On the heels of 2013 New York Fashion Week (which in 2012 generated more than 670,000 tweets and an explosion of Instagram posts, as described in this Mashable recap), national media is buzzing about a remarkable development in the fashion world: supermodels are using social media to promote themselves.

The Wall Street Journal’s September 3 article, “As Fashion Week Approaches, Runway Models Strut on Social Media,” captured the industry’s shock at how models – long considered blank canvases upon whom designers could express their creativity – are (horrors!) broadcasting their own personalities through social media. “Models, paid to be expressionless, are finding a new way to express themselves,” marveled the Journal.

So, what can the runway models who strutted their stuff at #NYFW teach corporate brands? What could your company learn from the social media techniques of fashion icons like Tyra Banks, Kate Upton and Karlie Kloss?

New York Fashion Week Model 2013

(Source: @EdwardBarsamian)

#1. Online Visuals Aren’t Just For Fashion Models

Twitter tops the charts for the social media tools used by supermodels, though the photo and video sharing site, Instagram, and the 6-second video channel, Vine, are increasingly popular among models to reveal their dreams and lives beyond the runway. Inc. article, “6 Social Media Tricks of Fashion Brands,” sums it up perfectly: “The visual element comes naturally in the fashion world — after all, image is what they’re selling.” So too, marketers outside the fashion industry are recognizing that the focus of online content on Facebook, Twitter and other channels is increasingly going visual – with new tools (15-second videos on Instagram, 6-second Vine clips shared on Twitter, embedded video on LinkedIn, the visual gratification of Tumblr), making it easier for companies to promote products with video and image-rich posts, rather than mere text.

Models know that Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram have become monster drivers of Web traffic (not surprisingly, more than 59 percent of brands now have a presence on Instagram to take advantage of those inbound links). Look at how deftly Tyra Banks, who has 10.7 million Twitter followers, shares video clips and images on her Twitter feed.

We agree with EVP Steve Rubel of Edelman PR that “The Revolution won’t be televised; it will be Instagrammed.” For a crash course in how to leverage visual content online – Pinterest, Google+, Twitter, Instagram, downloadable infographics, e-books and more – check out a terrific new book our agency is reading, “The Visual Marketing Revolution: 26 Rules To Help Social Media Marketers Connect the Dots” by Digital Media Works founder Stephanie Diamond.

#2. Is It About Your Brand or Your Spokesmodel?

Until recently, Fashion Week was all about the fashion houses – Gucci, Diane von Furstenberg, Marchesa, Zac Posen and Marc Jacobs. No more. Now model Jourdan Dunn, with nearly 220,000 Instagram followers, is mesmerizing Fashion Week attendees with tweets like, “Ahahahaha I just [got] canceled from Dior because of my boobs!”

Not surprisingly, modeling agencies are cautioning models not to tweet from backstage. Other modeling firms, such as IMG Models, are actually providing social media training for the talent they represent, such as Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue favorite Kate Upton (who was recently called “the first social media model” by Fashionista.com).

Similarly, many corporations establish rigid social media guidelines to restrict the online visibility of their employees. It is, to paraphrase playwright Edward Albee, a delicate balance between centralizing your company’s social voice and empowering employees to have their, perhaps more authentic, say online. The fact is that your employees and spokespeople can be effective mouthpieces for your brand. At Maccabee Public Relations, we see some of our bolder clients encouraging their employees – within set parameters – to blog, tweet and otherwise take to the Web to express their thought leadership to potential clients and influencers – harnessing the evangelical power of employees on social.

#3. Get Personal, Be Revealing, Get Noticed

For companies that feel they’re too complicated, arcane or commoditized to stand out on social media, there’s a lesson in the personality expressed by the models that frequent Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Weibo (a China-based social site) and other social media.

Even if you don’t want to share your new morning routine, as model Jourdan Dunn did, make sure your company’s tweets, LinkedIn updates and Facebook posts show some personality. In contrast to the formal, press releases-repurposed-as-tweets style of the fashion houses (check out this tweet from Diane von Furstenberg), the posts from their models are far more revealing – lifting the velvet curtain to provide a social-enabled peek into the models’ “private” lives.

 

 

 

Rather than having your company limit Facebook and blog posts or tweets to official developments, such as the new product or service your company announced – why not use social channels to reveal the behind-the-scenes drama that preceded your launch, expose a teasing glimpse at the products that didn’t make the cut, or release anecdotes about the unheralded rank-and-file employees who contributed to your brand’s latest initiative?

Remember that you, your brand and your company almost certainly have more fascinating things to say on social channels than the average supermodel. Exhibit A? Check out the Zoolander-ish tweets in BuzzFeed Fashion’s “10 Male Models You Must Follow on Twitter and Instagram Immediately,” which includes such gems as model Niall Underwood’s melancholy tweet, “I wish I could do things” and Canadian model Simon Nessman’s bland “Being a model is not a very easy thing.”

#4. Stay Competitive By Proving Your (Online) Worth

Doesn’t giving supermodels a “voice” online distract from the clothes they’re modeling? Maybe so, as social media has become a tool for models to differentiate themselves and quantify their popularity as designers evaluate which model to select for their campaigns. This is particularly true for model Coco Rocha, who was quoted in the Journal as saying, “Celebrities have taken so many of our jobs. Now you can see how many people are following a model. It means something to a company.” Ivan Bart of IMG Models added: “When you want a spokesperson or face of your brand, you want to know they will sell the brand. Are they connecting, are they relevant, who are they relevant to?”

Think about how you can use social media to establish a superior Web presence over your competition, as model Cara Delevingne does with her 2.5 million Instagram followers, or as model Coco Rocha does with her 2.5 million GooglePlus, 406,000 Facebook and 628,000 Twitter followers.

At its core, the news that models are taking social media away from brands and into their own hands should come as no surprise. In the quest to build their own personal brands, supermodels, like your company, just want to be noticed. So take a tip from Madonna and “strike a pose,” strutting your brand onto Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels with the humanity, authenticity and elan of models Gisele Bündchen, Tyra Banks and Brooklyn Decker.

By Paul Maccabee & Christina Milanowski, MaccaPR bloggers