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What Every Brand MUST Learn about Social Media from DKNY’s PR Girl

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When the woman behind one of fashion’s most famous Twitter accounts says, “Social media strategy? I have no strategy,” eyebrows are bound to be raised (mine included). But after listening to Aliza Licht, the voice of @DKNY, speak at the Fashionista.com How To Make It in Fashion Conference, I believe her.

At least to an extent.

It was just two years ago that Donna Karan’s infamous Twitter account, DKNY PR Girl @DKNY, was revealed to be not the twenty-something socialite everyone expected, but the now 40-year-old mother of two and Senior Vice President for Global Communications at DKNY. More than surprise, my question is: Why haven’t more brands followed suit?

The previously anonymous Twitter account burst onto the fashion scene for DKNY in 2009, at the height of the Gossip Girl mayhem. Licht was “obsessed” with the show, and in Donna Karan’s first meeting about getting the brand on Twitter, she proposed a Gossip Girl-esque approach of an anonymous fashion insider. Remarkably, management went with the idea, and DKNY PR Girl was born. “I’m your well-placed fashion source bringing you behind-the-scenes scoop from inside Donna Karan New York & DKNY, and my life as a PR girl living in NYC,” her bio still reads.

Although Licht told a Fashionista conference attendee that after 11 years at the company, it wasn’t that difficult for DKNY management to trust her to represent the brand, the approach was still a major leap of faith. As she explained, “It’s not easy explaining to upper management why it’s important that I tweet about coloring my hair.”

Of course, that’s exactly why @DKNY now has 497,000 followers.

In another panel at #FashionistaCon, Pose co-founder and CEO Alisa Gould-Simon was asked a question about how Pose makes their social media presence stand out. She began bluntly, “Everyone is using the same messaging.” Coupons, deals, giveaways, celebrity-driven content, and so it goes. It’s all been done, and we’re all immune to it by this point because it’s constantly filling our Twitter feeds.

Yet brands continue to do it. Sure they’ll throw a well-timed World Cup tweet out there to say hey, we’re real people like you watching the game, but does it feel organic? Off the cuff? Absolutely not. For DKNY PR Girl, it has always been unfiltered. Aliza Licht doesn’t seek out content for an hourly post. “I find things that I like and then I turn them into social moments,” she explained. “It’s organic and I think that’s why it works.”

As a social media manager myself, that hit hard. “I feel that I have to be moved to post,” Licht explained to a captive audience of aspiring fashionistas. “If you have to say ‘Oh wait I have to go find something to post,’ that’s when your posts are crap.” Again, you’ll hear this sort of thing out of the mouths of every Tom, Dick, and Harry that works in social media. But how many people actually believe it? And I mean believe it enough to stake a major company’s social media footprint on what shade of red Aliza Licht is dying her hair. Let me tell you: not many.

Fashion brands in particular need to take this approach seriously: Be real. “It’s the reason I didn’t work at an agency. I can’t fake it,” she said laughing. “I’m actually a bad publicist, because if I don’t like it I’ll tell you. Harem pants? Don’t buy them.” @DKNY has always been about connecting with a real person in the fashion world, no nonsense, straight talk, a true inside look into the industry and Donna Karan in particular.

Even before anyone knew the extent of social media marketing, DKNY knew enough to keep it organic from a person who had been with the company for years. Somehow, companies are hiring outside agencies to run their social media accounts. Luckily for them, that was never @DKNY. “I’m in a unique position because I’ve lived and breathed my brand for so long,” Licht said. “Social media companies can’t do that.”

As off-the-cuff as DKNY PR Girl’s tweets are, when Aliza Licht stands in front of a room of fashion hopefuls and says, “I have no social media strategy,” of course she’s fibbing. Aliza Licht’s final lesson at #FashionistaCon? Completely free speech is a thing of the past. “I don’t think freedom of speech exists anymore in the sense that your professional reputation online matters so much and you have to constantly monitor what you say,” she explained. “Even though I tweet off the cuff, I think about every single tweet before I post it.”

As open and honest as she may be, a 16-year Public Relations veteran isn’t running her mouth while she’s running her Twitter. “Sometimes if I just want to mouth off about something I’ll actually type out the tweet and then delete it to release some frustration,” she said.

Aliza Licht has been doing social media the right way since 2009, and every brand working with the same tired messaging needs to—finally—sit up and take note.

Photo: bitchcakes / Flickr

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Great post and worthwhile advice from @DKNY. Thanks for sharing!

I'm torn about @DKNY 's approach. On one hand, in-the-moment tweets and instagram photos give followers a feeling that they're with the brand in that moment, they get to be a part of the action. I've only worked on non-profit social media accounts, but my experience has shown that planning ahead and having a strategy works really well. I love spontaneity, but I'd prefer to plan to tweet or post on the spot.

This way, we can measure. We know what works, what we should plan to keep doing. I'm from a graphic design background. You can't wait around for inspiration to strike, your job is to find what is inspiring about what's happening, or what's going to happen. Why should your followers care? The content manager gets to dictate that.

I do agree with you that you need to have a plan and a direction (I'm a Community Manager myself haha!) You can't just be posting about random items with no narrative. But the amazing thing Aliza reminds us is that it needs to be organic. The whole point of social media is interacting with people, not bland content robots


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