The purpose of this paper is to show how businesses in the fashion industry are utilising Facebook groups to create and sustain community. Facebook groups are a capability available through Facebook that enables users to connect with others that aren’t necessarily included as part of their immediate Facebook friend list. The argument stance that this paper presents is that businesses in the fashion industry are benefiting from using Facebook groups despite the limitations of personal connection through the web. The reasons for this position include the fact that businesses and influencers are creating Facebook groups that are connected to their businesses to attract and keep customers. These statements are backed up with evidence from real life Facebook groups that are thriving such as the Spell and The Gypsy Collective Facebook group called Spell Sisters, the Let Me Try Before You Buy Facebook group by Natalie Angel and the Curvy AU Facebook group by Curvy Sam.
#facebookgroups #web2.0 #fashionindustry #socialmediamarketing #socialmedia
Facebook groups associated with businesses in the fashion industry have been rapidly appearing over the last few years and are becoming increasingly popular as businesses are really seeing value in them. Web 2.0 revolutionised the internet as we know it through “rich user experience, user participation and dynamic content” (Best, 2006, p. 2-4), which is particularly evident through the way the fashion industry has adapted their advertising and marketing to suit the newly advanced digital world. Before Web 2.0 existed, businesses in the fashion industry relied on word of mouth, their shop front, newspapers, magazines, billboards, flyers and runway shows. However, now thanks to Web 2.0 capabilities businesses in the fashion industry are now able to cleverly advertise and connect to their community through tools such as Facebook groups. Crick (2016) notes that “understanding how [Web 2.0] influences, reproduces and changes our culture begins with accepting the role of media technologies” (p. 1), which proves that it is important to delve deeper into why and how businesses in the fashion industry utilise Facebook groups for further communication and collaboration. This conference paper will cover the intention of businesses and influencers in the fashion industry who are utilising Facebook groups to create value which produces recurring customers, create personal connection, further audience reach for brands through influencer marketing and sustain community which thus drives sales. Despite the limitations of personal connection through the web, businesses and influencers in the fashion industry are successfully creating and sustaining communities due to the Web 2.0 capabilities of Facebook groups.
CREATING VALUE AND RECURRING CUSTOMERS
Businesses in the fashion industry, like Spell and The Gypsy Collective, have embraced the community capabilities of Web 2.0 by creating their own Facebook groups which creates value and recurring customers. Byron Bay fashion label, Spell and The Gypsy Collective, launched their Facebook group ‘Spell Sisters’ in September 2018. The private Facebook group has over eight and a half thousand members which anyone can join just by answering a few simple administration questions. Forman, Kern and Gil-Egui (2012) note that “Facebook is a place for people to connect and share; a place to form online communities and engage in discussion” (p. 1) which is the purpose of the Spell Sisters Facebook group. Facebook groups allow users to join an array of groups that are suited to any and all interests, right from their existing Facebook account. Once they have been accepted into a group, Facebook groups enable people to connect and collaborate with a wider community rather than just their circle of friends on Facebook. This grants a significantly larger reach to Facebook users which can especially be utilised from a business point of view and according to Zamith and Zanette (2015), “ever since people discovered social networks, companies have sought to take advantage of the technology” (p. 49). Porter (2015) notes that a visual community can be defined as “an aggregation of individuals or business partners who interact around a shared interest, where the interaction is at least partially supported and/or mediated by technology and guided by some protocols or norms” (p. 162). When you buy into the brand, you’re also buying into community which thus creates value. And in the about section of the Spell Sisters group, Team Spell strategically mentions the word ‘community’ multiple times in the short blurb. This can be seen through phrases like “we’re thrilled that our community are so passionate and positively focused, forging friendships around the globe” as well as sharing with their audience their goal to “create an open space to share, engage and connect with our incredibly, inspiring community of like-minded individuals”. These statements show that the intention of the Facebook group is to connect to their community on a deeper level which thus encourages recurring customers. Facebook groups “consist of people who probably have never met yet are held together by a common interest or goal” (Guidi, Michienzi and Salve, 2019, para. 6) which works well in the Spell Sisters group. Spell also sends gifts to people that post on the group regularly which fosters and sustains “engagement in virtual communities and social networking sites” due to the fact that “the community sponsor provides intrinsic motivation for members to participate” (Porter, 2015, p. 167). This incentivises members to post their own content through admin recognition making them feel valued by the brand which would subsequently entice them to make purchases. Spell utilises their Facebook group, Spell Sisters, by not only connecting with them and creating value through incentives and admin recognition, but by also posting their own meaningful content.
Facebook groups can be used to directly engage with community on a personal level which is evident in the way Spell and The Gypsy collective use their Facebook group, Spell Sisters. The group is different to the usual buy, swap and sell groups run by external people that feature Spell items as it is actually run by administrators that work for Spell. Spell often comments and engages with posts which provides a very personal touch and furthers the aspect of direct connection with their clientele. Also, when Spell wants to reach a large majority of their clientele quickly and efficiently, they can easily go to their Facebook group and post an update on new products or anything else they would like to update their community on. The advantage of utilising a Facebook group compared to other social networking sites like Instagram is that Instagram is a more public space, whereas Facebook is more for making personal and more private connections with family and friends. So, by businesses utilising the Facebook sphere, they are able to connect with their customers in a space where they are more used to creating deeper, personal connections. Coleman et al. (2015) states that “using social networks allows a brand access to large numbers of customers at low costs and high speeds” (para. 4) which proves to be advantageous, especially when trying to get a message across fast. Recently there was a long and heartfelt post on the Spell Sisters Facebook group by Elizabeth ‘Lizzy’ Abegg who is one of the co-founders and the Chief Brand Officer of Spell updating the community on where Spell as a whole is going about the current climate of the COVID-19 pandemic and how they, as a business, can be helping their community during the unprecedented times. This post received over 822 reactions and 240 comments with love and praise for Lizzy and Spell and The Gypsy Collective as a whole. With the exception of a number of retailers stocking a handful of Spell designs, Spell only has one boutique which is located in Byron Bay. So, although the physical aspects of the brand remain important, their creation of community through having an online presence is detrimental to their success and reach. And the engagement that they receive from their posts show great results of this. Whilst a personal connection has been successful in Spell’s connection with their community through their Facebook group, marketing their brand through influencers has also been a beneficial way for them to create and sustain community.
FURTHER AUDIENCE REACH FOR BRANDS THROUGH INFLUENCER MARKETING
Fashion influencers, like Natalie Angel, are creating Facebook groups as an extension of their brand and are getting paid to promote and advertise fashion businesses which proves an effective marketing strategy for those businesses. As the web evolved from the preliminary stages of the internet with many limitations compared to the Web 2.0 we all know and love today, there was a significant rise in audience reach and the quality in advertising and marketing for many businesses. It is important to note that Web 2.0 is “not just about information but it’s actually about linking people in ways that we’ve never linked before” (Wesch, 2008, 6:33) and that “Web 2.0 is almost all about people” (Arya and Mishra, 2012, p. 28) due to the deeper opportunity of creating and communicating with community which can be seen through influencer marketing. Hampton (2015) observes that “the study of community is the study of social structure” and “because cohesion and solidarity often imply closeness, there is a tendency to privilege strong ties, place, and face-to-face contact when thinking of community” (para. 8). Natalie Angel, the founder and creator of the Let Me Try Before You Buy Facebook group, has found success in creating a community with her influence using face-to-face contact through live videos in her Facebook group. Natalie has built an audience of over six thousand members in under a year of having her Facebook group. The group initially started as a fashion page dedicated to try-ons exclusively for Spell and The Gypsy Collective, however now it has evolved to include other brands. In essence, brands pay Natalie to review their clothes on her Facebook group where she focuses on fit and quality whilst also giving advice on how to properly style a garment to maximise the wearability factor. Brands have confirmed that they have had a 250% sale increase after Natalie has reviewed their clothes which means that the marketing strategy of advertising through established Facebook groups is working for brands. Natalie’s relatable nature is what makes the videos appealing and according to Forman, Kern and Gil-Egui (2012), “anyone can act as a community leader, those with a sort of influence particularly online, and leaders and followers engage in dialogic practice” (para. 9). Natalie regularly communicates and engages with her Facebook group members which deems successful in the growth of her group due to the fact that “bloggers [and influencers] need to interact with their audience to encourage them” (Cardon and Cardon, 2007 p. 54). Also “bloggers [and influencers] personal identities are built on the basis of the multiple interactions they have set up with their commentators” (Cardon and Cardon, 2007, p. 54) which Natalie does extremely well through interaction with her community. Not only do influencers utilise their personal Facebook groups to promote brands and contribute to their marketing campaigns but they also sustain community by driving sales for their own brands.
SUSTAINING COMMUNITY AND DRIVING SALES
Facebook groups are an effective tool in sustaining community and driving sales for fashion influencers personal brands by transporting their community from the online sphere to in person sales and events. According to Porter (2015), “cognitive psychologists describe engagement as a state of mind where an individual senses a high level of positivity, energy, commitment and loyalty to and about those who foster it” and it is evident that “in order to foster engagement, a sponsor must address a member’s intrinsic needs that could be gratified through a participation in the community” (p. 168). Take the Curvy AU Facebook group, for example. An influencer who affectionately calls herself ‘Curvy Sam’ has successfully created a community through her Facebook group where curvy women are uplifted, celebrated and empowered through fashion, life and body positivity. There are over five and a half thousand members that post on the Facebook group daily asking for advice to which Curvy Sam has been able to capitalise off of this by branding the Curvy AU Facebook Group as a movement and even selling tickets to related events. This shows that “bloggers [and influencers] produce specific content in order to reach others and to start a conversation with them” (Cardon & Cardon, 2007, p. 54) which is shown through the creation of the events that ultimately provide an income for Curvy Sam. Hampton (2015) notes that “recent changes to the media landscape have introduced new affordances that have the potential to restructure the nature of community” (p. 39) and as the concept of influencers mostly started as bloggers on their own sites has now grown into the utilisation of social media. this shows of an evolution in the fashion industry through web 2.0 and the way in which sustaining community through social media can be effective in driving sales.
In conclusion, businesses and influencers in the fashion industry are utilising Facebook groups to create value which produces recurring customers, create personal connection, further audience reach for brands through influencer marketing and sustain community which thus drives sales. Being such a new concept, there are limitations to the research into Facebook groups, so there is a great opportunity to keep exploring this concept as more and more scholars experiment and delve deeper as the platform rapidly evolves. It would especially be interesting to delve deeper into the way that these groups gain followers and group members. All in all, it is clear that Facebook groups assist businesses and influencers in the fashion industry with creating and sustaining community which thus allows deeper connection and a further audience reach. Thanks to Facebook group capabilities, businesses can connect and communicate with their audience on a deeper level significantly more compared to the advertising and marketing solutions that existed before Web 2.0.
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