Modthink Helps Social Media Click with Small Businesses

by Serenah McKay  on Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 12:00 am  

Michael Baker knew he needed a social media strategy for connecting with customers of his Fayetteville-based Houndstooth Clothing Co.

Talk at a retailers' conference he attended in Las Vegas last February had convinced him of that. But the 46-year-old, who started his T-shirt company on North Block Avenue in 1992, also realized he was out of his element and needed to call in the experts.

After several months of research and meeting with about a half-dozen companies, Baker found modthink, a local firm that focuses on teaching small to medium-sized businesses how to use social media channels like Facebook more effectively.

Baker, who has seven stores throughout the state, has been working with modthink since early June and has already seen an increase in sales.

"Our location at the Northwest Arkansas Mall just had summer sidewalk sales, and we posted some really strong numbers from that, the strongest we've seen in several years," he said. "And I've got really nothing I can attribute that to other than us handling the social media portion of that better, letting our customers know what was going on and then responding to that."

Modthink, which officially began doing business in March, was started by Northwest Arkansas residents Brent Robinson and Matt Dromi and Kansas City, Mo., native Bob Roth. The team's fourth member is Sylvia Tran, a social strategist.

All three founders have worked at Rockfish Interactive in Rogers, though not at the same time. Robinson and Dromi met at an event at The Iceberg, and brought up their mutual friend Roth.

"We were talking about how we'd all been working for big brands and big retailers and doing social media campaigns," Robinson said, "and came to the realization that while they're doing a good job with the things they're doing with social media, they're not taking full advantage of it, because it really is a two-way conversational medium, which is like how our grandparents did business on the square.

"It just kind of struck us that social media could be so much more utilized by small businesses."

About this time, Robinson said, his friend Hank Kaminsky, the Fayetteville sculptor, contacted him and said, "I don't know how to do it, but I know I need to do this social media stuff, and I know you know how to do it. Come help me."

Robinson brought in Dromi and Roth, and the three began meeting with Kaminsky at his studio, helping him with his professional Facebook page. That entailed answering his questions about the technical features as well as helping him clarify the message he wanted to convey.

"We said, ‘We could do your social media, but it won't be authentic, because we're not you,'" Robinson said.

Roth summarized modthink's approach: "It's your voice that consumers want to connect with, not necessarily ours.

"You can really see the difference in transparency and authenticity when you actually find the time to write about the products and services that you're working on every single day, as opposed to outsourcing it to someone who isn't."

Kaminsky, who was already a computer user, said while understanding the mechanics of Facebook is part of the equation, the other part is understanding the philosophy.

"This call and response, posting a response, was a good idea I learned from [modthink], actually carrying on a conversation with people on the Web, with people you don't see but they're there nonetheless," he said.

Modthink has a three-prong business plan.

Besides working individually with small businesses like Houndstooth and Kaminsky, they also give workshops, like some they've done through the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, where they work in a group setting to give business people some tips to get started and improve what they're already doing.

The third aspect of the business is working with small agencies and shopper-marketing teams in Bentonville who need help developing their social media strategy.

As for cost, modthink has developed some basic pricing for its services to individual clients, though that will vary depending on the clients' unique needs. Robinson said typically a company ends up paying about $12,000 over a six-month period.

Modthink's client roster already includes businesses such as Moxy Ox, SureSafe Tornado Shelters and Terra Tots Natural Parenting. They're about to start working with the regional chapter of the American Red Cross, Robinson said.

Of all the companies Baker vetted to help him with social media, he said, what sold him on modthink was that from his first contact with them, "I got the sense that they were professional, that they were serious about what they did, and that our business was important to them.

Then once we got going, it seemed like a good fit from our first meeting on.

"Modthink really just cared about the quality of the product that we were going to create together."

Meeting with the modthink team an average of once a week, Baker said he realized the process wasn't about getting more "followers," but developing a better strategy for communicating with his customers and gathering feedback from them.

That process just evolves, he said, and is very organic.

"We've been around for 20 years and we have a very loyal customer base that has been very good to us," Baker said. "And I think communicating with them and being able to learn from them and hear from them, I think for us is really where the value is here."

So far, the collaboration with modthink is working out well, he said.

"We haven't done anything off the charts as far as promotion, or jumping up and down and screaming, ‘Hey, we're here.'

"But the things we have done, the posts we've made and the schedule we're following, we've definitely seen results from that, and we've seen it in lots of ways. We've seen an increase in communication with customers, not only in quantity but in quality."

He's also seen sales go up, and had success driving sales with special promotions and events thanks to modthink's coaching.

Modthink also is helping overhaul Houndstooth's website, Baker said, and getting the company set up on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Though he sees these steps having some benefit in supplementing a small advertising budget, Baker says that's secondary to the more important goal of taking care of customers.

"You have to be true to yourself, and that's something I think modthink has been very good at - getting to know who we are and understanding our culture, and then helping us be consistent as we get more involved in social media and stay true to who we are."          



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