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Is Sound the Next Frontier in Social Media Engagement?

At London Fashion Week, Topshop used the new Chirp app to engage event attendees.

Topshop hung monitors made to look like birdhouses inside its Oxford Circus store during London Fashion Week. As images from its fashion show played on the screens, the monitors shared 'chirps'—brief birdsong-like sounds that activated data on nearby mobile devices running the Chirp app.
Topshop hung monitors made to look like birdhouses inside its Oxford Circus store during London Fashion Week. As images from its fashion show played on the screens, the monitors shared "chirps"—brief birdsong-like sounds that activated data on nearby mobile devices running the Chirp app.
Photo: Courtesy of Topshop

British retailer Topshop is continually looking for new ways to engage fans, and at London Fashion Week in September the company tested a new app that allowed it to transmit photos, Web links, and other content to mobile devices using sound. The mobile app Chirp, available as a free download, shares data via a 1.8-second series of notes that sound similar to birdsong.

“Our audience, as the next generation themselves, embrace new technology and are content obsessed, [and are] therefore the perfect test bed to trial new innovations,” Topshop chief marketing officer Sheena Sauvaire said.

The "chirps" played on speakers at the show in Regent’s Park and also in Topshop’s Oxford Circus store, where the retailer created what it called a “digital garden” with monitors suspended from trees like birdhouses. Folks within earshot of the speakers who had the app open on their phones instantly received the content, which included runway images, photos of the clothes being made, backstage activities, and hair and makeup preparations. Recipients could tap on the images to receive additional information, and they could also share the images via Twitter, Facebook, and email.

“Our job is to make the mobile experience much easier than it currently is. We don’t like typing on mobile keyboards. We don’t like passwords,” said Chirp C.E.O. and founder Patrick Bergel. “Unlike Bluetooth, Chirp doesn't require you to pair devices. Unlike email, you don't need to type in anyone's address. Unlike instant-messaging clients, you don't have to add recipients from a buddy list. You don't need to be friends on Facebook, or to follow each other on Twitter, or be connected on LinkedIn. Just press the big yellow Chirp button, and anyone running the app can 'hear' the data.”

The “chirps” can be transmitted from a mobile device or more broadly shared through a video or radio. “Roughly speaking, if you can hear it, the app can hear it. Chirp works better if you’re close to the sound in a fairly quiet place, and it doesn’t work at all if you’re a long way away in a noisy place,” Bergel said.

Topshop is the first brand collaboration for Chirp, which launched in June for Apple and in September for Android.

In addition to the engagement at the show and in the store, the Topshop home page included a gallery of images that viewers around the world could click to activate a “chirp” and receive content on their mobile devices.

Bergel said he is still verifying how many new downloads the collaboration generated but that the retailer and its guests shared thousands of images via Chirp during the show. Topshop reported it gained 20,000 new Twitter followers the day of its show.

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