Zappos, Shaq, Whole Foods, Twitter, and you

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On June 15 I was privileged to be a speaker at the O’Reilly Twitter Boot Camp (#OTBC) along with luminaries such as Tony Hsieh, Steve Rubel, Tim O’Reilly and Eric T. Peterson.  The purpose of the event was to swap insights on employing Twitter for business use.  Topics ranged from measuring Twitter’s value to integrating Twitter into a marketing and PR program.  Here are some ideas that resonated for me:

  • Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, described Zappos’s employee Twitter policy this way: “Just be real and use your best judgment.”  Incidentally, Tony also dangled the possibility that 20 years from now, Zappos could diversify into more businesses — even airlines — because Zappos is about obsessive customer service, not just shoes and other consumer goods.
  • Eric T. Peterson and Mike Volpe covered Twitter measurement tools. Mike shared the HubSpot Twitter Grader, which you can use to measure your reach in the Twitter universe.  Eric shared the Twitalyzer for assessing your Twitter influence.  These tools are easy to use.  Check them out.  Eric T. Peterson: “Measure your return on influence, not your ROI.”
  • Amy Martin gave a peek inside the world of Shaquille O’Neal’s justly famous the_real_shaq Twitter account, which has 1.3 million followers (Amy herself has nearly 500,000 followers).  If you enjoy following Shaq on Twitter, thank Amy — she got him to do it.  And how hard was it?  Getting started was not that difficult, as it turns out.  Amy just needed to get Shaq plugged into Twitter and set him loose.  He quickly gathered a following because of his authenticity. (Amy: “Shaq has zero ability to fake anything.  He’s transparent and genuine.”)  After a few months, Amy collaborated with Shaq on an idea: what if he used Twitter to give the world more than his ideas and random observations?  The result: “random acts of Shaqness,” in which Shaq uses Twitter to do good deeds for fans such as offering free tickets to basketball games.   At a time when celebrities are carefully protected from the public, the concept is quite stunning, actually. If you’re lucky enough to catch the right tweet from Shaq at the right time, you stand a good chance of meeting him at, say, a food court, where you can pick up a free ticket.  We can learn a lot from this example.  Per Amy: “Don’t ask what Twitter can do for you.  Ask what you can do for Twitter.”  Amen.
  • Marla Erwin of Whole Foods discussed how Whole Foods uses Twitter to be responsive to customers and build the Whole Foods brand.  She also cleverly demonstrated her point by offering Whole Foods gift cards to boot camp attendees who could generate the most retweets about Whole Foods during the event — a nice way to generate consumer enthusiasm.  Marla also dispelled the notion that consumers just want to talk to each other about your brand on Twitter rather than talk with you.  She asked, “If people don’t want to interact with a brand, then why are 786,000 people following Whole Foods on Twitter?”

Marketers: even in an era of consumer-generated content, your message does matter and consumers do care about you. It’s just that marketers need to share their messages in a different way.  To cite a popular — but true — cliche, we must join the conversation that consumers are having about us. And we need to empower our brands to do things, not just say things.  Marla’s nifty contest during the O’Reilly Twitter Boot Camp was a case in point.

One of the benefits of appearing at the event was receiving the recently published The Twitter Book by Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein.  The book is like Strunk & White for Twitter: a summation of practical tips for communicating clearly and effectively in the Twitter universe.  I highly recommend it even if you consider yourself an experienced pro. Brushing up on your Twitter etiquette never hurts.

Incidentally, you can find my O’Reilly Boot Camp presentation, “Twitter: The Two-Edged Sword,” here.

4 thoughts on “Zappos, Shaq, Whole Foods, Twitter, and you

  1. Mike

    How can I get more involved with these events (i.e. listen to them when they take place)?
    Also, the Twitter Book is a must to anyone who uses Twitter. I learned how to use Twitter by reading it.


  2. Thank you for both your comments. Steve: you\’re well connected! Itai, usually these events assign a hashtag that enables you to follow their Twitter feeds. The hashtag for the O\’Reilly Boot Camp is #OTBC. Which raises a good question: could the hashtag eventually hurt attendance?

  3. Pingback: Social Media Policy – Part 1 – Organizational Culture « Sleep is Optional

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