Social media is a democratic forum at heart. It gives everyone a sense of belonging, of having a voice in the conversations happening around them. While this makes it appealing for brands that focus on mass-market merchandise, it poses a different set of challenges for a company that has a built-in sense of exclusivity. The good news for luxury brands is that, despite the difficulties, social media still has a great potential for marketing their wares.

As with any industry, the key for luxury brands to succeed with social media is to understand the tools you’re using to connect with your target audience. We talked with several brand experts to get a better sense of what upscale companies can do to leverage social media in savvy ways.

Know The Field: Sebastian Dyer

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To better understand the unique needs and hurdles for these niche companies, we spoke with Sebastian Dyer, a marketing expert for fashion and luxury brands and the founder of Texture Creative, formerly Sebastian Dyer Digital. “Many luxury brands often think that social media is incompatible with their brands due to its very open nature,” he said. “They are used to an approach that favors exclusivity, where only a certain discerning customer has access.”

Many brands create that separation with a high price point, naturally limiting their client bases. “Luxury brands often tell me that ‘their clientele’ would likely not be on social media,” Dyer said. “They couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, among the highest percentage of consumers online are the affluent.” He explained that the key is seeking out the right audience, the people who value your company’s particular flavor of luxury.

In addition, Dyer noted that the bulk of sales for many upscale brands ends up being smaller and more affordably priced goods. He gave the example of fashion labels selling accessories that are more accessible to a broader customer base, such as clutch purses, small leather goods, or items made in partnership with other retailers. Dyer said social media offered a great avenue for showcasing those wares. “Luxury brands can only really be exclusive if the average consumer desires it, but can’t have it,” he said. “Savvy luxury brands will understand that allowing aspirants to peek under the curtain and gain a glimpse of the luxury lifestyle will help keep their brand alive, while access will still be limited to the affluent.”

To this end, he recommended using social media as a way to highlight history for a long-running luxury brand. “For brands that have a rich heritage, they should build a dialogue around craftsmanship, history, quality, and any other factors that distinguish their items from mass-market products,” he said. After all, social media doesn’t have to be just about pushing sales. “Social media is a great tool for building awareness, reinforcing values and driving customers to physical storefronts,” Dyer explained. “It might be unrealistic to expect social media to drive sales of items worth $10,000 and upward, but if the right customers are reached, they might end up converting in-store.”

Whatever market your brand operates in, setting reasonable goals for social media is crucial. Even though the return on investment is difficult to calculate for topics such as brand likability or creating prestige, your company’s presence on social media is the first step in getting there. “Brands that think only in terms of direct sales and don’t take the time to consider what influence social channels might have on in-store sales will end up with problems justifying their social spend,” he said.

A Case Study: Purely Fashion

Purely Fashion screenshot

For a concrete example of how to promote luxury goods with social, we spoke with CEO Jeremiah Green and Curatorial Director Samantha Sleeper from Purely Fashion. The startup operates an app that lets shoppers connect with great fashion designers to buy their pieces. Rather than create exclusivity just through a price point or an unattainable lifestyle, the team recently used timeliness to generate that sense of a special experience with a brand. Purely Fashion launched a pop-up store at the 900 North Michigan Shops in Chicago. It opened on Nov. 15 and will run through Dec. 24.

Creating the temporary store was also a new physical outlet for Purely Fashion and its mobile member base. “Everything else is personal interaction between you and your app, and this is a physical space where you can come into,” Sleeper said. “You can play with the app on iPads, but you can also physically try on the clothing, buy the clothing, hear about the stories, meet the designers.”

Fittingly, much of Purely Fashion’s promotion for the pop-up store has happened on Instagram and Twitter. They have shared photos of people in the space and had many shoppers check in to the location. The team has also used Facebook to share more involved stories about the designers participating, such as linking to their Pages or sharing positive press they’ve received.

Promotions for the pop-up store were accompanied by a strong hashtag campaign. “When it came to Purely, we went back to the idea of, ‘What are we about?’” Sleeper said. “We were thinking about a call to action that we all believed in, that would represent what we were trying to do.” They came up with #lovepurely, which became the cornerstone hashtag for the brand. “It seemed really natural,” Sleeper added, and Green noted how appropriate it was given that a key element was a heart. “Shopping is very social by nature,” Sleeper said. Hashtags such as #lovepurely and #purelypopup helped create conversations online as well as in the store and captured the essence of what the brand is all about.

Beyond the one-time experience of operating the physical store, Green and Sleeper explained how the company approached social media on a day-to-day basis. Green first emphasized the importance of goal-setting. “Everything that we do throughout our social media footprint has to have some measurable impact upon those goals.”

Since Purely Fashion is still in its early stages, Green explained that the majority of its social efforts are focused on the first few steps: getting customers to download, use, and continue to use the app. He said that the company did some targeted outreach to potential customers on social, but the most important element to Purely Fashion’s success was sincerity.

“The most important thing for us, really, is the credibility and authenticity of our message of who we are and what we do,” Green said. “So when we do reach out to somebody, it’s not just to get a Like, it’s not just to get a retweet. It’s to really empower through knowledge.” Rather than pushing members to make purchases, the focus with Purely Fashion is curating a great base of designers that the members will appreciate and enjoy for many years to come.

[Image credits: Nick Webb, Adam Haranghy]