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#Longread: Is Twitter still relevant for fashion brands?

The Burberry Tweetcam campaign on Twitter in 2015
The Burberry Tweetcam campaign on Twitter in 2015

As far as social media platforms go, Twitter is fairly down the list for fashion brands these days. Where once it led the pack with such initiatives as the Burberry Tweetwalk in 2011, even its Tweetcam in 2015, its coverage of late surrounds more in the way of axed products (video app Vine for instance), an acquisition fall out (no one wants to buy it) and increased job losses and exits (including many senior execs) – all of which led to record lows in its share price during 2016.

Couple that with persistently stagnant user growth, and it raises a real question mark over Twitter’s future. So what do fashion brands need to know in terms of whether they should or shouldn’t invest time and money in the platform in 2017?


The numbers

Although phenomenally successful over the past decade, in recent years Twitter has fallen behind its peers. The main issue is flat user growth, which impacts negatively on revenue.

On average, Twitter had 317 million monthly active users in Q3 2016, up 3% year-on-year. This compares to Facebook’s 1.79 billion, up 16% yoy and Instagram’s 600 million, which is double that of 2014. Snapchat doesn’t disclose monthly figures, suggesting that its engagement is so high it prefers to talk about dailies. It has a reported 150 million daily active users, compared to Twitter’s estimated 136 million.

In terms of revenue, Twitter is therefore finding it particularly difficult to attract brand marketers to advertise on a platform with restricted growth (albeit its advertising revenue was up 6% year-on-year in Q3 2016). What’s perhaps more troubling for the long run in that vein, however, is a potential shift in the way the platform is used.


First for news?

Twitter has long been considered the go-to platform for breaking news – often reporting on stories ahead of mainstream media channels. One in five PR disasters even break on Twitter, according to marketing tool, Year Ahead. And Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey’s focus is indeed reportedly on the social media app as a global information news network.

As social media expert, Karinna Nobbs, explains: “Many customers use Twitter as a news platform, so with the right analytics, if it is right for your target, you should be on it.” She also suggests that fashion brands use Twitter for building relationships with journalists and publishers.

Is Twitter still relevant for the fashion industry?
Is Twitter still relevant for the fashion industry?

Yet, according to Paul Berry, founder and CEO of RebelMouse, even publishers are moving slowly away from the platform. He told Digiday: “Five, 10 years ago, there was a lot of emphasis on building Twitter followings, traffic. For new media companies, Twitter is the afterthought and the side job. It used to be one person on Facebook, one person on Twitter, and now it’s three people on Facebook and half a person on Twitter.”

Further stats from the same Digiday piece show that 59% of Twitter users do indeed get news on the service, third after Reddit and Facebook. But only 16% of adults in the US use Twitter in the first place, and only 9% of adults get news there. That compares to Facebook being used by 67% of U.S. adults, with 44% of US adults getting news there, according to Pew Research Center.

Twitter has been introducing new features in a bid to combat this, and both grow and retain engaged users. Included is its livestreaming service Periscope, and “Twitter Moments”, its storytelling feature enabling users to gather (and consume) tweets under themes, or indeed news stories. In truth, however, they still haven’t made much of an impact, while Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat continue to storm ahead – especially with live video.


Fashion application

Within the fashion industry specifically, there is reasonable usage of the platform nonetheless, especially during fashion weeks – arguably the industry’s most newsworthy occasions. 503,404 Tweets were tagged #LFW for spring/summer 2016, according to the British Fashion Council. But engagement is significantly higher on Instagram. For spring/summer 2017, Burberry for instance received 415,300 likes on Instagram compared to 28,750 likes and retweets on Twitter, according to Stylight. That trend continues for most other designers.

Speaking anonymously, one industry insider said: “Twitter has become the last, and at best the fourth social media channel I think about when thinking about our communications strategy [behind Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat]. I would argue Pinterest… and possibly even LinkedIn are more relevant to fashion and e-commerce today.”

Of course some fashion brands haven’t ever used Twitter at all. Christopher Kane for instance hasn’t posted a single tweet (though its reserved account has approximately 4,500 organic followers). By comparison the brand’s Instagram account has 226k followers with over 1,350 posts.

The fact is, the internet has shifted from being a text-based entity, to a visual and video one. While Twitter has attempted to keep up with this movement, for fashion brands particularly, other platforms have become more appealing and perceivably more suitable.

Another anonymous source explains: “Fashion brands have always thought visual-first, they were just previously restricted by what the social media channels enabled. When Instagram took off, they suddenly got their version of digital beauty – something that was in keeping with the aesthetic they were trying to portray and at huge scale. They’ve grown fast on that platform and engagement remains high, albeit with its own algorithmic challenges. The new flurry of live video options – on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat – all give them new means to provide insights, news and updates from the brand too, and importantly in quite a ‘cool’ way. It’s entirely possible they just don’t need Twitter anymore.”

Belstaff on Twitter
Belstaff on Twitter

That’s not to say everyone feels that way of course. One example of a brand that makes the best of what Twitter has to offer is Belstaff. Its global marketing manager, Melina Fenby, explains the brand’s current strategy includes using Twitter as “our news, events and information hub to grow brand loyalty”. She says the team uses Twitter for influencer engagement (motorsport and adventure figures resonate well with the Belstaff community) and event/PR activity (the Goodwood Festival of Speed content was particularly popular).

Outlining Belstaff’s Twitter strategy going forward, Fenby added: “The real focus for us is to generate meaningful engagement with our existing fans and relevant micro-communities.”


Championing customer service

Unsurprisingly where Twitter does otherwise resonate for retail fashion brands particularly is in the realm of customer service.

ASOS for instance has a dedicated Twitter account specifically for queries. @ASOS_Heretohelp is among the top 10% of help handles with an average response time of five minutes. It has over 180,000 followers of its own, against the main @ASOS account’s 1.01 million.

Others including Nike, Jack Threads and Lululemon are incredibly strong from a customer service perspective on the channel too. Overall, two-thirds of brands tracked by L2 use their Twitter accounts for customer service.

While the average fashion brand communicates with just 64 customers per month via Twitter posts, according to L2, Lululemon addresses the concerns of more than 900 customers each month and even provides personalised product recommendations. Other stand out accounts include Macy’s and Marks & Spencer, which both receive more than 10,000 Twitter mentions and communicate with more than 800 customers each month.

When customers are taking this route, they expect brands to respond quickly to mentions and queries, more so than anywhere else. This fits with the fact cloud-based social customer service provider, Conversocial, found over half of consumers (54.4%) prefer new messaging channels such as SMS, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, and WhatsApp as their primary form of communication with brands compared to legacy channels such as email, phone, and web chat.

ASOS_Heretohelp on Twitter
ASOS Here to Help on Twitter

That’s not overly a surprise. But the truth is, much like storytelling and live news, nailing customer service is also becoming increasingly competitive from a platform side. Facebook Messenger has gained an enormous amount of ground throughout 2016 as one of the early leaders in the chatbot space for instance (behind Wechat in China). This is the introduction of artificial intelligence-enabled automated conversations through a chat interface, which for retailers is especially useful when applied to scalable customer service. Though still nascent, they’re expected to increasingly resonate with consumers.

Twitter therefore, has had to up its game in this space too. In November 2016, it launched bot-like features within direct messages for brands. Included are automated “welcome” responses, as well as “quick replies”, which let users choose from a series of pre-written sentences or prompts (like “what’s the status of my order”) to facilitate faster resolutions.

Cleverly, that also takes some of the weighty customer service conversations out of the feed, and into a private space instead, freeing up accounts to refocus on the storytelling piece Twitter is still aiming for. In that same vein, the company is also rolling out “curated profiles” to a handful of brands, in order to allow them to showcase the best of their content, including that of the visual and video type favoured by the fashion industry. Notably, Twitter is pushing this side of things far more heavily than it is the idea of conversions for retailers. It is actively phasing out its “buy” button for instance.

Sedge Beswick, managing director at SEEN Connects, and former head of social at ASOS, commented: “I still think [Twitter] plays a huge role from a customer care POV primarily – visual for Instagram, Facebook for innovation and Twitter can be the supporting platform where people know they can get timely, supportive and relevant customer care support […] especially if we get the bots right.”


Comment

Twitter isn’t going away just yet, but it’s got a lot of work to do if it wants to re-forge real relevance with the fashion industry. What does this mean in terms of how you should approach it? At this point in time, the answer is relatively dependent on the type of brand that you are – mass-market retailers, department stores and more niche, or specific, brands (like Lululemon), who have developed a level of customer service activity, will likely want to stick with the status quo, explore new features and continue using the platform as an opportunity to converse with consumers on a query-led basis while engagement is high. 900 happy customers, is still 900 happy customers. Same goes for just 64. But analyse the data in terms of what you really get out of it over time.

There’s also still something to be said for using Twitter with news in mind too, but be aware of the fact it’s less of a conversion tool and more of a PR one, and even that may well be only on a good day. Approach it from a content sharing point of view, but figure out within that what your followers actually respond to and adjust accordingly. Whether you spend any advertising budget alongside will make sense thereafter.

The simple truth is, if you’re much more of a visual brand, or indeed one already channeling your focus primarily through other platforms, you may want to keep it that way. For those hovering somewhere in the middle, it’s worthwhile maintaining your Twitter accounts, but doing so by doubling up on resource, rather than promoting anything completely unique, is probably wise.

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Embracing the #longread: how digital consumption is shifting, plus five fashion stories to find the time for

TLDR

If you’re anything like me, you constantly have dozens of tabs open, bookmarks saved, emails placed in a strategic folder, and apps in use to keep track of all the stories you’re intending to go back and read.

It’s all too easy to let that accumulate, put off by the fact some of the pieces are just that little bit too long (#TLDR) to comfortably whizz through in a spare moment, rather needing you to find some dedicated time to sit down and concentrate on them. But, while we might be used to shorter and shorter formats through our social media postings – 140 characters here, six seconds there – not to mention an entirely visual-based strategy through Instagram particularly, there’s a growing trend for a lot more in the way of this long form content. Twitter itself is indeed thinking about extending to a 10,000 character limit, first page results on Google reportedly contain an average of 1,890 words (that’s mind blowing), and platforms like Medium have taken off for the very fact they enable users to easily spout words without any true perimeters.

Media companies from Buzzfeed to The Guardian, Esquire, The New York Times and Wired all also publish dedicated “long reads” or “big stories” today. The move comes down to an understanding that readers increasingly desire access to longer form content (and the involved insight, knowledge and informed opinions it provides). And more importantly, though counter to popular belief, they’re willingly engaging with it on mobile. In fact, a 6,000-word piece from Buzzfeed in early 2014, saw readers on tablets spend an average of more than 12 minutes with the story, while those on phones spent more than 25 minutes. As The Atlantic wrote: “[That’s] a small eternity, in internet time.”

reading_mobile

No surprise then, there’s an increasing number of highly relevant fashion stories being released that also tick the box for indulgent consumption. As Imran Amed of The Business of Fashion wrote this weekend in a post about his venture into long form with a landmark piece on the Net-a-Porter / Yoox merger (as below): “The idea to do this kind of story came during a conversation I had in September with Graydon Carter, editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, who advised me: ‘Every once in a while, write an in-depth story that everyone in the fashion industry would want to read’.”

So here are five lengthy pieces (2,500-10,000 words) truly worth carving out some time for. Some of them date back to early 2015 (courtesy of my aforementioned bookmarking habit and some power reading this weekend), but if you didn’t get through them then, like me, now is your chance to revisit.

1. The secret deal to merge Net-a-Porter with Yoox – The Business of Fashion

Needless to say, top of this list of long reads, is the aforementioned story from The Business of Fashion last week. If you haven’t yet bitten the bullet, it’s broken down into four parts, chronicling exactly what happened between both parties and Compagnie Financière Richemont (much of which was behind the back of Natalie Massenet). This one is time consuming, but it’s insightful and worthwhile. As someone posted in the comments below: “Noting the tell-all film trend: fun to imagine who will be cast as Massenet, Marchetti and Rupert.”

2. A huge underclass of ghost workers are making your shirts in their homes – Quartz

Informally employed homeworkers in developing countries make up a substantial portion of the (subcontracted) manufacturing process for fashion retailers. This story dives into who they are, what they do and how to go about changing it so that they’re treated fairly and under the same laws as other workers. “The first step is to bring them out of the shadows and acknowledge that they exist,” writes author Marc Bain. It’s an insightful piece – detailed and warranted of its length – on an area rarely touched upon elsewhere.

3. Losing the thread: how textiles repeatedly revolutionised human technology – Aeon

With all the obsession with wearable technology of late, there’s a lot to be said for this essay, which outlines the very fact that textiles are indeed a technology of themselves. “More ancient than bronze and as contemporary as nanowires,” it reads. It goes on to highlight how pertinent textiles have been on economic development and global trade, and calls the industry out for thinking that ‘wearable tech’ is about gadgets pretending to be accessories rather than the cloth we actually wear against our skins. The piece takes us from the development of aniline dyes and cellulose-based synthetics to the performance-based materials we take for granted today. There’s also a great analogy of weaving (the original binary system) rather than mining when referring to the Bitcoin Blockchain.

4. Fashion week, reinvented – The New York Times

Vanessa Friedman penned this piece on how New York Fashion Week is evolving at the beginning of last season (September 2015). Largely a focus on how WME/IMG were bringing designers into its new venues, it explores how the aim is to make the whole affair seem less commercial yet simultaneously a feat of entertainment for the masses. It sets the scene comprehensively, and outlines the ambition on many fronts to evolve what fashion week is and what it could be. Since then, there have been multiple additional stories released, especially around the CFDA’s plans to hire the Boston Consulting Group to conduct a study on whether or not NYFW should become a consumer-facing event presenting collections more closely aligned with retail drops. Lots of food for thought as we approach the autumn/winter 2016 shows.

5. How menswear took over the internet – Esquire

Men’s fashion is growing by more than 100% a year. With that as context, this long form story from Esquire dives into where and how that is happening, talking to executives from Luisa Via Roma, Mr Porter and Matches Fashion. According to the latter, the online men’s market is highly valued for the fact returns are lower and loyalty often higher. Some 50% of its male customers return to buy something else within a year. The story also highlights such tidbits as more money coming from shoes on Mr Porter than Net-a-Porter, and Natalie Massenet saying that the rise of a more creative economy could lead to menswear becoming as big as womenswear over the next decade.