It’s not easy being a luxury brand these days. The world of luxury brand advertising has been turned upside down in recent years. Gone are the times when brands could tell people what they should buy (it didn’t matter if people could actually afford a given object of desire). When marketing efforts resorted exclusively to one-way shout-outs (print, television, direct marketing, etc.); when pairing with an admired tastemaker was all that needed to be done to make the world go gaga over an outfit, a handbag, a car. Things used to be so predictable.

Who — or better what — is to blame? Social media.

The luxury brand’s affluent consumer turned out to be a particularly heavy user of the Internet for both information and online purchasing. More than 90 percent of high-income Web users shop online regularly, and the Internet became their number one source of getting information for luxury products.

Now what can be done?

Even so, luxury brands by nature were hesitant to move online, but all the kicking and screaming (however elegant and stylish it may be) didn’t help. Because of print advertising’s decreased returns and third-party sources talking about luxury brands anyway, it became clear that they needed to embrace the social game. Luxury brands were forced to make the transition to online advertising, e-commerce and yes, social media. Some did it with courage, some did it rather clumsily, and some still don’t do it at all. A luxury brand does not come down from its high horse and mingles on Instagram with the ordinary folks now, do they? Yes, dear, they do!

Game over? No, adjust or die!

The admired tastemakers mentioned above are no longer Hollywood stars persé; they are self-made style mavens who have blogged away for years building an audience that rivals any famous actress’ loyal fans. That is baffling for the luxury brand. What should they do? Actually engage with these so-called influencers? OK, if it is someone, who has millions of followers, then that might be acceptable, but now everybody talks about micro and nano influencers – that might be too much for a well-groomed high-end marketer filling a sought after position at so-and-so. That clashes.

But how does social media coexist with luxury? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Social media, after all, is all about inclusivity, accessibility, being popular and most of it is user-generated. Well, it’s about letting go. And that goes against the grain of what luxury brands stand for — exclusivity, inaccessibility, being elite and staying in control.

Indeed, the overwhelming reasons people connect with brands online involve deals and discounts — and luxury brands DON’T discount, or at least don’t want to be seen as discounters.

But, there is a silver lining …..

So, for the last few years now, luxury brands have begun to get their feet wet with this whole social media business. It’s a steep learning curve for virtually every luxury brand. For the first time, the brand no longer decides what’s luxury and what’s not, what’s desirable and what is not. Even the non-luxury consumer can now have an impact on the success or failure of a luxury brand, simply by using his or her voice, shared through social media. Finally, social media has begun to claim its rightful place within the marketing mix of luxury brands.

Those early-adopter luxury brands that have started to delve into social media have a huge competitive advantage. Granted, not all of these efforts have been or will be successful, owing to the persistent core differences between the definitions of what social media and luxury brands stand for. A successful social media presence will depend largely on strategies that reflect modern consumer behavior and preserve the luxury feel of the brand.

Engage or die

While social media marketing strategies share similarities with other marketing efforts (detailed plans that mirror the brand message, followed by precise execution), they are at the same time utterly unique: the brand speaks to the consumer directly, in real time and (if done right) in a two-way conversation.