With their fashionable contemporary clothing and engaging marketing strategy, River Island have built up a social media audience larger than the population of Uruguay. It takes more than just nice pictures of fancy clothes to build up that sort of audience, which is why there is currently a team of four producing a stylish social strategy that keeps customers loyal, their Twitter campaigns trending, and their clothes flying off the racks.
We spoke to Emma Goble, Social Media & Marketing Editor for River Island, about how they use Twitter to leverage conversation about their clothing, driving commerce from social media, and where she sees the future of social media in the retail sector. Strike a pose and take a stroll along the catwalk with River Island.
Goble: "A few years ago we were all about acquisition and fan growth for our accounts, but now that we’ve achieved over 3.3 million fans and followers across social media we’ve turned our attention towards driving traffic and revenue KPIs, getting good engagement rates, communicating our brand messages to the customer and improving brand awareness."
What led to you stopping the drive for followers and maturing your social strategy to focus on engagement?
"I don’t think there’s much point in growing your audience if your engagement is low, and the audience isn’t highly relevant to your brand. We’ve got a really great community, so now it’s important to be confident with that audience and make sure we’re producing content that’s super engaging to them while also converting people into customers."
What role does Twitter play in your social media strategy?
"Twitter is outstanding for liaising with influencers and getting your news out there. We use it as a primary channel to promote our Style Insider blog content, which gets updated about five times a week and includes shoppable content. As well as that, we focus on Tweeting about our ‘Just Arrived’ new clothes in a relatable manner, as well as discussing any trends featured on the website, and publicly engaging with magazines, fans, bloggers, and celebrity advocates."
How do you decide which influencers to involve in your campaigns?
"There’s a set group of bloggers that we already have a relationship with, so a part of our PR strategy is making sure they’re aware of any projects we’ve got coming up. Then we use analytics on Twitter to see who our most engaged followers are and see if there are ways we can reward some of those superfans, or if there are any that we want to add to our list of bloggers that we work with."
Where does the Twitter Ads platform and paid content fit into your strategy?
"I use the Twitter Ads portal to see in real time what is performing well, and to keep an eye on what standard of engagement our Promoted Tweets are getting. The customisation available in Twitter Cards really suits our visual brand too, we mostly use video cards to increase awareness of our latest campaigns and website cards to bring people to the site, driving revenue from Twitter."
How does social media tie into the overall marketing strategy?
"Social media is a backbone of our marketing as it’s so widely used among our 18-25 year old target demographic. Everything that happens in marketing, press, and eCommerce will filter through the social team at some point. Twitter is a real pillar in supporting campaigns, we use it for competitions and getting the initial buzz out about our new products or events. We’ll also look at what promos or discounts are planned to be part of the campaign, then see what platform responds the most to them."
What’s the biggest barrier to this level of social media adoption at other companies? And how would you tell people/firms to overcome this?
"The understanding around the whole business of what a social media team do/contribute is often very mixed. Some businesses have a very traditional way of thinking so it is difficult to understand this new era of real time customer engagement that we live in. So you need to be the expert and be willing to teach people all around the business about the role that social media plays."
How have you educated the rest of the business about social media?
"At River Island we’re lucky because everyone from the CEO to my director has a good understanding of social media and how important it is. This comes from them paying attention to the prominence that it’s receiving from insights that we’re getting from our target customers. It’s then our job as a social team to make sure they know why we invest in building the team, and prove the effectiveness of what we’re doing.
Then there’s also trying to help them understand the difference in the channels we use. As a team we have every single department coming to us wanting coverage of all their products on each channel. We can’t say yes to everything, so we need people in the company to understand the strategy behind why certain channels work in certain ways. For example, Facebook worked well with our baby collection last year, whereas our audience on Instagram is a different and wouldn’t be as engaged in too much RI Mini related stuff."
How do you get insights on what to share on what channels?
"It’s a combination of things. I sit in our weekly trade meeting to see what’s going on with the business and our director will feed in trade from the top level. Then we use insights into what products do well at what time of year, and with what type of customer. So we then use that as a skeleton to drive forward our content plan. We work closely with the eCommerce team to gather information on what the different departments want to push, then add in any press or marketing messages that we need to get across as well. We take a whole bunch of information, and refining it into a social plan that works."
How do you keep your posts engaging while still being informative about your latest promotions and products?
"Storytelling, it’s the key to social media. Take a product or a trend and put it into a context that resonates."
How does River Island use storytelling in its social media?
"We do it across our whole brand, and our social channels tie into the story. Our focus is mainly on menswear and womenswear, so we try to tell a fun guy meets girl story with most of our campaigns. We try to filter that story down to our stores and social channels, so our job on social is to make sure that the elements of that story are still coming across in ways that suit that particular social channel. That story will then be built upon in competitions or activities such as getting people to send in videos or asking people what happens next.
With storytelling we also tie into topical moments as well, so at the moment we’re looking at what to do for Summer so ideas such as holidays or festivals may play a part in how we tell the story. We’ll look to use social media combined with bloggers and everything we produce so that when people experience those moments, such as when people see their friends at festivals in their news feed they’ll hopefully see clothes that they want, combined with some River Island festival content. It puts retail in context, which is why it’s so important that what you’re talking about and creating has to fit in with the lives of your target audience."
How do you monitor people on social media who are wearing your clothes?
"Last Autumn/Winter we ran a hashtag campaign called #ImWearingRI. That’s now a global campaign that we’re also running across all our print media this season. So that’s a way for us to own all of the UGC featuring our clothes that our customers create. We had seen a lot of people uploading pictures on Twitter either in the changing room or out and about and using the hashtag #RiverIsland. But with the #ImWearingRI we felt that it gave the customer a bit more authority too, while also helping us to track the success of campaigns using this specific hashtag."
How have you used that hashtag since then?
"We now have a shoppable gallery online where people can upload Tweets and Instagram photos that use the hashtag. People can click on the picture that they like and buy the clothes in it. We’ve also had leaflets in store pushing the hashtag with a 10% discount for those who use it. At the moment we’ve had around 8000 people post pictures of themselves in our clothes using the #ImWearingRI hashtag."
What’s other successful campaigns have you run on social media, and what were some of the results??
"During our collaboration with Rihanna we ran competitions for tickets to concerts and in-store events, we saw over 40,000 entries on one of these competitions. On Twitter our best competitions are usually product giveaways where we ask people to look on the site, and Tweet links to the pieces they want. It’s a good way to build hype around specific products and also helps raise the SEO value of those pages.
In Spring/Summer 2014 we collaborated with Katie Eary on our Design Forum initiative, who created a capsule collection. It was a really strong collection that resonated with our customers so much that it was trending on Twitter for the day, which coincided with an in-store event to promote the range."
At what stage of the plan did Twitter come into your marketing strategy with the Katie Eary collection?
"With every Design Forum collection we like to build interest online, with Twitter playing a big part in that. The designers we use are often really influential and active on Twitter, so it’s a perfect fit that’s perfect for creating a buzz and cementing the relationship. Also, Twitter is really easy to run a competition on and also gives you a chance to trend, so it’s a natural channel for us."
How do you target new customers on Twitter?
"When we do a promoted Tweet we’ll target friends of our followers to try and reach people who aren’t shopping with us yet but might do. We also use our influencers strategy as well, so we might do a campaign with a magazine or blogger whose reach may extend outside of our audience. Tapping into their Twitter community in an effective way can give us a big opportunity for customer acquisition."
What’s the main Twitter metric that you aim for?
"Every week I’ll look at our engagement levels and look for the highest performing Tweets, which I’ll then report back to show what’s currently working. If it’s a competition we might look at how many retweets it got, which is important as it shows people are willing to have our content representing them in their feed. If it’s a website card then we’ll always look at click-through rates. For video we’ll look at views and try to compare how many people saw it compared to a TV slot with a similar audience. Ultimately, it depends what we’re doing as every campaign has a different objective."
Where do you see social media in five years’ time?
"The big players won’t go anywhere but there is always something new and exciting in the social media world. A big talking point I’m interested in is the future of digital media, one thing I’m particularly looking forward to is how social media and TV will continue to integrate further in new and innovative ways. We’ll be looking at how Twitter and TV conversations can be really impactful for brands, as I can see that relationship developing in the future."
In what way do you see social media integrating with technology to benefit the retail industry?
"Something I’ve seen previewed is the use of robots in store to provide a digital angle on customer service. Social media would then be able to play into every single part of your customers journey from their desktop, to their phone, to the store. The possibilities to connect these separate experiences could help to give more personalised and efficient service to our customers. As a retailer, it also gives us more touch points with the customer and can make it easier for them to order stuff that’s tailored for them wherever they are."
How would you like to see social media developing over the next few years?
"The analytics available out there at the moment are great, either via tools or the social networks themselves, and I’d like to see the expansion of them continue. In the grand scale, the continuation of digital marketing to merge with social media marketing to benefit both the brand and the consumer is something that I’m looking forward to seeing. I think there’s a great scope for offering help and access to the consumer right the way through their digital experience with our brand, and it’s something that they’re coming to expect from retailers so there’s no excuse for not doing everything we can to give it to them."
As River Island provide something dazzling for their customers in all four seasons, here’s four glamorous expert tips from Audiense for a must-have social media presence.