Grazia recently launched its own ecommerce store, which came complete with its own social network.
This got me thinking about what brands might gain from running their own social network.
Owning the user data and tailoring the experience to suit your brand are the most obvious examples, alongside the potential for increasing brand affinity and driving up that customer lifetime value.
After all, if you’re going to take the time to establish a profile on Grazia’s social network then you’re obviously a fan of the brand.
But the company that built the network also needs to attract enough people to make it worthwhile for their users and the business.
This is an extremely difficult task as most people have already invested time and effort in building up their profiles on more established social networks.
So how are you going to convince them to start afresh on this new niche social network, that solely focuses on one topic area and that none of their friends uses?
It helps if you have an established brand name but even then it’s going to be very hard to get people to sign up and come back on a regular basis.
These issues obviously haven’t deterred Net-A-Porter, Grazia or Made.com, with each launching a standalone social network tied to their product offering.
Here’s a quick look at each one…
The Netbook is an invite-only iOS app based on the ‘Live’ feature that sits on Net-A-Porter’s homepage and acts like a carousel ticking through the latest products that customers have purchased.
The app is an attempt to give customers an online identity on Net-A-Porter which then creates an additional social layer to the site and makes the recommendations more powerful.
I reviewed The Netbook when it first launched in September 2013 and as I haven’t used it since I can no longer remember my login details or, more importantly, where the iPad is.
I’ll therefore have to rely on the details from my previous article and hope that not too much has changed in the intervening 15 months.
The main features in The Netbook are the Global Feed and the Admiring Feed, which show a real time list of the Net-A-Porter products that people are ‘loving’ within the app.
While the first tab is an unfiltered feed of everything that’s going on around the world, the Admiring Feed only shows activity from people you’ve chosen to follow.
Users can also buy products that take their fancy, though the checkout is hosted in a web browser rather than within the app.
Net-A-Porter timed the launch to coincide with London Fashion Week so it could invite loads of bloggers, stylists and designers to be its early adopters.
This had the potential to create an exclusive community that would make the app more appealing to other users.
I can’t tell you whether it worked or not, but I am surprised that the app is sill invite-only (according to the App Store).
Another potential barrier to adoption is the lack of integration with other social networks.
The Netbook doesn’t have any social sharing buttons, so users are unable to share items with their existing communities.
I can see the logic behind this (maybe Net-A-Porter wants to keep all the sharing action in-house), but it does seem to be missing an opportunity for generating greater exposure.
Grazia’s Fashion Stories
As mentioned, Grazia launched its Fashion Stories network as part of its new ecommerce shop in 2014.
It sits in the top nav of the website and is described as “the perfect place to house your fashion inspirations and create shoppable moodboards.”
During the signup process users have to select five stories that personalise their magazine (each is tied to a Grazia product).
The site then suggests a list of people they might like to follow based on their preferences.
The idea is that users then create ‘stories’ and share posts that have been published by other users. These are all ‘clipped’ onto the user’s profile page to create their own personal Grazia magazine.
The stories appear in three different tabs, helpfully named ‘latest’, ‘Grazia picks’ and ‘Following’.
It’s slightly misleading to call the posts ‘stories’ as each one is essentially two lines of text followed by a big picture of a celebrity, then further images of products available on Graziashop to recreate the look.
That aside, the stories are transactional so users can purchase items that have been uploaded from the Graziashop (users can also upload images from Instagram, Facebook, or their computer).
Even the story feeds are shoppable, so users can click through to product pages without even reading the entire story.
Finally, unlike The Netbook, Fashion Stories is integrated with all the major social networks so users can share their profile far and wide.
Made.com’s is a pureplay online retailer that sells low cost designer furniture. Econsultancy blogger Ben Davis has previosuly written about his love for the brand.
The lack of any showrooms is both a blessing and a curse – the furniture can be sold a lower price, but customers aren’t able to see and touch it before they buy.
To try and overcome this barrier Made created Unboxed, a social network that enables users to upload and share photos of the retailer’s products on show in their own homes.
Each Made product page features a carousel called ‘Our customer’s homes’ which shows the different items and links to the network hub page.
Here you can have a nose around other people’s homes, get inspiration for your own interior design project, and even get in touch with the owners to ask about the product they bought.
Apparently some people will even allow you to come round and view the product in their home.
As it’s all user generated content the photos vary in quality, but the good thing is that by clicking on the product itself you are given access to all the images that have been uploaded of that item.
This is a useful feature for Made’s customers as they can see the product from different angles and in a variety of settings, rather than just the glossy imagery on the ecommerce store.
Personally I can’t fathom why anyone would want to upload an image of their new sofa to Made Unboxed, but then I suppose it’s not that much different from sharing a picture on Instagram or Facebook.
And it might be that Made.com incentivises it in some way when the products are delivered.
I did also notice that a few interior designers were using the site to sneakily advertise their professional services.
It’s impossible to gauge whether or not these social networks have been a success without access to the user numbers and sales data.
However it’s worth noting a few differences and similarities between them all.
Firstly, each of these brands is a pureplay online retailer so there’s perhaps a greater emphasis on digital content to build brand trust and assist with conversions.
In a way these networks help to build a relationship with customers that might otherwise develop while they are browsing a brick-and-mortar store.
Furthermore, The Netbook is fundamentally different from Unboxed and Fashion Stories, as the former is a standalone app while the others are bolted onto the ecommerce store.
Having the network as just another tab on the website makes it easier to signup new users and drive traffic from other digital channels.
Users can easily head over to Unboxed while browsing Made’s ecommerce store, but having to fire up an iPad app is a major barrier to entry.
Admittedly each one fulfils a slightly different purpose, but even so it seems more natural to have the social network as part of the existing site rather than as it’s own product.