Burberry has taken luxury-goods marketing to new social-media heights by tweeting its spring/summer 2012 collection before it was even seen on the runway.
Front-row celebrities at London Fashion Week -- including photographer Mario Testino, rapper Kanye West and the prime minister's wife, Samantha Cameron -- only saw the new season collection after Burberry had already tweeted pictures to its 535,000 Twitter followers.
Each picture was snapped and tweeted just before the model stepped out onto the runway, boosting Burberry to the status of the world's third-most-popular Twitter topic during the show on Monday.
A spokesperson for the 155-year-old fashion house said, "We did it because it's an interesting thing to do. As a brand we focus on social media and this was a natural continuation for us, a new way of using Twitter. It's all about gaining mindshare, not selling products."
Christopher Bailey, Burberry's chief creative officer, personally takes over the company's Twitter feed at important times in the fashion calendar. He said in a statement, "Twitter is instantaneous and I love the idea that a show can be streamed in many different forms. This collection is all about the most-detailed hand-crafted pieces and fabric innovation … and I love balancing those two worlds." Burberry has also put a film on YouTube demonstrating the intricate craftsmanship that goes into every piece.
In 2009, Burberry was among the first fashion houses to live-stream a fashion show. Last year, Burberry live-streamed in 3-D, and this year they're taking social media to the next level.
Burberry's commitment to social media has changed the way it does business. Gone are the days when the fashion pack would be kept waiting for hours for the runway show to start; events now have to start on time to satisfy the global online audience. Because so much of the collection is shot ahead of the show for posting online, designers can no longer leave anything -- apart from fitting clothes on the models -- until the last minute.
More importantly, the spokesperson explained, the collections themselves have been subtly altered. They have become truly global, meaning that the clothes have become more "trans-seasonal," so that every collection can work immediately in different climates around the world.
As well as the "tweetwalk" initiative, Burberry streamed its London Fashion Week show in HD through Facebook, creating a link so that every one of its eight million fans was able to stream the show on their own personal Facebook page and share it with their friends.
"Click to call" and "click to chat" facilities allowed people to contact the Burberry team to ask questions about the collection as it was being shown, using both phones and instant messaging. "There's no obligation to buy," the spokesperson said, "it's just about having a conversation with the team." Burberry employs 1,200 people at its London headquarters.
In another partnership, this time with photo app Instagram, Burberry hired British photographer Mike Kus -- who has 123,699 followers -- to share his images from the show.
Burberry live-streamed the show on YouTube, and also broadcasted red-carpet interviews. For its Chinese fans, Burberry streamed the show through Chinese social networks Sina and Youku. The luxury brand even reached out to iTunes, creating an album, "Burberry Acoustic," featuring music from the show that was ready to be instantly downloaded.
In 2009, Burberry launched a photo-sharing website called "art of the trench," which invites consumers to post pictures of themselves in their iconic Burberry trench coats. The site, which maintains control over the brand by also featuring professional photography, is still going strong.