Social Life

Once considered cutting edge, social networking is now an expected item in a business’s marketing arsenal. Of course, as the medium has matured, social media players in the footwear world — from designers to retailers to brands — have learned a great deal about how to build buzz, or, just as important, how not to annoy potential fans. Footwear leaders in the digital realm have had to master what to share, how much to share, how often and how to keep a consistent voice in posts to reflect positively on the business.

Today, Tony Hsieh at Zappos.com has created one of the largest Twitter empires in the industry, with more than 1.7 million followers and frequent posts from individual staff members, about everything from an awkward encounter at a restaurant restroom to favorite quotes. Meanwhile, Moxsie.com has gathered at least 72,000 followers on the site, with posts about the Monday morning blues and Wonder Woman’s costume makeover. On Facebook, Converse has the largest following of any footwear brand, with more than 4 million fans. Other labels might have a smaller base, but are just as active. The home page for designer Stuart Weitzman showcases visuals from ad campaigns and new collections, as well as posts requesting opinions, such as which style customers prefer: strappy sandals or thong flip-flops. And in the department store realm, Bergdorf Goodman will ask Twitter followers to guess who designed a twit-pictured shoe and once polled them to choose which pair of Miu Miu shoes blogger Tavi Gevinson should receive.

But doing so can be time-consuming, and not all top executives and owners are able to monitor all the hundreds of posts. Instead, social media is becoming a collaborative effort, as team members pitch in.

Still, for many designers — particularly smaller and emerging names — social media tends to be a more personal endeavor, with insights into their private lives and hobbies.

Here, top sources weigh in on when social is too social, anecdotes about brand stalkers and how to develop content that really connects.

TONY HSIEH, CEO, ZAPPOS.COM
On being the voice behind the tweets/posts: “For my own Twitter account, @Zappos, I do all the posts myself. We have about 500 employees who are active on Twitter, and we’ve aggregated all their tweets. It’s a great way to build company culture.”

On creating a distinct personality with posts: “I try to have each tweet fall into at least one of four categories. I use ICEE as the acronym for “Inspire, Connect, Educate and Entertain.” Having a real voice is important to connect with people on a more personal level.”

On how his use of social networking has changed over time: “I personally dislike the term ‘social networking’ because it puts the emphasis on the wrong thing. What’s important for Zappos is making personal, emotional connections with people, whether that’s with our customers, our employees, or our vendors. For our customers, the best way to do it has been through the telephone, but nobody writes about it because it’s considered low-tech and unsexy. But for us, we have the customer’s undivided attention for five to 10 minutes, and if we get the interaction right, it’s something our customers remember for a very long time and tell their friends and family about.”

ISACK FADLON, CO-OWNER, SPORTIE LA
On being the voice behind the tweets/posts: “I do post and tweet sometimes, but mostly it’s our staff. We have a couple of people doing it, so the voice may change sometimes, but overall we try to keep the Sportie LA voice, which itself is kind of chaotic. We have multiple personalities.”

On becoming an addiction: “When things happen in the store, when we get interesting product or are talking about an event, in the back of your mind you’re thinking about how to post or tweet. It’s always there hovering over. It never escapes you, so in that respect, it’s very addicting.”

On how social is too social: “It’s a little difficult when we have celebrities and athletes come in [because] we don’t like to pimp that out. Lakers player Lamar Odom was in the store a couple of days ago, so we just said he was in the store, instead of announcing his shoe size. Obviously, the person you are talking about could be easily offended.”

On what works: “Our strategy is to have more of a dialogue with the consumers. For example, we’re going to have a scavenger hunt via Twitter. Since the expectation is there [that all companies use social networking sites], you have to rise above the competition. Privacy is also important, and you don’t want to get too cheesy on the sites.”

LIBBY EDELMAN, DESIGNER
On what works: “I don’t want to tweet about useless things, [such as where I’m at every moment]. I want it to be all about fashion, [or maybe] if I see a trend or a celebrity on the street. I went to a Lady Gaga concert, so I tweeted about that. Sometimes it’s more inspirational things, such as a great quote. On Facebook, I’ve shared recipes and asked fans to share theirs, or we’ve had contests telling [customers and fans] to share their favorite stories. Some women discussed getting jobs because they were wearing a Libby Edelman style and the [hiring manager or boss] noticed their shoes during the interview.”

On how feedback has affected business: “I spend a lot of time reading my customer reviews, so I pay attention to them. You can have many different comments, so I try to read them and not react defensively. If I’m working on a different collection, I think ‘how I can make it better in reaction to what consumers have said to me.’ I try not to overreact and take it personally.”

On personal use vs. business use: “I’ve made my business Facebook page very personal. On Facebook, I have my personal photo gallery with a lot of black-and-white photography — it’s one of my hobbies, and that’s something I update every couple of months.”

BETTYE MULLER, DESIGNER
On missteps along the way: “People are so anxious to do commerce online, and it’s getting so much bigger, that sometimes people are [posting pictures] when they really shouldn’t. This happened recently after FFANY. [A retailer] put pictures up [of my shoes] to entice the customers, but it was too early [and the product should not have been revealed yet].”

On how social is too social: “I had a cross-dresser send a runway picture with my shoes on, so that kind of thing is funny. But I do think people go way too far with being social.”

On what works: “I don’t have a personal page, but I put personal items on my design page, such as ‘happy anniversary to my parents.’ Customers also love to know when I found a great fabric or to hear updates about the things I’m working on and the factories I’ve traveled to. My customers are really like a little fan club — they build an image of me, and I try to keep that going.”

RUTHIE DAVIS, DESIGNER
On how social networks have changed her views: “It’s definitely reinforced my ‘girl power’ attitude. I love seeing girls so happy because of my shoes. I love that they feel empowered and fabulous. I love that they think it’s so special to have a woman designing for them. They think that’s really cool, and I know this because they tell me themselves.”

On creating a distinct personality with posts: “Some are funny, some are sales oriented, some are random. It just depends on the medium and how the team is feeling at that moment.”

On how her use of social networking has changed over time: “As with most companies, it’s just grown. Consumers want to feel closer to the brands they love. They want new photos, new stories and to feel in touch. We’ve learned more about our customers and fans. We’ve become more personal with our communication. We have fun with [our consumers].”

On a mistake you’ve made with it: “Not starting sooner. It’s a great communication tool.”

JEFF YARCHEVER, CEO, VELVET ANGELS
On how his use has changed over time: “We launched without social media, but have since implemented it on all fronts and are very focused on increasing our friends, followers and fans. We utilize Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to interact with fans and introduce them to new styles. Myspace is no longer cool.”

On personal vs. business use: “I use the Velvet Angels Twitter account as my own. I have found people want to know more personal details about me and what’s new with [the brand]. They do not want advertisements.”

On becoming an addiction: “Twitter can definitely change your social life. I spend between 30 minutes to an hour daily.”

LISA PLINER, DESIGNER
On intrusive fans/brand stalkers: “I had a stalker on my fan page. She knew where I lived — literally the color of my house. I investigated some of the things she would talk about and she was using different info than who she really was. I try to be really careful [with who I communicate with], because you never really know [what could happen].”

On being the voice behind the tweets/posts: “I don’t use Twitter because Donald and I are out so much, we have people who tweet for us, saying ‘I’m here with Lisa and Donald Pliner.’ I’m not the one usually doing the Facebook posts — other people at the company will. Sometimes I do like to answer back to my customers and I like to read [what they are saying].”

On watching the competition: “It does help to go through and see what everyone else is doing [on Twitter and Facebook]. I try to look through other companies for networking.”

JEROME ROUSSEAU, DESIGNER
On how his use has changed over time: “I am not a big fan of social networking, however, I can see how it is useful for a label to communicate directly with customers. I was quite late in agreeing to create an official Facebook page for the label, but after much pressure from colleagues and friends, I decided we should give it a go. It has been a fun experience and it’s a great way to also get direct and instant feedback from fans on the label.”

On how he’s using the various sites now: “There is only an official Facebook page. I do not like Twitter at all. Myspace is old and unattractive, and blogs don’t offer much more than a Facebook page. I feel Facebook is enough to keep our followers on track and informed and to allow them to interact.”

On the biggest mistake he’s made with it: “Customers sometimes request to be a friend on my personal profile rather than join the official page, which I very much welcome, but I do not post personal information on my personal page. When I first joined Facebook, I wasn’t really clued in as to how it all works, and after a few months realized that all my friends could see the tagged pictures, and some of them were perhaps taken during fun evenings out. I was a bit embarrassed by it all, but I’ve since figured out how to keep everything private.”

CALLEEN CORDERO, DESIGNER
On someone posting something as you: “Probably a designer’s worst nightmare was letting a 21-year-old manage my Facebook account when we first started it. She was posting content and updates that pertained more to her day-to-day activities than to mine or the company’s. Fortunately, I am very lucky to work closely with all members of my staff now, so I’m pretty aware of what’s being posted and when.”

On being the voice behind the tweets/posts: “I’ve entrusted the responsibility to my PR girl because she knows exactly what press-worthy information is coming up and what special promotions we have going on with our retailers and magazines. We work hand-in-hand, especially since we sit next to each other, so if I need an update, I visit our Facebook page. It’s a collaborative effort.”

On becoming an addiction: “Facebook is a multimedia site that allows you to do many things for different reasons, and it’s become a very important part of our marketing outreach. I wouldn’t say it’s addicting, but it has certainly taken on a larger role in the past few months. It’s a significant part of our business.”

DANA DAVIS, DESIGNER

On sharing too much: “Never. I practice restraint!”

On how her use of social networking has changed over time: “Our foray into social networking as a brand is quite new. We do make use of Facebook and Twitter and find it a great way to connect with Dana Davis footwear fans.”

On how the networks have helped: “Fans can engage directly with the collection and brand news. Some inquire about a shoe a celebrity may have worn, or when a trunk show might be coming to their area. Generally speaking, it’s a great way to connect to everyone involved with my brand, including my Italian fans — a group that joined our Facebook page because of my factory in Italy.”

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