When Luxury Fashion Brands Meet Social Networks

Written by Master Student at Lund University



“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” -Coco Chanel

In the fashion industry, it’s about going ahead and setting the trend or run as fast as you can to not be out of date. What’s happening right now is that the way people communicate and keep connected has been changing because of the internet and so called social networks.  At the end of 2011, 10 billion social media accounts were created (Athow, 2011). It just becomes more popular when people start to see social networks as their private channel to keep up, share links and discuss with friends (Fournier & Avery, 2011). In their private spaces, it allows them to express their identity and reinforce their individuality and enables them to satisfy social needs through sharing of consumption related experiences (Christodoulides, 2009). Whatever people talk online from blogs, Facebook, Twitter to LinkedIn and YouTube offers firms a chance to involve in a conversation with millions of customers around the world every day (Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, n.d.).

Every company in every industry to jump into social networks and change their marketing strategies by focusing on talking to customers aiming for deepened relationship. Nevertheless, not every business appreciates this new channel even though building the deepened relationship via social media is cheap and it means brand loyalty which can be referred to generate sale because brands will completely lose control and the power will shift to consumer side (Fournier and Avery, 2011) especially in a luxury-brand industry. However, to not become a part of social media can make brands absent from customers’ minds as well, so with many opportunities that companies could achieve through social media activities and bunch of risks that companies could have avoided are such challenging to marketers in term of how the industry should make use of social media. Also, this paper is contributing to the field of branding in social media in a luxury fashion industry.

Literature Reviews & Discussion

The compilation of published literature focuses on the impacts that social media tools have on organizations and the interrelationship social media has with the luxury fashion world.

The Era of Digital Runway

Social media can be defined as interactions between organizations, communities and individuals where they produce, share and transfer information or opinions in virtual networks (Ahlqvist, Bäck, Halonen & Heinonen, 2008). In this Internet era, traditional communication channels are replaced by a many-to-many communication where consumers are able to interact with brands and other mind-liked consumers to share their generated contents around brand experience (Christodoulides, 2009). They consider social networks as cafés to exchange/explore their lives and thoughts to other if products are suitable to their lifestyles or not (Barwise & Meehan, 2010) (Armelini & Villanueva, 2011).


The online communication model as shown in Fig.1 illustrated that in social media environment, individuals are connected to a company, social media and other consumers where content’s control power is largely shifted to consumers (Winer, 2009). Such environment creates opportunities to develop brand recognition, brand engagement and WOMs (Hoffman and Fodor, 2010).

Armelini and Villanueva (2011) stated that social networks are where people start conversations by posting, rating or commenting. They’re definitely not just message receivers anymore. Thus, companies can obtain an advantage in term of brand recognition via those online interactions (Armelini & Villanueva, 2011). Moreover, ‘‘consumers use digital media to engage the companies they buy products from and other consumers,” said Hanna, Rohm and Crittenden (2011). With the sharing brand contents, from texts and pictures to VDOs, brand awareness can be gained every time people explore the message and brands can get involvement of user-generated content if they produce touchy campaigns or contents to develop customer’s brand loyalty and commitment to brands (Hoffman & Fodor, 2010). After reaching brand awareness and engagement, it’s about WOM since it advantages firms in building trustworthiness and brand relationship with consumers in low budget. Unsurprisingly, the degree of WOM credibility is divergent when WOMs come from different sources. People would rely on what their friends’ post, rate, like or comment more than an anonymous advertising message (Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden, 2011) (Kietzmann, 2011), especially on high-involved products (Armelini & Villanueva, 2011). Hence, if users’ friend share positive experience on Brand A and they, likewise, feel the same way after their consumption, it’s not only their associates who gain credibility but the trustworthiness would be transferred to the brand as Halo Effect (Fournier & Avery, 2011). Moreover, Christodoulides stated (2009) that the interactivity between brands and ended-users on online outlets becomes a path to construct a deepen relationship between them. And, the spread out of message sharing also benefits organizations in marketing offerings’ cost-effectiveness (Christodoulides, 2009).

How Social Media Give Opportunities to Luxury World of Fashion

In the luxury fashion industry, interactivities in social media also facilitate brands in building relationships with shoppers because all fashionistas want to feel connected as same as other people do (Akahoshi, 2012). Social networks allow brands to deliver real-time customer service in the luxury fashion business which would create a better chance to establish relationships with current shoppers and they can distribute WOM to the next shopping generation (Lee, 2009). Akahoshi (2009) reported that online media offers high-ended brands opportunities to capitalize user-generated content and benefits in social engagement because users are enabled to receive style tips and customize just-arrival trend on news feeds then they can comment and share with others (Lee, 2009). “This new technology gives shoppers the ability to find tips, recommendations, offers and prizes at the retailers they love, which will result in strong brand loyalty and spread word of mouth,” said Akahoshi (2009). Besides, social networks allow designers to capitalize 400 million fans on Facebook and about 22 million via Twitter which provide an ability that an advertising budget cannot afford (Prabhakar, 2010).

On a Slippery Runway

Talking about opportunities, they always come with challenges. No one can deny that social media has capability to create viral marketing to a million people in only a few days. Nonetheless, the truth is that all of those contents are controlled by no one but customers (Christodoulides, 2009). Although Winer (2009) said that firms can share small controlling power of content on media, whatever a brand posts, people can discuss either positive or negative about it. There is a risk on every post that audiences would make ironic parody in VDOs or texts pointing out brand’s weaknesses which can damage brand images or reputation, more or less (Fournier & Avery, 2011). Furthermore, online communities are customers’ open sourcing landscape where they start conversations to share opinions with like-mined friends, so they do not give up their spaces for marketing advertisement (Fournier & Avery, 2011). Thus, the more brands advertise, the more customers put them away from their venues. Although there is a belief that online marketing through social networks is cheap, Fournier and Avery suggested (2011) that marketers still need both offline and social media to continuing gain attention via engagement which it can be assumed that it doesn’t come in low price like other believe.

How Social Media Challenge Luxury World of Fashion

The internet is a fabulous place for mass and high-street brands but not for luxury ones. The key of luxury business model is control.  They seek full control for the whole value chain and maintain control in the distance of relationship with clients (Kapferer, 2012). However, social media produces loss of control which would tarnish brand image due to lack of ability to transfer brand associated feeling to online sources (Lee, 209). WWD, (n.d.) claimed that complete control over what is being said about a brand is essential. It is anxious to not knowing if what a brand saying gets misinterpreted. Moreover, social networks are 24/7 opening source that anyone can access while luxury brands discriminate themselves with expensive price for high-income people only (Kapferer, 2012).

Besides, high-ended brands believe that they do not have product life cycle like others, in fact, there is no final death for luxurious since the most brands have been talked and survived because of intangible power since there is no such technology (Kapferer, 2012), so why they need to take risks of social media and increase the budget to have on social media mixing with their traditional ones.

Elegant Runway Walk for Luxury Brands in Social Media Age

Just only few years ago when luxury brands began to involve in social media (Okiwu, 2012), but they hadn’t made use of it since there was no concern of platforms, audiences and continuity of updated news which failed brands to connect with both current and future consumers. Engagement in the social media community declined (Morphy, 2012). However, Chanel found out the way to be continuously online updated but still stand on their brand image by presenting arrogant and exclusive attitude through the way of communication to followers online. While they have 1,354,775 followers on Twitter, they follow no one including no replies and no mentions of other users (twitter.com/CHANEL, 2013). Like their Twitter, Chanel Facebook still contains 8,572,014 likes with numerous products, comments and share on the page but no more interface and engagement (facebook.com/CHANEL, 2013). Without further communication, Chanel still offers in-depth interaction with fans, for example, when they promoted No.5, they post a campaign, behind-the-scene and process of No.5 production VDO allowing followers to share VDOs and words online (Lamb, 2011). With this online marketing pattern, Chanel was ranked at 7th for having most registered and active users across all social network (Latest Digital Trends for Luxury Brands, 2013). This strategy has never been recommenced to any brands, but it works for luxury brands to keep exclusive feeling and still get high attention from million people by creating valuable message to push-out.

“On the other hand, social media also provides accessibility to luxury brands for those who cannot afford to purchase luxury products, but are still fans who would like to share in the overall brand experience,” (Lamb, 2011) In 2010, Marc Jacob affirmed all luxury brands that combination of online and offline marketing could come with low price and high return and proved that there is no harmfulness to talk to low-income fans who passionate about the brand because they’re one of the groups who keep numbers of WOMs expanding to create brand-campaign awareness. MJ posted live stream about the show and invited fans to RSVP for a prize of free trip to his fashion show and after party. As a result, more than 90 million harsh tags of #marcjacobslive was found on Twitter and Facebook where people start conversations from there leading to 20% increasing click-through rate (Wright, 2012). “By adding real-time interactions, the recent MJ show trended to the number eight most talked about topic on Twitter worldwide,” Wright (2012) reported.  Also, for every RSVP, the brand asks fans to put down name, e-mail and country which is another way to track down to see fans’ database or even monitor customer behavior (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012). All in all, the combination of traditional and online marketing could cost a company in low price giving out free trip for only 2 people but getting engagement from 90 million people back. It’s an evidence that going online with offline campaign is worth for luxury brands to try. Another example is Jimmy Choo. They arranged ‘Jimmy Choo Trainer Hunt’ around London by using a real-time locator to locate the shoes. People who found the shoes first, could grab them and go. In three weeks, there were more than 4,000 people joined and sales increased by 30% (Enora Consulting, 2012).

However, this is a battle where brands need to know what words to put out and make them as a storytelling about brands. If you push the wrong button, the heritage in brand image can be destroyed fast and hard like Kenneth Cole. During the burgeoning Egyptian revolution, he tweeted, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC” (Sandy, 2011), and no surprised the outcome wasn’t good. People created an account to boycott the brand and even set a fake account to mocked the brands (Littleton, 2011) (Sandy, 2011).


Without social networks to connect with customers leads consumers to emotionally lose faith in brands (Kapferer, 2012) which is the basis of selling luxurious. Although the brands fear to step into online field, they must move forward because if brand makers don't create their own conversation, their most passionate customers will create ones instead (Ger, 2009). It can lead to plenty of opportunities even revenue (Okiwu, 2012). However, the heart of luxury brand strategy is still about control, the brands should have limitation of their digital activities not because of brand weakening and customer distancing (Kapferer, 2012).

Reference Lists

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