Zappos’ philosophy is that we’re a customer service company which just happens to sell shoes. We think that people like shopping with us because it’s a fun connection. We like to treat them as friends and make them smile. So when it comes to social media, we’re not at all passive about it. It’s all about surprise and delight – creating a shareable experience.
When Twitter started up, our CEO Tony Hsieh jumped in right away and was one of the first users to hit a million fans (he’s now closing on two million). But Zappos staff can tweet on their own, without anyone telling them what to say. Now about five hundred of our employees tweet regularly – not just about what we sell, but whatever they feel like.
The culture is the most important thing for us, and obviously the clothing and shoes are part of it. But we don’t give any more weight to that than putting up a video of a donut-eating contest from our the IT department. It’s an all-things-considered approach that we take.
On Facebook one time we saw a woman in Massachusetts saying that she and her family were snowed in, and had been without power for four days. So we sent her a pizza. Recently we put out a video for all our fans, describing how we helped one of our employees to become US citizen. He has worked here for several years and was going to have to go back to Hong Kong, but we paid for his naturalization. People love it when we do that sort of thing, and it’s what they expect of us.
Zappos has a smaller footprint on Facebook, where its fan size is a relatively modest 180,000. We should probably be at the million mark, giving away a pair of shoes every day, interviewing top celebrities, and so on. But we are purposely trying not do that. Instead we’re trying to be your attainable fashion friend, someone you can call up any time to see what kind of shoes will match your dress.
We haven’t ever had a ‘like’ button for Zappos itself, however – you can only ‘like’ product and brands. That’s because we wanted to see what kind of interaction we would get if our fans interacted with us organically, and I’m happy to say that almost all of them have been active in the last month.
We’ve found that videos are the most amazing way for people to experience our culture. In fact video ranks higher than just about anything else, and we’re using it a lot more in Facebook than before. We have evidence that 65% of mobile Facebook users check it twice before they get out of bed, so we keep our content short, punchy and easy to interact with. We put out longer content later in the day, when people are on their computers at work, or commuting home.
Is there a risk in being open to customers at all levels? Actually we think there are more risks in not being completely open. Our culture is our biggest asset, and that comes from all the individuals who work here. We don’t want to stop them from being themselves. If someone tweets or posts something that screams ‘I’m not a culture fit with Zappos’, that’s a much bigger issue for us than whatever it was they said.
For sure, this is not an approach that will work for everyone. Companies like banking and pharmaceuticals are responsible for their customers in a much different way than we are with shoes, and wouldn’t necessarily want to talk to them about car races and donut eating contests. It would not be perceived as genuine. But we built Zappos around customer service, before Facebook and Twitter appeared, so it’s right for us.
A lot of companies are scared about social media but I’d urge them to let go. Of course they’re concerned about getting a return on investment. But they tend to be too concerned with the R and not enough with the I. What’s the downside of talking to customers about anything? We don’t have a bunch of data that says that if we were pushing product this is what we get back. We know from the awards and what fans say that they appreciate us interacting with customers in the way we do.
It’s tough to measure true impressions, although we use an SAS programme to measure sentiment on Twitter and monitor tweets on a weekly basis. If there are any negative spikes, we deal with it quickly. We have had 97% positive ratings in last year and a half. But we don’t measure value with social media. It’s not about reaching a count – we think that each smile we create is a win.
(From Social Business, Q4, 2011)