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Multichannel: How to make friends and influence people

A well thought out strategy will reap far higher rewards than buying fake fans and likes.

When a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation into the use of fake likes and followers across social media aired in August, it exposed how brands and agencies manipulate social media figures to help encourage potential consumers to buy into their products.

The programme found that a number of companies, many in India, will buy fake likes and followers across social media platforms, cementing the fact that, while social media has many benefits, there are glaring issues.

This click-farm (a form of click fraud, where a large group of low-paid workers is hired to click on paid advertising links for the click fraudster) syndrome of manipulating social media figures isn’t going to vanish anytime soon. Technology research firm Gartner predicts that by next year, between 10% and 15% of all social media reviews and other forms of engagement will be fake, up from about 1% to 4% in 2012.

It’s not surprising given how easy it is to buy fans. Type ‘buy Facebook fans’ into Google and you’ll be presented with swarms of companies offering to expand your social media followers. FansFollowersBoost.com offers 5,000 Twitter followers for just $17 (£10.90).

However, experts believe that the practice of buying fans on social media is small and there are just a few disreputable companies charging to boost fan numbers using such methods.

Tim Pritchard, head of social at media agency Manning Gottlieb OMD, says the easiest way to avoid using such a company is to stop concentrating on overall like and fan numbers as an objective and instead think about the value exchange between your brand and the consumer.

“In the long run ‘buying’ fake fans doesn’t do anything for your brand and will only lead to low levels of engagement on your social media sites,” he says. “The unscrupulous practices generally use ‘bots’ or fake profiles to boost the numbers but not being genuine users these will ultimately fail to engage.”

Lyle & Scott head of ecommerce Will Dymott says the young fashion brand is contacted “all the time” by companies promising to increase its social media numbers.

“They can’t deliver volume without doing something dodgy or getting poor-quality likes,” he says. “Even if it’s a genuine person they could be liking the page just because of a competition, showing that they’re interested only in the competition, not the brand.”

Harrods head of PR and communications Lauren Stevenson echoes Dymott’s view. “It’s about quality, not quantity, and social media is an incredibly valuable two-way communication tool,” she says.

“A brand’s social media strategy has to have integrity and be built on loyalty and a consumer need and want for the engagement, otherwise it has no value.”

Retailers should be aware that the only way to gather real fans and build a community with value is to steadily grow through interesting and engaging, quality content, and creating ongoing campaigns that attract new fans, says Emma Gannon, social media consultant at social media agency We Are Social.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Vine - there’s a revolving door of platforms emerging. But with social media exploding in recent years, how can fashion brands keep up with new trends, emerging sites and building an audience?

George Graham, co-owner of two-store designer indie Wolf & Badger in London, says it avoids jumping on every new technology or spreading itself too thinly across all the channels.

“Rather we try to focus on the channels that are most suited to our business,” he says, adding that platforms more focused on pictures, such as Instagram, “lend themselves well to our ethos of encouraging our followers to discover really exciting and unique fashion and design products”.

French Connection multichannel marketing director Jennifer Roebuck admits that it’s a challenge to keep up with developments in social media.

“You have to suss out which opportunities are beneficial and which are just a passing fad,” she says. “Also, how to make the investment pay off from a commercial perspective. I think we have done a decent job of selecting the right networks to focus on, but the commercial element we’re still trying to understand, as well as ensuring we think of brand and performance on all projects.”

Launching on new and emerging platforms can be a real resource drain as you need to scope out the platform, and it effectively becomes part of your online estate, requiring management in the same way as a website may, says Pritchard. “When starting a profile on a new platform, brands also need to be wary of the ‘rules of engagement’ and adopting the right ‘platform habits’ that can form in communities from the off,” he adds. “That could be knowing the hashtags to use on Instagram, for example #NoFilter, that might give you credibility on such platforms.”

Like many brands, Lyle & Scott uses social platforms for different purposes. It recently used Twitter to support a recruitment campaign to find a new managing director, while its Instagram account showcases behind-the-scenes pictures from its design team.

Dymott says the brand is “playing” with Vine just to see if there’s any interest out there. “With Vine, more effort goes into creating [the content]. There’s no point creating dross, it just won’t work. If we’re going to use Vine properly, it’ll
take a lot of resource and effort and we want to make sure we get return on investment.”

One of the key learnings for lingerie retailer Ann Summers has been that each platform needs a slightly different approach while ensuring the overall messages and tone of voice remains consistent.

Ann Summers PR and social media manager Sophie Barton says: “Facebook and Twitter needapproaching individually in terms of determining what we are going to say, as does Pinterest, and identifying that the functions and opportunities offered across each channel are different has been key to our success. By tailoring your post content to each social media site this will reflect in the levels of engagement you see across each of the platforms.”

And think carefully about what you post on each platform. As Dymott puts it: “You wouldn’t walk in a pub and shout, ‘hey, look at my jumper’. On Facebook, people are chatting with their mates and aren’t in the mood.”

Those retailers with a well thought out social media strategy will reap the benefits, without having to fake it.

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