Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, your group of friends - both virtual and real - knows no geographic boundaries. Whether you're shopping in DIFC or touring Cambodia's ruins, you can keep up with the feuds, meals and even dating habits of everyone in your network - as long as you can find an internet connection. According to Comscore, a leading digital market research firm, there were 9.3 million visitors on Twitter in the month of March alone, while Facebook has famously garnered more than 200 million users worldwide. These sites help individuals stay in touch, but for many global brands, they've become cost-effective ways to communicate their respective messages quickly and efficiently via Fan (on Facebook) and Twitter pages.
At face value, Facebook is just a social networking site and Twitter is just a micro-blogging platform, but savvy branding professionals have for some time recognised these expansive networks' market penetration capabilities. Kim Dhillon of the London-based art direction firm Partner and Partner (responsible for Burberry The Beat's fragrance campaign), for one, understands the relatability factor. "The main advantage to using social media to promote a brand is genuine engagement with fans and consumers - both with the brand, and with each other," he observes. "It's an open forum, and with that comes the lack of control over what fans may say, but it offers the potential for real advocacy of the brand from fan to fan, consumer to consumer."
Jacques Shu, who runs an eponymous Paris-based PR firm that counts numerous fashion brands as clients agrees, saying: "It is a great platform to promote brands, because there is a link between the one who is promoting and the consumer. You know who has sent you the information, and it is like a friend who gives advice about something cool. The information is given faster than in the [traditional] press and the consumer is targeted more precisely."
For brands such as Kenzo, having a presence on Facebook is viewed as an added-value component to their promotional programs. According to Han Wen, the PR manager for Kenzo Parfums, it gives consumers a "forum to interact with Kenzo if they should so wish, or simply to stay current with what the brand has to offer." Rather than replacing old methods of promotion, however, it simply enhances existing marketing initiatives. "For us, this is not a zero-sum game where participation in one precludes participation in the other," explains Wen. "We see sites like Facebook and Twitter as complementary to our existing outreach tools that allow us to maintain our relevance with a broader range of customers using their preferred method of communication."
Countless other brands, including Bulgari, Comme des Garçons, Acne and H&M are either on Facebook, Twitter, or both. But the rush to exploit the reach of these platforms is already wearing thin for consumers. "What used to be edgy seems to become mainstream now, and Facebook is becoming a giant advertising place," notes Shu. And according to a recent article in the advertising trade magazine Advertising Age: "Nearly a third of social networkers say they are fed up with the constant requests to join groups and try new applications, according to research by the Internet Advertising Bureau in the UK."
Though these are cautionary signs, the trend is still too formidable to be ignored. A few weeks ago, Oprah Winfrey gave these two platforms a huge boost when she had Marc Zuckerberg (the co-founder of Facebook) and Evan Williams (the co-founder of Twitter) on her highly influential show. An endorsement from Winfrey, the queen of all media, can only help both Facebook and Twitter grow in the numbers of subscribers. Not that she's the only one: the popular talk show host Ellen Degeneres mentions the sites on her show often, domestic diva Martha Stewart "tweets" daily and has earned over 500,000 followers on Twitter, and most famously, actor Ashton Kutcher has become the face of the micro blogging site with a remarkable 1.5 million plus followers - more than any other user.
"As social networking sites continue to grow their following, it's only logical that we would continue to devote more energy into interacting with our followers in these arenas," says Wen. Fashion is notoriously fickle, of course, so for the early adopters the fad is already over. But while it retains a steady stream of gossip, insight and information, social marketing, like denim, black, pashminas and platforms before it, will probably prove to be a trend that defies exaggerated reports of its demise.