Wednesday, February 17, 2010

This being the first time I've attempted to observe New York Fashion Week in the two years I've lived in NYC, I'm amazed by the similarities between the Fashion Industry and the U.S. military in how slow they've been to adopt the power of social media. Like scared twin ostriches with heads buried in the sand, the oddly paired organizations share nothing if a traditional top-down hierarchical structure. And yet, either both failed to recognize the staying power of the collaborative Web 2.0 information sharing environment, or they felt the rules of engagement -- that is, social media engagement -- didn't apply to them.

To the military's defense, I can see how adopting social media into an overall communication strategy presented somewhat of a conundrum. When operational and information securities are always of the utmost importance, especially in the development of plans and policy, I can see why professional military communicators, myself among them, may have had some initial resistance and even scepticism toward adopting collaborative social media tools as part of a broader communication plan. But as we, as a nation, have become more and more adept at not only using social media tools that have emerged over the years -- Facebook, Twitter and Blogger, to name but a few -- but also at understanding their power and far reach, it's become painstakingly clear that if the military chooses not to engage in social media, then someone else will fill the void and speak for (and against) it. When the issue became forced, either by illegitimate voices acting on the military's behalf or even by way of media attention covering the subject, the military became more receptive to accepting social media as not only a legitimate but potentially powerful platform from which to execute its communication plan.

What I don't understand is why the fashion industry allowed itself to become a slow adopter and instead didn't immediately embrace social media, falling victim to its own protective ivory tower persona. Unlike the tax-funded military, the fashion industry falls squarely in the realm of capitalism where consumer culture intersects commercial industry -- it had only revenue to lose by ignoring social media marketing trends. With fashion-hungry, at-home style bloggers an inexpensive (i.e. free) resource to tap into, every designer should have been live-streaming their fashion shows years ago instead of banking on the old, out-dated model where fashion critics, media photographers and paparazzi are given exclusive access to shows, and they in turn distribute their distilled observations, imagery and commentary to the general public. With decreased costs in technology these days, what, other than a sense of exclusivity and self-importance, is keeping more designers from bringing their products to the masses real-time?

This fashion week, at least, two conferences dedicated to fashion bloggers and purveyors of social media took place, perhaps an indicator the tide's turning and fashion's finally coming around. Who says a zebra can't change its stripes?

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