Brand Journal #2: American Eagle Outfitters’ (and Competitors’) Social Media Activity

This post is part of an assignment for my Global Branding course at WU.

American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) is a U.S. retailer of casual apparel and accessories that targets teens and young adults from the ages 14 to 25 years old. Their consumers come from middle income families; seek quality, comfort, and classic style in their clothing; lead semi-active lifestyles; and are primarily from North America. They also prefer to purchase less to get better quality products than what is provided by fast fashion retailers like Forever 21 and H&M, some of AEO’s competitors.

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AEO Homepage

AEO uses a host of social media strategies to market its products, with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, and even Spotify as key platforms. The company also maintains a blog where most its social media posts direct to via links. Content on the blog consists of style tips, DIY tutorials, photo diaries, fashion and design inspiration, lifestyle and fashion blogger interviews or collaborations, music playlists, OOTWs (outfit-of-the-week), and current marketing campaign content. The blog is structured like a personal fashion blog with a clean white background; large, colorful photos; and bold, sans-serif headlines.

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AEO blog post

A typical post features an influencer in fashion, design, media, or lifestyle and ways in which the reader or consumer can better their lives by adopting AEO products into their wardrobes. Various forms of these posts appear on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with appropriately formatted photos and copy for the designated channel. For example, this post about Vintage Hi-Rise Jeans is promoted on Instagram with a photo of just the lower half of Blake Von D’s body, prominently displaying the AEO product and capitalizing on the visually focused nature of the Instagram community.

@blakevond shows you how to style the tricky two-tone Vintage Hi-Rise Jean on blog.ae.com.

A post shared by American Eagle (@americaneagle) on

Engagement on the blog is tracked via comments and shares to Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, with “How To” content receiving the most feedback, ranging from 100 to 200 Facebook shares. Posts are published every three to four days and generally do not relate to integrated marketing campaigns such as the current one: #WeAllCan.

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AEO Instagram feed

American Eagle’s Facebook page has 11.4 million likes, about 300,000 check-ins, and approximately 100 reactions and one or two shares per post. Their Instagram has 2.3 million followers and 15,000-60,000 likes and 30-100 comments per post. The wide range in engagement on Instagram is due to the timing and type of the post with flatlays of outfits posted in the evening receiving the most feedback other than promotion announcements. Most of the content of the two channels is identical despite Facebook having more sales promotion posts, which receive the most engagement, and Instagram sharing more consumer content by “regramming” photos tagged with #AEOStyle. Photos range from catalog photos of their products to influencer features, reshared user content, and aesthetic inspiration with links either in the post (Facebook) or in the bio (Instagram) to correlated blog posts, products, or sales promotions. AEO also has their Instagram feed available as a tab on their Facebook page through a plugin. Their Twitter content is nearly identical to Facebook with most engagement going towards photos of clothing flatlays which receive about 100 likes.

AEO uses Pinterest to drive traffic directly to its online store by posting pins of its products and saving them to boards themed around clothing categories, seasons, holidays, media campaigns, and aesthetics. Several pins link to the same content like as seen in the screencap here. They have 23,700 pins on 44 boards and 138,100 followers. Again, pins of outfit flatlays get the most engagement, specifically ones with AEO prominently in the caption which get anywhere from 200 to 1,000 repins.

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AEO Pinterest pins

The official AEO Tumblr has been dormant for four months and only has posts about summer styles with broken links to the blog. This leaves me to assume that Tumblr did not drive enough traffic or have enough engagement since the average notes (combination of likes and reblogs) per post was about 100 which is somewhat low for Tumblr standards. Also, the culture of Tumblr is much more anti-business and corporation than other social media platforms so that may have influenced the abandonment of the site as a communication channel, though the cover photo was updated with the #WeAllCan campaign photo used across all platforms. The minimalist, off-white theme with large colorful photos is reminiscent of the blog, so the WordPress hosted site may have replaced Tumblr as the sole blog platform due to its flexibility, powerful hosting capabilities, and data analytics.

In the last few years, American Eagle Outfitters gained back lost market share and profits in an increasingly oversaturated and highly competitive market. Due to the growth of fast-fashion brands like Zara, Forever 21, and H&M casual apparel retailers with heavily branded products suffered. AEO turned that around by repositioning itself as a fun, alternative, bold, and empowering style brand that offered quality and classic products, using social media to underscore its large marketing campaigns that centered on self-expression, confidence, and individuality. All social media channels use the relevant hashtags—#WeAllCan, #AEOStyle, #DestinationAEO, #I’MPERFECT, #AEOLiveEXpress, #ProjectLiveYourLife—to reiterate the values of self-confidence and self-empowerment, which differentiates them from competitors, such as Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters, who focus more on trendiness and quirkiness in their branding and social media.

Urban Outfitters achieves a hipster, dreamy, alternative, and quirky brand through its social media strategy by being more casual and personal on its Twitter account and posting vintage and wistful photos on Instagram. Their social media identity is the cheeky lifestyle blogger, someone who is creative, inspiring, connected, fun, fashion-forward, and nostalgic while still “keeping it real” with sarcasm and a variety of backgrounds for model photography.

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Urban Outfitters Instagram feed

Their Twitter has 1.07 million followers with 100-200 likes per tweet. Few of their posts have copy that simply states that a product is for sale. For example, a tweet promoting a piece of outerwear reads, “Seriously, why haven’t you added patches to your denim jacket yet?” with a link to the product. Instagram, on the other hand, often includes the SKUs of the products featured in the photo, making it easy for followers to find the product in case a link is broken. Their Instagram has 6 million followers with average engagement reaching 1,000 likes and 150 comments per post.

Urban Outfitters also hosts a webpage called UO Community which allows customers to shop from curated Instagram feed of reshared photos. Users post photos of themselves styling UO products, Urban Outfitters regrams them, and posts them on the online store with links and modules for the featured items, making it easy and inspiring to purchase products if directed from Instagram.

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UO Community helps you shop their Instagram feed

Like AEO, Urban Outfitters has a blog that features fashion tips, photo diaries, style guides, recipes, design inspiration, and blogger/influencer collaborations. However, their blog is much more colorful, playful, and whimsical, featuring a staggered pastel grid of Polaroid shaped posts with themes for days of the week and various holidays. Posts can also be shared via Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook.

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UO blog homepage

Another of American Eagle’s competitors is Forever 21, a fast-fashion retailer that dominates the market and has a significant following on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. On Instagram, with 11.7 million followers and an average of 100,000 likes per post, F21 engages its audience with a mix of product features—mostly flatlays—, regrams, catalog photos, and influencer collaborations. They also have a “Shop the ‘Gram” campaign where followers would tag #F21xME to be featured on the account with the products styled linked in the bio to the online shop. While Instagram is much more community focused with its variety of reposted content, Forever 21’s Facebook, which has 13.3 million followers, features mostly catalog product photos organized into photo albums though a consumer feature appears occasionally. There is also little overlap in content between Instagram and Facebook. Twitter, with 2.26 million followers, is the least community focused with content primarily consisting of catalog photos with links to the products and features of influencers.

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#F21xME

All three retail distributors showcase a variety of images on each of their social media platforms and engage with their followers/consumers as much as possible through responding to comments, featuring their content, and speaking to them in relatable tones. American Eagle has the smallest following of the three apparel companies on all its social profiles. This is due in fact to its previous struggles with the changing marketplace and rebranding efforts and its loftier value propositions. Unlike Urban Outfitters and Forever 21, AEO tries to be more than just a style brand; it promotes social values like self-confidence, individuality, and acceptance overtly through campaigns such as #WeAllCan which prominently features young adults declaring their abilities to do whatever they want. Its child company, Aerie promotes body positivity and refrains from retouching its models. Often, consumers do not want to be bombarded with morals and social politics when mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, so a company that is cheeky and wistful or one that merely features a product as just a piece of fashion is an easier brand to support. There is less thought involved in liking a photo of one’s “Fall OOTD” than a video of young adults saying, “I can be crazy,” “I can get hot,” and “I can give lips.”

 

I and many others love the values American Eagle promotes in its marketing campaigns that are integral to the AEO brand, so its social media strategy should not refrain from promoting them. Instead, AEO should adopt a few practices from its competitors such as making it easier to purchase products that its followers share on Instagram by linking the items featured. Also, a better hashtag the company can introduce to engage consumers in content sharing is #IAmAEO, a more personal and connected tag than the current #AEOStyle. Copy should incorporate a more casual, playful tone to suggest a personal approach to social media and business, and more casual lifestyle posts should be published, especially on Twitter, where AEO can take advantage of the quippy candor of Twitter speech. The company already stands out by being very socially focused, but there is much to be gained by following the lead of others to make small changes that can have big impacts.

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