Leah Bourne has written an interesting article at Forbes.com about the use of social media in the fashion industry. At first, it did not appear that the article offered anything new. Yes, fashion companies are using social media to listen to their customers and to adapt quickly based on feedback that they receive via Facebook and Twitter. However, the article goes further and offers an important word of caution for companies who are engaging their customers via social media. Here is the key excerpt:
"Hakim and other fashion designers also must learn to balance responding to digital customer feedback while maintaining a consistent brand identity. 'It's an enormous challenge,' Hakim says. 'A brand today has to be both a reflection of a designer while remaining open to the suggestions of customers.' Shauna Mei, who is launching online specialty retailer AHALife this month, aims for her site to be a two-way conversation. 'I want to create a dialogue between my site, brands and shoppers, but it isn't a democracy,' she says. 'We need to filter our customers' suggestions.'"
Every company should pay close attention to this point about the trade-off between responding to customer feedback via social media vs. maintaining a clear, consistent strategy and brand identity. Firms cannot succeed if they become "excessively flexible" in response to customer feedback. Managers have to cultivate an ongoing conversation inside the company about what fulfilling certain customer requests means for the brand. They have to constantly ask themselves: Are we being so responsive and adaptive that we have begun to muddle our competitive positioning in the marketplace?