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Donna Karan Exec Shares Social Media Best Practices

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The luxury industry is on an upswing: 25% of affluent consumers purchased at least one high-end product a month in 2012, versus only 10% in 2011, according to research from Ipsos MediaCT. In response, luxury brands and retailers are turning to digital tools and channels, including social and mobile, to engage and communicate with consumers, and in turn, generate more sales.

During the Luxury Roundtable: State Of Luxury 2013 conference in New York City, a Donna Karan New York (DKNY) executive discussed how the brand leverages social media to drive brand evangelism and loyalty.

“It’s called social media for a reason,” explained Aliza Licht, SVP of Global Communications at Donna Karan International. “It’s not called ‘push media’ or ‘message board media.’ You’re meant to engage. In the luxury industry, the whole concept of engaging can be scary. Brands think that in doing so, they’re giving away their ‘secret sauce’ or what makes them coveted, but that’s not the case.”

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Rather than sharing promotional information with consumers at their leisure, luxury brands and retailers should use social media to respond to inquiries and generate conversations, Licht explained. Known on Twitter as “DKNY PR Girl,” the Donna Karan exec has established a strong role in the social media world: she currently has approximately 445,000 followers, all of whom strive to connect and have one-to-one conversations with her.

Since the inception of the DKNY PR Girl Twitter account in 2009, DKNY has expanded social presence tremendously. DKNY PR Girl has developed a blog, and designer Donna Karan has established “Donna’s Journal,” a web site designed to provide fans a glimpse into the designer’s life and opinions. DKNY also has a Facebook page and mobile app, which, Licht reported, has garnered more than 300,000 downloads.

The 10 Commandments Of Social Media

Driving home the importance of using social media to drive brand affinity, Licht shared 10 “social media commandments,” and offered first-hand examples of how DKNY is tackling the ever-changing digital space.

The 10 Commandments of social media provided by Licht include:

  1. Focus on attraction, not promotion: Licht manages DKNY social accounts through the lens of Donna Karan as a designer and overall brand. For example, Licht uses cultural references to generate dialogue with fans and followers. In one case shared at the conference, she mentioned the television show “Scandal,” and noted that in one episode the star, Kerry Washington, wore DKNY.

    “I use Twitter to discuss ‘Scandal,’ and include a hash tag, so the DKNY brand is represented without having to buy commercial time,” Licht stated. “I try not to focus on pushing content, but rather, aligning with brands and cultural figures that share similar DNA.”
     

  2. Create a community: The DKNY PR Girl Twitter was created to represent a real person, Licht noted. Therefore, she builds up the social community by asking everyday questions, such as: “What is the weather like by you?”

    “When you ask a question that’s relevant to everyone, people worldwide can respond and interact,” Licht said. “So you can create a global community, and you encourage camaraderie that doesn’t just focus on your brand.”

    Instead, Licht “sprinkles in” DKNY news and fashion content based on what she’s doing, so dialogue is more natural. “You can’t just live fashion all day long. That would be boring for your followers.”
     

  3. Go where the people are: To make the social experience more authentic, Licht publishes posts “off the cuff,” without following any form of content calendar. She also tracks and responds to social feedback without help from a team.
     
  4. Be a fly on the wall: While some luxury brands fear that social media will make their brand DNA less desirable, Licht noted that Twitter, Facebook and other sites help the consumer “be a fly on the wall. Using social media, you have the opportunity to share a story only you can tell.”
     
  5. Create honorary PR people: Because Licht tweets and blogs in real time, and doesn’t use a scheduling platform, she sometimes has to go a few hours without checking social accounts.

    “I started to notice that if I wasn’t around to answer a consumer’s question, a follower would pop in and answer the question for me,” Licht said. “Our social followers also are our brand evangelists and honorary PR people. They tweet on my behalf when I’m tied up and can’t respond. It’s a sense of pride when you can build a community where people care about your brand and want to share about it.”
     

  6. Crash the party: A top benefit of Twitter is that it enables people worldwide to connect and communicate about specific subjects. For example, DKNY partnered with Vogue magazine to host a Twitter party for the annual Met Gala. Using the hash tag #METGala, more than 400 people tweeted about the event. DKNY also received additional promotion on www.Vogue.com, where the Twitter party was streaming live.
     
  7. Think outside your box: To stand out in a competitive retail industry, luxury brands and retailers should go outside of their comfort zones, and develop content and partnerships that “aren’t fully in line with the brand, but are interesting and cutting edge,” Licht noted. For example, DKNY now is available on Rent The Runway, a dress and accessory rental site that has more than three million subscribers between the ages of 18 and 34. The partnership “has been hugely successful,” Licht stated, “because it brings our iconic jersey dresses to an audience that may not be able to buy them normally.”
     
  8. Shut up and listen: Tracking and responding to feedback is imperative for a successful social strategy, according to Licht. “If you’re not listening and responding, your competitors will be.”
     
  9. Cross-pollinate: DKNY has a variety of editorial partnerships that provide the brand with a plethora of content to share on social networks. For example, Licht has contributed to the Bergdorf Goodman blog several times. 
     
  10. Think tiny: Retailers are trying to determine how they can leverage social media to drive sales. However, most social media users are in younger age segments, Licht explained, so pushing expensive products is not an option for DKNY. Instead, Licht promotes “smaller sales,” such as the Cashmere Mist deodorant, which costs approximately $15 in retail stores.
     

Despite the variety of tips and tricks Licht provided, she closed her presentation by stressing one key point: On social media, it’s important to be likable. “If your brand is not likable, you’re going to alienate people on social media,” she said. “I’m never going to just push products. Instead, I’m going to market them in an interesting way, and in a manner that I would want to be spoken to as a consumer.”

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