We’re all guilty of spending too much time on social media — whether it’s to stalk your friend’s ex-boyfriend or to post pictures of your last night out. But, our friends and family aren’t the only ones that we enjoy following on social, influencers now also make up a large part of our online network. It’s these influencers we follow that now have the power to inform our decisions on a scale like no other — and one core area they do this in is fashion.

It might be unbearable to think about, but there was in fact a time when social media didn’t exist if you can remember. It was during this time that fashion was mostly discovered through magazines and catwalks. Through these controlled channels, fashion was kept exclusive, determined by designers and magazine editors. Fast-forward to 2018 and it’s a very different story.

When we post our own photos, edit them and put a filter over the top, we’re acting as our own fashion editors — projecting our style with potentially millions of other people. While catwalks and glossies still remain a part of today’s fashion sphere, fashion is more fluid and interactive than ever before — changing the way fashion brands connect with their core audience.

Capturing the attention of the market

Nowadays, we no longer have to eagerly wait for the next issue of ELLE to tell us what’s hot this season. It’s all about social media — what products are online retailers pushing this season? What long sleeve dresses are all your friends wearing in their latest tagged photos? And, what’re the bloggers and influencers on your news feed into this month?

When some research was carried out, it determined that millennials no longer trust traditional media as much as they used to. In the world of fashion, this means that magazines and advertising campaigns don’t have the influence that they once did — they’re now seen as quite distant from the reader as many are aware of the editing that goes on behind one shot. Instead, peer recommendations are more valuable and accessible than they once used to be, photos taken with selfie frames are more appealing than a professionally shot image. Of course, we’ve all heard of the power of word-of-mouth, but with social media and its ability to spread at a rapid speed across countries, it’s more important than ever before. Of Instagram’s total audience, 200 million users follow at least one fashion account. 45% of Instagram users in Britain say they follow these fashion accounts to gain inspiration for looks they can buy or create themselves. Sharing their own looks is a part of this process too, with #fashion mentioned a huge 13 million times a month and #ootd (outfit of the day) featuring in 140 million posts to date.

When we’re on social media, we’re obsessed with who’s liking and commenting on our stuff (this is our engagement rate). Many of us are used to reading user-generated reviews too, about an experience or product before making a purchase now. In fact, research found that 71% of people are more likely to make an online purchase if the product or service has been recommended by others. In addition to this, 84% of millennials are likely to be influenced into making a purchase based on the user-generated content by strangers who have experienced the product or service.

Because of all this, more brands than ever before are focusing their marketing budget on Instagram and similar digital entities. Even luxury brands — that once shunned social media for fear of it cheapening their image — are jumping on the digital bandwagon. While 72% of luxury fashion brands’ marketing spend is still attributed to print marketing, digital is quickly gaining pace — reaching a total digital ad spend of $100 billion in 2016.

As fashion brands take up more of our news feed, fashion brands will be able to present themselves to users who are interested in them.

Connecting with the brands

Before social media, getting in touch with a brand would often involve sending a letter (!), but today we can get in touch through social media and build a better connection with them. Founder and editor in chief of independent publication, the Business of Fashion, Imran Amed, says: “The one thing that has changed dramatically in recent years is the direct relationship brands now have with their consumers. In this new hierarchy, the consumer has the ability to amplify or negatively impact on business, through sharing positive or negative responses.”

The change that has happened in the fashion industry is clear to see in the change of fashion shows. Once an exclusive event for the elite and top names in fashion, many shows on the catwalk can now be viewed live by millions. Access to the designers’ latest fashion lines was often something that we could only hear about through magazines and the press. Now however, we can keep up with the latest through monitoring the content attached to a hashtag.

When social media first became popular, we spent the majority of our time on Facebook and Twitter — after we’d got over the Bebo and MySpace phase of course. But, now there’s a new player on the scene — and it’s taking over. Instagram reached 800 million monthly active users in September 2017 and these users have the highest level of engagement (time spent using the app) compared to other social media sites.

Instagram is now known as the hub of fashion too. This encourages brands to think more about ‘real’ people, with different bodies, skin tones and fashion preferences — it’s opened a whole new world for fashion marketers.

Changes on the platform now mean that we can buy products through the social channel too. Brands are able to tag products in their posts which can then lead users to a point-of-sale. Early adopters of this, such as Natori and Magnolia Boutique, have already found that traffic and sales from Instagram have increased after implementing the shopping service.

We can be our models in our own right too! As brands are encouraging their customers to show off their outfits on the platform. This is another form of user-generated content and it allows others to see what the outfit looks like on real people. In some cases, users are given the chance to feature on the main social media page.

Big social influencers

Brands all know that connecting with their audience is important, that’s why more of them are using influencer marketing. The influencer economy of Instagram alone is valued at $1 billion and 94% of businesses said influencer marketing was an effective campaign strategy.

How does influencer marketing work? It takes someone with a large following and paying them to raise awareness through their accounts to their own audience who could be interested in the brand itself.

Take Kendall Jenner as an example, she has recently become an ambassador for Adidas. With a total Instagram following of 89.2 million compared to Adidas’ 19.2 million, the partnership will significantly increase Adidas’ social reach and position the brand in front of Jenner’s younger fashion following.

When influencers post content to their followers, it’s almost like being recommended a product or service from a friend. Seeing the people we admire or look up to wearing a particular outfit or using a certain product is a vote of confidence in a brand that makes us more likely to purchase the particular product or interact with the brand in the future. This sense of community is something that brand accounts struggle to deliver; a third-party is needed to validate the products for consumers.

Influencers don’t need to be celebrities either — you and I could be an influencer if we built up the following. It can involve any profile that can add value to a brand but generally, this value is measured in terms of volume of followers.

When brands decide on an influencer, their following should align with the brands target audience. Influencer relationships can be expensive, so the associated spend needs to be justifiable — yet doing so can be problematic for fashion brands, when you consider the difficulty surrounding success measurement.

One figure says that 5% of the influencers who offered product recommendations were generating 45% of social influence for the brand! Clearly, the game has changed for fashion because of social media. We’re now more connected with our brands than ever before and are proud to publicly post about the names we love. With the implementation of Instagram shopping already changing the process of fashion retailing, who knows what the future holds?