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September 01, 2011

Cover Story

The Social Media Phenomenon

A Personal Note from Gary V.

by Gary Vaynerchuk

If you talk to an older person—think grandparents—they’ll mostly tell you they lived in a completely different world where the local grocery store owner watched them grow up and the local butcher knew exactly what they would be ordering as soon as they walked in the door. If a business owner was rude and not an asset to the community, that business owner wouldn’t be in business for very long. A business would live and die off of its reputation, which was mostly shared with others by word of mouth. If a customer was pleased, they told all of their friends and family about their experience.

a personal note from gary v.

Social media is bringing business back to small town “rules”—even in the biggest of urban communities. Word of mouth is more powerful than ever. Brands and businesses have the tools to help show customers that they care, and these tools come in the form of social media.

Social media doesn’t just let you tell your friends and family about your experiences. No, today, the entire world is your audience. The real question is if the tools will be used properly. We see time and time again where people are using social media to talk, talk, talk. They need to be listening. It’s all about listening!

Back in the spring, I was headed to Toronto for a speech. I was booked on the last flight out on Sunday night and scheduled to speak bright and early on Monday morning. I was pumped up for my talk and when I got to the airport ... my flight was delayed 4 hours. Everyone around me was freaking out and angry while I was kind of happy. I was thinking “I’m about to get even more work done in the airport.” I was laser-focused.

Not even 10 minutes later, they announced that the flight was actually cancelled. I went from being ecstatic to panic. Was I going to be able to make the conference? I ran through all of the options —one of which was driving to Canada—but I found myself on a 6 a.m. flight the next morning and I pretty much ran from my car from the airport right on stage.

On my drive back to my apartment after my flight had been cancelled, two things were going through my mind: For one, I was excited because I was going to surprise my wife and we would get to spend some more time together. The second thought was, “Hmm, what would it really cost, in this day and age where we have so much data on our consumers, for the airline to send me an @ reply on Twitter at that moment apologizing for the cancellation?”

We can’t control Mother Nature, of course, but whenever there is an issue with an airline we are automatically upset. We see what we are missing and not what could have happened to cause the delay. This is why our anger is directed towards the airline regardless of whether or not they control the issue. I fly all the time and I’m a top customer of most airlines, but I want the same courtesies extended to everyone regardless of it being a person’s first flight or not. If an airline were to go that extra mile and send you a tweet apologizing for issues with your flight, your context with that airline would be changed forever. I promise you that you would see them in a different light from that day forward.

I usually talk about how content is king. Well, I feel that if content is king, then context is god. That tweet that XYZ Airlines just sent you has forever altered your opinion of how they feel about you. They cared enough to consider the frustration and inconvenience you experienced with your flight troubles. That is what’s key in The Thank You Economy—caring.

Twitter is invaluable. should be the most important website in the world for you since it’s the key to listening. You can listen and see the conversations that people are having—and they don’t necessarily have to be about your brand or area of expertise—and then take part in those conversations.

Our world is running away from push marketing. Do you remember when you used to be excited to see a new email in your inbox? I do. What happened with email? We ruined it. We went from brands sending an email a week to sending an email every few days. When that went over smoothly, the sales emails started being pushed every day ... and now sometimes multiple times a day. Stop pushing! People are sick of it! Push marketing is a thing of the past, and a brand’s world instead should revolve around listening and forming relationships with every single one of its customers.

When I say that brands need to listen and care about their customers, I mean that brands need to listen and care about their customers. It must be authentic and heartfelt because it will be disgustingly obvious if it is not. Brands and companies that instill a culture of caring will win in this age.

Here’s an example of what we’ve started doing in the Wine Library Thank You department:

We have a customer in Chicago who has made two large opening orders with us. We’ve been following this customer on Twitter because that’s how we roll at Wine Library. While following his tweets, we’ve noticed that he’s probably the biggest fan in the world of Jay Cutler (quarterback for the Chicago Bears). Wine Library isn’t going to send this customer a free shipping code. Our Thank You department is going much further. The Thank You department will be going on eBay to find a signed Jay Cutler jersey and sending it to him as a thank-you for shopping with us.

A thank-you like this hits an emotional center. You need to do things that actually matter instead of pushing more coupons on people. We could have sent him a nice bottle of wine, but that’s in the context of what he always does with us. You need to take things outside of the familiar context and get to a different place with your customers. I’ll tell you one thing. This customer most likely won’t be shopping for wine anywhere else since his context with Wine Library has changed forever.

Brands can reach customers on a deep personal level that hasn’t really been possible before ... and the customers will respond. We are living through a dramatic change in the way people do business and it focuses around the very essence of what it is to be a human being: communication. Businesses and brands are being humanized.

It may sound crazy, but business is starting to follow the path of the pet dog. If we look at the data of the pet dog in the 1950s, the pet dog was an outside animal. Spot was outside. The end. The only time Spot was allowed inside was when it snowed (and we’re talking heavy snow). Over the last 50 years, Spot has made the jump to inside of the home. If we look at the percentages now, the pet dog is now very much an inside animal. Spot’s getting pretty crafty at this point because Spot is being humanized. Guess where Spot is now? The bedroom. Spot didn’t stop there though because Spot isn’t just in the bedroom—Spot is in the bed. Not only that, but Spot wears better clothing than his or her owner now. Spot probably also eats gourmet food more frequently than the owner does.

As human beings, we have a deep need to communicate and to humanize things. When we’re done humanizing our social graph and the people around us, we start humanizing other things. These other things include Spot. It’s in our DNA. This is simply how we are wired. Yes, we are humanizing brands just like we did with pets. We need to care about things and we want to be cared about.

Brands need to be ready to listen when things go wrong and when things go right. It doesn’t matter how big or small the issue or praise happens to be. What matters is that the brand truly cares about all of it. The only way to succeed in The Thank You Economy is to care. Do you “out care” your competition? If you do, you will win. Building relationships through social media translates into social equity. Social equity translates into sales. Engage. Care. Be human.

Gary V.Gary Vaynerchuk, author of The Thank You Economy and Crush It!, and co-founder of VaynerMedia, a boutique agency that works with brands and start-ups.