At New York Fashion Week, the runway show for 3.1 Phillip Lim’s Fall/Winter 2016 collection. (Ze Takahashi/MCV Photo For the Washington Post)

The apparel world is just winding down from New York Fashion Week, the semi-annual designer clothing parade that this year brought us wide-leg pants, cocoon coats and whatever it was that you’d call Kanye West’s collection.

The event has been gradually transforming into a digital attraction for everyday shoppers rather than just a cloistered spectacle for industry insiders, with legions of people now getting a peek at the shows, clothes and models via livestream or social media. In other words, Fashion Week increasingly serves as a snapshot of how digital-savvy customers get their shopping ideas and interact with their favorite brands.

That’s why a new research report on Fashion Week social media engagement is especially revealing about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for retailers as they try to use social media to sell you clothes and other types of goods.

L2, a research firm that studies brands’ digital impact, analyzed the social media posts of 192 fashion houses from Feb. 1 through 18. That time period covered the shows and the immediate lead-up to them, when retailers would likely be in overdrive working to drum up anticipatory buzz. In particular, L2 studied “engagement,” a measure of how many users were enticed enough by the social media post to take an action such as “liking” a post, commenting on it or re-sharing it from their own account.

There is a striking, even extraordinary, difference between customer engagement on Instagram versus on Facebook and Twitter. On Instagram, the women’s brands posted an average of 20 times and generated an average of 92,000 interactions. The engagement numbers seen on the other social platforms are paltry by comparison: On Twitter, where women’s brands posted an average of 26 times, tweets averaged 490 likes and 1,117 retweets. On Facebook, brands posted an average of eight posts each that generated 8,000 interactions.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, men’s fashion brands generated significantly less social engagement overall than did women’s brands.  But the pattern remains the same: Instagram accounted for the vast majority — some 89 percent — of social engagement for men’s fashion.

“Instagram really is dominating the field,” said Liz Elder, the L2 research associate who produced the Fashion Week study.

Also notable is how much the social engagement mix has changed over the last three years of fashion shows. As the chart below shows, Facebook has lost quite a bit of ground, not only in its share relative to Instagram, but in overall engagement volume. And that sends a clear message: Fashion conversation and inspiration-seeking is moving at an astonishing speed from Facebook to Instagram.

Graphic courtesy of L2

Retailers and brands have lately engaged in a burst of experimentation around so-called “buy buttons,” or ways in which shoppers can easily purchase their goods without ever leaving the social network where they stumbled on them in the first place. This study seems to suggest that Instagram might be particularly well-positioned to ride a potential boom in social shopping, because users are already engaging especially heavily with brands on the site in a way they aren’t on Facebook or Twitter.

Elder points out that forthcoming changes to the runway show cycle might be especially fertile territory for testing the potential of “buy buttons.” This season, several major fashion houses, including Burberry, announced that they’d move to a shop-it-now runway show in which items that are featured on the catwalk are up for sale in stores and online almost immediately. That differs sharply than the industry’s traditional model, in which clothes seen on the runway don’t hit stores until about six months later.

If shoppers are already turning to Instagram to follow the shows, and if those pieces are more frequently going to be available for sale right away, that could be a set-up for an impulse buy.

Elder said that some of the difference in engagement may reflect that Instagram is a younger social channel than Facebook and Twitter, one where it can be easier for brands to get their posts seen and to add new followers.

“Arguably, since Instagram still has a relatively organic presence, Instagram would be the best place to start,” Elder said, for an upstart fashion brand looking to connect with shoppers. 

It’s not clear whether the patterns seen here are unique to the fashion category, which is particularly well-suited to photo-centric format of Instagram. Maybe an artsy, filtered photograph won’t be as effective in stirring purchase interest in items like, say, bluetooth speakers or kitchen gadgets.

But, either way, the study seems to be a sign that digital fashionistas are fast-moving target — and that retailers and brands will have to be nimble to capture them.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the average number of user interactions generated on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The figures represent the average number of interactions overall, not the average number of interactions per post. This version has been corrected.  

More from The Washington Post:

Why the ‘buy button’ isn’t going anywhere, even though practically no one uses it

In a world of digital shopping, fashion heavyweights disrupt the runway calendar

12 striking looks from New York Fashion Week