The “New Basics” of Social Marketing Standards and Strategy
August 01, 2012

I recently wrote an article for Adotas where I discussed the “new basics” of social marketing standards and strategy. I profiled ModCloth, Quirky and Betabrand, three companies I believe best exemplify these continually evolving social media trends. Today, I’ll go into more detail about how ModCloth is setting new standards in the ways in which it interacts with its customers—a subject I first explored in a previous NVP blog post.

ModCloth, an innovative online retailer of independently designed fashion and décor,  seems to have found a way to crack  code when it comes to adopting social strategies and embracing an ever-expanding world of mainstream and niche social media sites. The company is setting new standards with its unique approach to social media, while harnessing the power of its online community for new types of operating efficiencies.

As I mentioned in the Adotas article, ModCloth’s COO and CMO Kerry Cooper lays out the company’s strategy for social marketing with just two simple, fundamental rules:

Rule #1: Be where the customers are.
Rule #2: Be authentic.

“Be Where The Customers Are” is what pushes the company to communicate on nine different social networks and sites as well as two different blogging platforms.  ModCloth manages a very large and vibrant presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, Instagram and YouTube.  In addition to those “Big Six” sites, there are key specialized social networks and community sites in many vertical markets that have large followings.  In the fashion world, that means sites like Polyvore, Kaboodle and Chictopia – on all of which ModCloth is managing a presence, interacting with customers and keeping its fans and followers engaged.

Taking cues from its customers, ModCloth took to Pinterest, a hugely popular new medium, to showcase its unique designs.  Shortly after the site launched, women began posting their favorite ModCloth fashion items , showing off their purchases and compiling vintage fashion boards.  When ModCloth started posting its own boards to Pinterest, existing users repinned the items, starting a fast-moving viral loop among these passionate, like-minded women. Soon new customers were discovering ModCloth on Pinterest, and via Pinterest activity posted to Facebook.  The company began to see large numbers of women clicking their way through to ModCloth’s website, where many became devoted and active customers.

The cost of acquisition was near zero, and when compared to customers who came in via search marketing efforts, the Pinterest-sourced women converted to paying customers much more often, and much faster.  Better yet, the AOV (Average Order Value) for this source of traffic was higher than from other sources.  Investing in additional resources to provide increased employee engagement on Pinterest became easy to justify quantitatively, coupled with an excellent return-on-investment.

Similarly, the company continues to branch out to other platforms where its customers are discussing fashion, shopping or ModCloth’s products.  The approach ModCloth has taken to these networks is appropriate and helpful, without promotional or self-serving overtones, thus embracing Cooper’s second rule, “Be Authentic.” The employees understand that this means they are to communicate on those networks as real people, as customers, as women talking to other women about a shared interest in vintage and fun fashion–not as marketers.

In order to ensure the voice and style are truly authentic, the company does not hire any outside agencies for these posts; they’re written by employees who are typically ModCloth customers and can truly identify with their target audience. As a result, customers form real (if entirely online) relationships with ModCloth customer care reps, category managers, editorial staff and executives, and maybe most notably with co-founder, head buyer and the emotional heart of ModCloth, Susan Koger.

Employees at all levels of the company post as themselves and are encouraged to speak honestly and openly, building these relationships and creating their own fan base of users who turn to them for fashion advice and just for conversation.  Since the conversations typically are public posts rather than of a one-on-one private nature, hundreds of women track and watch the dialogue without participating directly, enabling the programs to scale more easily than might be initially apparent.

In addition, ModCloth maintains the editorial content and numerous special features on the company’s core retail website. For a lifestyle and retail site as vast and layered as ModCloth, this is a large job in itself.  The team is also tasked with making fresh updates to the company’s two distinct blogs – the well-designed Tumblr blog, as well as more expansive updates on the company’s WordPress-powered corporate blog.

Daily management of 11 different social presences is just part of the fabric of ModCloth’s unmatched team, woven through dozens of employees in a number of departments.

This is all part of the company’s strategy of embracing social media to its fullest and deploying radical levels of customer involvement in its operations, communications and marketing.  Through these programs, the company can accurately track the increase in conversion rates and LTV (Lifetime Value) for its social media expenditures.   The results have been so impressive that the management team and Board of Directors continue to increase their commitment to and budget for these programs, believing them to be a distinct advantage in a very competitive market.

ModCloth’s unique and pervasive customer communications strategy is what has long made this company my example of an organization that is comprehensively utilizing social media and community management.  By giving customers the opportunity to interact directly with ModCloth, the company is rewarded with measurable strategic advantages in metrics like Net Promoter Scores, repeat purchase rates, customer satisfaction levels and lowered customer acquisition costs. Moreover, the engagement levels of ModCloth’s customers and fans is among the best I’ve ever seen for a retailer of any size, and is certainly a key component of what makes this community so passionate about the company and its products.

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