There are probably a handful of times that social media has truly excited me on a personal level, and they all involve engaging directly with brands I love and NOT, as you might think, witnessing the most incredible content that has ever been produced by a Nickelodeon child star to date.
I died the first time Black Milk Clothing reposted a photo of me and my tiny dog (Louie would literally murder me over this hyperbole) – ditto for Dolls Kill and Helen Ficalora. Jim Piddock engaged with me on Twitter once, which perhaps only Christopher Guest fans will appreciate. I also won some cool swag from TechCrunch for this photo, which they broadcasted in a couple of neat places.
It’s awesome to be tweeted about to over 3 million users, or reposted to nearly 1 million Instagrammers…and for what? For being a huge fan and a total geek.
This idea has got me thinking more about how fashion brands, in particular, utilize social, and how specific practices impact their digital communities. A glance at my Instagram account may have you think that all I wear is Black Milk and other shiny insanities from Dolls Kill – but in fact, these are only a couple of my very favorite brands. Anyone who knows me IRL can tell you that I’d clone myself and then give up my clone’s first-born for anything Marc Jacobs. I’d commit similar such ethical atrocities for the likes of Miu Miu, Balenciaga, Chloé, Isabel Marant, etc.
But the truth is, most luxury brands aren’t as fun to socialize with. They’re the cool kids on the playground, constantly maintaining a distance of superiority that doesn’t quite mesh with the true nature of social. “Reach” brands obtain a good deal of their clout and status from the semblance of exclusivity and unattainability – however real or imagined. For this reason, when it comes to social media, luxury brands tend to equate broadcasting with dictating – e.g., tastemaker status. Public-facing engagement is reserved for those in the inner circle, further perpetuating the aspirational aspect of the brand.
This is all fine. I get it. It’s similar to how Apple has historically been careful about its social media presence, such that its able to meticulously control as many channels of communication as possible and let product/retail experience dominate. Just because social is less fun with these guys doesn’t mean I don’t a) buy their products or b) socialize about them. That’s just exactly what it ends up being – socializing about rather than with.
Because when you’re a social-friendly brand, you cultivate a different type of digital community. You advocate intimacy, not distance. You prioritize adding value to your brand in a way that not all brands want, or even need.
Some people have said that luxury brands are “too good” to engage on social, or that social “cheapens” brands. I don’t think the luxury aspect is the point, though, or that any designer is truly “above” social – look at Marc, for instance. It’s more to do with whether or not it makes ontological sense – whether the kinds of communication and interaction afforded by these outlets align with the overall conceptionalization of the brand. Staying true to your brand, luxury or not, means carefully controlling your output – or sometimes, having none at all.
As Molly Flatt pointed out, Burberry has devised a unique way of leveraging social without compromising its legacy and luxury – it “doesn’t do social marketing so much as digital marketing played out through social channels.” Burberry has kept its iconic status as dream-trenchcoat-maker, but has also evolved to adopt a progressive use of digital, which in turn gives it the image of a modern luxury brand with all the historical trimmings.
It’s not surprising that subverting fashion norms and luxury ideals can go hand in hand with making terrific use of social engagement. Black Milk Clothing and Dolls Kill encapsulate a type of counterculture fashion movement in this very way, touting self-expression and personal experimentation over the mainstream’s obsession with polished conformity and seasonal trends. They use social to initiate two-way conversations about these philosophies, convert customers into die-hard brand evangelists, and ultimately drive insane amounts of exposure and demand for their products. They’ve figured out how to create desire – and even aspiration – without the stuffiness of conventional luxury positioning.
And by the way, the desire is very real. I once completed a purchase 30 seconds after a new Black Milk collection went live, and I was something like the 407th order placed. That means 406 superninjas were also counting down the seconds to the launch and checked out faster than I did – they weren’t content to simply buy “whenever.”
The rise in popularity of these types of brands has dovetailed beautifully with the rise of consumer technology. These guys are championing the geeks, the gamers, and the nerds – but of today. They’ve identified that this generation’s rebels care deeply about satisfying all of the dimensions that define us. We don’t want to compartmentalize or be compartmentalized in any aspect of life, including what we wear. We’re often moody dressers, refusing to be limited by the confines of a single aesthetic, style, or even identity. We stay up all night going to EDC or playing Assassin’s Creed, and pair vintage Chanel with Game of Thrones licensed leggings while doing so.