On May 4, 2021, nearly 25.5m followers of @kyliecosmetics were greeted by just one image of Kylie Jenner with a caption ‘something is coming’. Jenner, founder of the billion-dollar beauty brand Kylie Cosmetics, went dark on social media ahead of a launch of a new line of her signature lip kit and a rebrand that happened on June 24. In July 2021, luxury brand Balenciaga wiped off all of its social media channels on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook — to build up hype for its first haute couture collection in 53 years designed by creative director Demna Gvasalia. Since then, the Instagram purge has been par for the course for the brand. On its official page with 12.2 million followers, it currently has no posts — the last few were in early November on Balenciaga’s collaboration with Crocs.
A fresh take
Brands and influencers are rethinking their social media feeds, preferring short-life content that does its job. In fact, they are quickening the pace at which they remove content. In a recent article in Vogue Business, social media marketers claimed that the emphasis on evergreen campaigns that stuck around is lessening, with a view to appear new and fresh every day. In the article, Nadia Tuma-Weldon, lead of global luxury practice at McCann Worldgroup, said: “There’s a lot of pressure to capture a youth audience and every marketer is just scrambling to figure out how to get their attention. If you work in fashion, your competition is not the next clothing or shoe brand — it’s the entire internet.”
JW Anderson has a mere 53 posts on Instagram. Louis Vuitton’s creative director Nicolas Ghesquière wiped his Instagram feed ahead of LV’s spring summer show on October 9. Closer home, actor Deepika Padukone went dark on December 31, 2020, only to launch a 2.0 version of her personal brand on her Instagram. Considering that there’s no way to purge a feed at one go, going dark can’t be done for a lark.
An ‘invested audience’
Niket Kumar, executive vice-president and head of digital, Leo Burnett, says, “In the social media space, I personally feel there are two clear types of brands: Brands that are Organisations and Brands that are People. A social media purge has very different objectives and outcomes in each.” For organisations, these decisions seem to be driven more by rationale. Niket says, “If you know your content is sitting idle, why have it there? If you know nobody will miss your old content or that it may go against your current or future plans, why have it there at all? But if you believe your content is adding value to your community or even people at large [moments, nostalgia, instructional or educational content, etc], then a purge needs to be planned out in a way that you can bring back some of your old content at a later stage.”
Going dark on social media piques curiosity, especially with an “invested audience”. Moves like these engage them further. Kalyan Kumar, CEO & co-founder of Social Catalyzers, a digital content and influencer marketing agency, says that it creates massive curiosity and pushes the audience to watch out for what’s next. Will it work for brands? Kalyan is sceptical, “Most brands have a legacy of consumer speak that if erased, could have multiple issues. A lot of brands’ social profiles are consumer complaint forums too. Deleting all those issues could be seen as covering up. Another aspect is that of brand continuity. Big brands from big stables have told many stories socially. That continuity leads to credibility and is part of the legacy. The power of this method is a fan base.”
Going dark works better for legacy brands. For instance, Bottega Veneta started the year with a power move — going off social media completely. The brand’s former creative director Daniel Lee, like his shoppers, is a millennial. He’s expressed his distaste for social media early on. Yet social media loves him. Bottega is not vanishing, but letting others do the work for it. Niket adds, “If you are a brand that people seek more than you seek people, going off social media may not affect you at all.”
Pankhuri Harikrishnan, founder and director of Fetch Consulting, an influencer and social media marketing firm, says that this strategy works only with high numbers and huge engagement. “But more than just a power move, what they come back with or are launching has to be equally powerful or the move will lack the wow factor.”
Harikrishnan adds that when an individual like Padukone does it, she’s crafting an individual story. The stakes are that much higher when brands and corporates are involved — “it can’t be just a gimmick”. She adds, “By pure logic, it doesn’t make sense to be away for too long. Digital is so dynamic, when you are out of sight, you are out of mind — and the algorithms ensure it. After all, everyone is constantly clicking on the next best thing. It’s a risk and not for the faint-hearted.”
The pros are that it gives you time to plan a cohesive launch or a rebrand. In the meantime, it diverts traffic to the website, where it can collect valuable customer data that gets lost on social media. You could risk a sales dip and alienate old audiences. But Niket says, “Just by removing your assets or ‘official existence’, you don’t fall off the grid. If people love you, they will keep you alive. If they hate you, they will keep you alive. If they are indifferent, you may have a larger problem at hand than a social media strategy.”
As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos famously said: “Personal branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Going dark could be a way for brands to check this out.
5 pointers for the dark side
1: It’s not for every brand. Smaller brands often depend on social media engagement to drive e-commerce sales.
2: Ensure that your audience doesn’t see it as a stunt.
3: Keep communication open via DMs or your website.
4: You don’t have to go dark. Brands evolve over time and not everything starts with a clean slate.
5: Give consumers time to adjust when you do come back. Weighing engagement on comeback posts should be met with patience.
Reasons to purge
Get noticed: When audiences are constantly connected, one way to get noticed online is to go offline.
Take pause: Allows brands to step back, change gear, and return with renewed purpose.
Makes an impact: Before a major change, going dark helps in building the buzz. DKNY did it in September 2015 to come back with a major rebrand.
Fosters connect: In October 2014, Taco Bell went dark on social media, allowing fans to recognise how much they valued the brand.
Return stronger: Going dark enables marketers to react to audience insights and return to the conversation with confidence and clarity.