How to deal with an activist attack on your brand

 womens-2359590_1920.jpgIf the Devil wears Prada, what do fashion activists wear? Certainly not fur…

The fashion industry is no stranger to controversy, especially around Fashion Week.  Issues around model size, supply chain ethics or use of materials such as fur, are more likely to hit the headlines now than at any other time. 

Activists are also at their most active during this time. Just how active might surprise you. New research from Crisp Labs, the research division of Crisp, has found that:

  • Activists post an average of 9,000 items of user generated content on a target brand’s social media page during an attack
  • Activist attacks can last up to 130 days, but…
  • …80% of all activist UGC will be focused over a four-day activity spike
  • And, at an attack’s most viral point, one new Facebook comment is sent every minute.

So what can fashion brands do? One approach is to pre-empt the main issues by showing that action is being taken. The leading luxury fashion brands LVMH and Kering, for example, unveiled a charter around the well-being of models ahead of New York Fashion Week earlier this month. The charter stipulates that they will ban their designers using size XXS or size zero models (that’s size 32 models under the French system or size four in the UK). They also said that they will not hire girls under 16-year-old to wear adult clothes at shoots or events. Clearly these are issues that come under the spotlight during fashion week, and therefore the right time to make this announcement.

Where a brand isn’t able to address an issue upfront like this however, then their only choice is to be prepared for an attack to hit. In this situation two elements are essential – being aware of an attack as soon as possible, and having the resources in place to deal with the scale of an attack at its height. In other words if you are the social media manager for a luxury brand at this time then a 9-5 working week service simply won’t cut it. The pace at which an activist attack takes place on social media presents a near-impossible challenge for a brand’s internal community management team. What you need is a round-the-clock team, skilled in multiple languages who have the right tools to respond to an attack quickly. Also a team who knows when to escalate issues that need further consideration.

Each year it becomes harder for fashion brands to respond to activist attacks. As brands’ use of social media becomes more sophisticated – eg with live streaming, instant purchase technology and the increasing use of celebrity endorsement via their own social media pages – so does the activists’ approach on these platforms. An attack can come directly – straight onto a brand’s pages; indirectly – through the wider web; or covertly – via targeted activity, focused on a brand’s ambassadors in particular.

So what should fashion brands do? There are a number of options that can be taken:

  • Remove all negative content on owned pages. This is a ‘zero tolerance’ approach – where anything deemed inappropriate, incorrect or unjustified is removed immediately. This can be the right approach in some cases but beware of ‘whitewashing’ your own social media pages, as the issues will just go elsewhere. Remember that you will likely be dealing with very high levels of content in a short period of time too. So having the resource in place to cope with the scale of activity, together with a clear approach on how to deal with different types of content, is essential.
  • Respond to attacks directly. Another approach is to tackle activist content head on. If you feel you have an alternative point of view, then sharing that in public, with the support of your fans too, can be a positive approach to take. It also allows you to address ‘fake news’ or false statements directly. Again you need to be prepared here. Have responses ready to the most likely subjects and be ready to adjust your approach if needed.
  • Remove the worst content and respond to the rest. In other words a combination of the above. If you feel that content goes against the guidelines you use normally operate by, then you are within your rights to remove it. That leaves you with the option to address the points that you feel can be tackled publically. Scale and time are the two big factors again here. It’s easy to miss something if you don’t have the team in place to identify the high priority items.
  • Don’t forget to monitor the wider web. Whichever approach you take on your own pages you have no control over what is published on the wider web. It is essential therefore that you have a clear view of what is being published and where. This enables you to address issues quickly, before they escalate further. But make sure you’re not overwhelmed with alerts. Your monitoring service should be able to identify the high priority issues quickly, and have a clear escalation plan in place.
  • Think outside of your timezone. Just because you are based in one country doesn’t mean the activists are. Many attacks deliberately take place outside of normal working hours. To be protected you need 24/7 cover. You also need to ensure you are able to pick up activity in various languages. Understanding nuance in language is a big plus here.
  • Keep an eye on your celebrity ambassadors’ accounts. They are seen to be part of your brand and so can come under attack too. Or, worse, they can be part of it! You just never know. Well, you do if you monitor what is happening.  Then you can be prepared.

At Crisp we are experienced in working with brands that have to face orchestrated social media attacks. We know that as we increase our capability to deal with an attack, almost instantly, the attackers will change their tactic to avoid detection. This is where our combination of human Risk Analysts, technology and many years of experience ensure we can catch any tactic change, almost instantly, any time, day or night.

For more information on social media moderation and monitoring visit You can also download our latest report - Social media trends for luxury brands via this link.