blogosphere, and the usually forward-looking Prada has a decidedly clunky Facebook page.

Nor should those brands who have mastered Facebook rest on their laurels, social networking companies such as Foursquare and Yelp continue to innovate, providing a growing array of opportunities and challenges.

“We’re early days when it comes to social media and luxury,” says Bradford, who cites smart-phones, location-based services, 2-D barcoding and sharing of private sales through social networks as the next ‘big things’.

“When you start tying social and mobile together all sorts of new things happen,” he says. “You’re going to see more of that.”

Financial Times