Over the years, they have played a supportive role in the fashion brand marketing team. Now, social media managers have moved to the forefront – a process that has been accelerated by Covid-19 global lockdown.
“No other role is seen, and seen with as much frequency, as a social media team,” said Farryn Weiner, a veteran social media executive who previously in his career launched Michael Kors Instagram account from his personal iPhone.
“Your stakeholders, customers, your CEO and your CEO’s daughter – they all see your work every day,” said Weiner, who now manages Farrynheight, a marketing agency based in New York. “The social media team is the front line of the brand.”
Social media has become an integral part of brand infrastructure, said Linz Shelton, who recently ended a five-year stint as director of global social media, also working at Michael Kors. He highlights the “extraordinary” ROI of social marketing. “Instagram,” he said, “is a new shopping center.”
Posting products on Instagram can give satisfying results. When the British brand Rixo posts, it regularly sees week-to-week triple-digit growth, even if the product isn’t a new season. Jessica Warch, one of the founders of a new jewelry brand developed at the Antwerp laboratory, Kimaï, is one of the many new players who place significant resources in developing a social media presence. “Instagram shapes the whole business,” he said.
A new challenge for social media managers
This is a demanding role. Social media managers are often tasked with translating company policies into posts that can be digested and shared. For Jessica Graham, manager of social media and digital content on Mother of Pearl’s sustainable label, this means turning heavy and detailed statements about sustainability and transparency into sharp information. This is a challenging and time-consuming process, requiring a sharp focus on the right choice of words. “Sustainability is not a sexy conversation for consumers,” he said. “The last thing I want is inaccurate.”
Social media managers need to satisfy a very diverse audience. One of Rixo’s founders, Henrietta Rix, shows how difficult it is to measure an appropriate response based on an analysis of personal profiles and a small picture. “Someone can comment asking about the price of the dress, but you don’t know whether the person you are talking to usually shop at Primark or Harrods,” he said. One solution is to develop the ‘Icons of Rixo’ ambassador campaign, which highlights Rixo’s consumer diversity and encourages user-generated content, describing the same product in various contexts.
The British brand Rixo chose eight ‘Rixo Icons’ to represent the diversity of its consumer base.
© Emilia Musacchia, Julia Rebaudo, Kelsey-Marie, Lisa Mandy Seskin, Mouna Traore, Nnenna Echem, Sophia Li and Sophie Edwards
The work life of a social media manager used to be simpler. When Linz Shelton began working at Yoox in 2012, social media managers could broadly rely on archetypes to direct their strategies. These days, which might be considered simple – with marketing opportunities missed. “If my bonus is tied to likes, I will post bags and pink puppies all day every day, but social media must support business goals,” he said.
Shelton characterizes three main platforms as different stages of the same customer journey: “Pinterest is a great way to show the breadth of offerings to someone who wants a new handbag, but has not yet decided between Michael Kors, Kate Spade, and Coach or Calvin Klein. Instagram is the right place to spark inspiration. Facebook has a very clever algorithm for getting the right product for the right person. “
Navigating a counterattack is part of the job
Brand social media is increasingly attracting attention from its own team. “Social media is real estate,” Weiner said. “Most organizations don’t understand how many people in the company are fighting for that space.”
Social media managers must play complicated diplomatic games where they often do not hold power in decision making. Customers often use social media to voice concerns about customer service issues, even if the product is purchased through a wholesale retailer. Directions from above usually direct how social media teams respond to questions or complaints. “The title of the work itself is misleading. “Social media managers are not people who dictate what happens on social media,” said London-based freelance social media manager Trishna Goklani, who has worked with Liz Earle, Marie Claire and Paradise Row.
A clear strategy must be established from the beginning, requiring periodic revisions. “Changes in technology, new platforms, and socio-political issues can change quickly,” said Zoe Patoff, senior vice president, global creative & digital strategy for Karla Otto. “There’s always the possibility for negative comments, so it’s important to have an agreed strategy before anything comes up.”
The role of social media managers is to make corporate jargon connected with consumers. Instead of copying and pasting company policy statements “mechanical and not authentic”, the social media team must respond to negative comments or problems by way of conversation, said Linz Shelton. “Removing comments is a recipe for disaster,” he added. “To win consumers, you must be honest, accountable, and responsive.”
Honesty is the best policy. When wholesalers cancel orders because of Covid-19, Rixo, like many other fashion brands, is burdened with excess stock. So the company made a sale, telling the customer why it happened. “We are a fashion brand, not a political party. People only want honesty, “said Rix. “When people ask questions, we send them more information, and they see how seriously we handle it.”
Social media experts Farryn Weiner, Henrietta Rix, Jessica Warch, Jessica Graham, Linz Shelton, Lola Sole, Trishna Goklani, Zoe Patoff and Imi Read.
© Tom Neal / JCrew, Rixo, Kimaï, Ashley Yang, 4Eyes Photography, Lola Sole, Eva Schwank, Barry Lobel and Grace Bristo
The Kimaï jewelry brand navigates the pandemic by reducing product posts and turning to film recommendations, hoping to find new ways to engage with its community during difficult times. When the Black Lives Matter protest began, the brand made a policy decision not to post anything on its Instagram feed for a week, choosing to share several anti-racist sources on Instagram Stories.
Less can be more. When a global event engulfs social media, brands need to think carefully about whether the content is useful or necessary, Goklani said. “Staying silent can appear like you don’t care, but you have to ask: does that add to the problem and noise? Do people need other reasons to continue scrolling and consuming content? “
Lola Sole, a freelance social media manager, wants to see brands improve their own internal policies before campaigning on the issue. “I am often the only black person in the room, but my brands have worked for black boxes installed,” he said. “You have to issue a message even though you know it’s not authentic.”
Social media managers are under pressure
As the workload for social media managers increases, brands may need to provide more support. Personal victims working on social media are well documented, but several brands have implemented solutions. “I was in the office past 11pm on my birthday,” Lola Sole said. “I deleted Instagram, WhatsApp, and my personal Facebook because I needed to take a mental break. I am in a social media bubble that I cannot avoid. “According to the Payscale salary compilation website, 70 to 80 percent of social media managers are women.
Automation is one of the supporting tools, said Linz Shelton. His team at Michael Kors developed chatbots and AI tools to bypass layers of spam from incoming notifications and to categorize questions and respond to what he called “positive things that expand” – which require simple ‘like’ or emoji responses.
Small brands with limited budgets can still apply this in small doses. “Using tools to automate posts requires pressure because you can do many things beforehand. Even free ones are worth using, “said freelancer Imi Read, who previously managed Converse London Instagram.
But in the world of super-fast social media, automatic posting is never the perfect solution. Trends can live and die within 24 hours. News, fake or otherwise, spread like wildfire. The most effective social media strategies tend to be the most detrimental for the team, requiring them to live and breathe their brand. As Weiner said, “the best social media team in its class Becomes their brand. “
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