ImageSocial Media Week New York (SMWNY) kicks its heels into high gear today, following Fashion Week’s February gauntlet of global fashion pageants. And this year brands are winning unprecedented, measurable levels of earned social media, as evidenced by the elevated level of fashionista social engagement and the industry’s growing investment in social marketing and intelligence gathering. 

Big Data has come of age in fashion.  

The industry’s strategic adoption and leveraging of all things social, including mobile and SoLoCo, is reflected in the enviable boost in social spend, which is projected to skyrocket as the measurable benefits of social technologies are truly comprehended. A seminal McKinsey & Company report last year discussed how fashion brands were beginning to realize that social technology was not a disruptor, but the critical mass in creating value. Fashion and luxury brands have embraced social media strategies, with 51% reporting an increased social digital spend in 2012 from the year prior, generally reserving 20-60% of their overall media spend for digital marketing.  

There is a long lineup of fashion, beauty, wellness and lifestyle brands using tech savvy to attract funding—from Vogue France’s social marketing efforts via the magazine’s iPad app; B2B blog Business of Fashion’s recent $2.1 million investment from Index Ventures, LVMH and others; FashInvest (the host of annual capital investment conferences for 30 global emerging growth companies leveraging fashion and technology); as well as local fashion-tech incubators around the world.

Fashion behemoths Condé Nast and Hearst have taken front row seats in the runway walk to adopt and celebrate the intersection of social media and technology as the grand social equalizer.  In fact, one of the SMWNYC hubs, the Culture & Lifestyle track, is being hosted at Hearst Tower, where Nike will edify its iconic social campaigns and a fashion entrepreneur contest will be celebrated. Further, the ROI of the industry’s big social spend strategy has not been lost on fashion’s sister industries, in particular makeup and skincare, where investment in social intelligence and analytics platforms, digital agencies and social content—on a global scale—is on the rise.  

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One of the biggest game changers is the leadership role of social media favorite designers with solid loyalty who have been at the forefront of advocating transparency in the once rarified world of fashion. One of the staunchest advocates, Diane von Furstenburg, has stated: “Ignoring the Internet [and social media] is madness.”

Using NetBase, a platform which supports social intelligence, analytics and innovation insights in 45 languages, to monitor February’s fashion faves and raves in New York, London, Paris, and Milan, we can reveal distinct cultural trends among the shows globally, identify social influencer engagement where brands are garnering the most exposure from paid and owned media, and identify and measure the ROI of earned media.   As an example, when we view Fashion Week through an English-speaking lens filtered by influencers with the most followers, Alicia Keys tops the list.  She is followed by only one media source—The New York Times.  Perez Hilton and Victoria Beckham closely trail on the list of influencers, which of note but  not surprisingly includes Mashable’s Pete Cashmore.

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With La Semaine Parisienne still a week away, the French top influencers by roster of notable followers is headed by Vogue France, other fashion media and several prominant fashion bloggers.

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No matter your brand or campaign, the rules of brand social engagement can readily start with an analytical glimpse of top influencers creating the most impressions.  This is the secret ingredient for the invaluable recipe of not only measuring the ROI of earned, owned and paid media—but also media buy strategies.

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When you triangulate top influencers by followers with such other research criteria as brand or people cloud, what is revealed is a mapped pattern of brands gaining the most traction and earned media exposure, generating the most buzz and through which channels. Mapping patterns is key to predictive behavior modeling.

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Culturally, English-speaking, Fashion Week activity is focused on earned media on Twitter and in blogs (85%), while French speakers still are concentrated in paid media coverage and blogs (70%).

Haute couture, no longer shunning the mass appeal of social lest their luxury brand cache be diluted, is having a global passionate love affair with the big business of Big Data.  Not to be overlooked, notably, both Macy’s and Nordstrom have been massaging the data long enough to write the story book.  

So what walks the future runway for social technologies?