21st Century Living – we’ve all had to adapt, I suppose. One of the observations I’ve often made about technology such as the Internet is that it seems to have progressed much faster than we mere humans have been able to understand it, with both positive and negative consequences as a result.
I can still remember bugging my mum to let me order a CD off of Amazon.co.uk. My Dad looked on in disgust, shaking his head at the witchcraft that was taking place before him; postage was sluggish and expensive, the website was impossible to navigate, the Web 1.0 cookies were clearly not up to the task of transporting valuable financial details and, as far as he was concerned, if the disc eventually arrived broken, it would have been what I deserved for trusting a computer to do a person’s job. Oh how we laughed.
Oh how indeed. Now Amazon can barely take all the money we throw at it, to the extent that they’ve had to make extra reserves in tax havens just to find space for it all (poor things), and the internet’s list of capabilities now seems to grow exponentially as the world of real things dies off – shopping, radio, news, health, culture, films and countless other avenues now have online counterparts that seem to tick all the old boxes and then some.
Encompassing all of these realms in the digital age is an entirely new format that ties the Internet’s respective users together through their interests and tastes – social media. Starting with first-generation manifestations such as MySpace and Bebo, it soon became clear that there was a way of bringing all of these individual users together in real communities, sharing and talking just like the real world. Over the next few years, players experimented with the format and gave birth to some of the net’s most interesting names right now – Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Last.FM, YouTube, Spotify and so on.
As this inherently technological development, created by inherently technological people, has become part of the mainstream it has necessarily been adopted by the wider public – some not so ‘inherently technological’. Social Media is a brilliant tool in the hands of those who know how to use it effectively. Unfortunately, however, not many people appear to know how to do this.
The problem that websites such as Instagram and Twitter have presented is something encapsulated perfectly by Erik Brunetti in Marfa Journal #1: ‘instant gratification’. Their formats invite the user to share quickly, with little thought, effort or hesitation. In the case of your friend Helen on holiday in the Maldives, this is no problem – lord knows we all need more photos of sandy beaches infested with sweaty Brits. However, when you’re a less ‘human’ manifestation such as a company or a group of individuals, it presents a set of problems that relate to identity, agency and representation.
So many streetwear brands now have any number of social media accounts, which makes me wonder who they have posting the images, which is kind of where the problem starts. A brand, to the outside consumer, is a faceless symbol that is embodied by its identity. There is no human name, no smiling face or waving hand.
So when I start seeing brands posting fun photos of bike rides or shopping trips in the city, it can often have a severely blunting effect on their identity. One of the unspoken truths of streetwear is that notion of the customer buying into a particular label not only because it represents them, but also because they WANT it to. Labels like Visvim, Supreme, Trapstar and Palace have all experienced that allure of the label that is ‘too cool for everyone else’ – the inhuman nature of the monogram is one of the most powerful aspects of this, compounded by selective interaction with the customer base. When Hiroki Nakamura makes blog posts about trips to faraway lands sourcing materials, he does so selectively and with great restraint. Ask yourself where his brand would be if he’d spent the past twelve months tweeting ‘In England checking out leather, buttery LOLZ!’ with a blurry, filtered photograph – maintaining a level of disconnection from your client is one of the most effective ways of reinforcing your ‘higher level’ allure.
It’s an understandable misunderstanding when the retail sector’s story has been so consistent for decades before. Even when Supreme opened in 1994, it was doing little more than any other shop; the icy customer service was an accidental USP. For other retailers the challenge was hardly dissimilar – stand behind this counter and take their money. I’m sure there are plenty of individuals out there who long for the days when they could just place their stock orders, put the prices on and go home. Now, all of a sudden, they’re expected to use a load of bewildering social outlets to make their store seem ‘relevant’. Unfortunately, Shopkeep, your Facebook profile is here as long as Zuckerberg’s stock price necessitates it, so here are some basic pointers to consider when foraying into the social circles.
You’re still a brand. Don’t forget it. It’s all too easy to leap enthusiastically into Instagram and join in with all the arbitrary photographs of dinners past and hilarious photos of unconscious drunks, but when I started following your account it wasn’t the same as following my mate Harry. I did so because I like your products and spending money with you, so keep your posts relevant. I’ve got no interest in buying clothes from a store that spends their day taking faux-artsy photos of midday skies.
Play it cool. Social Media is for interacting, absolutely, but nobody (and I really mean nobody) wants their favourite brand to call them ‘buddy’. The occasional response gives your company a human touch and shows that you care. Neurotically enthusiastic replies and lame jokes are a surefire way to deflate any feeling of prestige your company once had.
It works two ways. These tools are clearly valuable for your business, but it’s worth putting work in yourself. Follow the other labels and stores, keep abreast of what’s going on in the here and now – stay RELEVANT. There have been plenty of brands and stores that have lost my attention because their social outlets have been completely faceless product reels – contradictory to the first point, but I’m not going to explain the difference between the occasional Like and “HEY EVAN, SWAG JEANZ!”
Keep work and play separate. This ties in with the first point, but I’m reminded of the many personal accounts that are tied in some way to Palace Skateboards. There are too many characters in that group that help to form the Palace identity, but those characters have their own spaces while Palace flies the flag. Before posting up that hilarious photo of your Intern wearing a bin on their head, ask yourself if this might be better suited somewhere else on that ever-morphing social experiment that we call the Internet.
I am reminded of a recent story about a Next customer who tweeted angrily about a late delivery, only to receive a reply from the company’s Twitter account advising them to remove the tweet in case other Next customers might be offended; ‘Social Media’ does, indeed, involve the word ‘Social’ and, yes, there is an ‘etiquette’, but on the internet there are no doors to be held open, and no sneezes to be blessed. Sell me a shirt, by all means, just don’t try and get invited to my wedding. Thanks. No, really.
GregK posts regularly on his blog Fuckin Yeh