Zappos.com Shows How to Leverage Social Media Strategically

by Eddie Reeves on September 20, 2010

NOTE: A version of this posting also appears in my column in the second edition of Social Media Marketing Magazine. – er

The best and highest use of social media, like any other media, is leverage. It is easy to lose sight of the basic principle that media tools are neither special nor magic in and of themselves, but that the magic they perform is in multiplying the impact of basic human communications. Ultimately, the power of any marketing strategy is dictated by the power of the underlying business strategy of the marketer.

Case in point: Zappos.com.

The nation’s largest online shoe retailer has built its entire corporate culture around the idea of constantly providing the ultimate in service to all its stakeholders—customers, employees, vendors, investors, and the people who live in its headquarters community of Henderson, Nevada. Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh, who has become a bona fide international corporate rock star, zealously guards his company culture and core values and proudly preaches the Zappos.com gospel to whoever will listen.

Here’s what your business can learn from Hsieh and his team:

In a decade that ended with the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression, the Zappos.com story is breathtaking. The company went from less than $100,000 in sales in its 1999 birth year to amassing more than $1 billion in revenue in 2009. It was bought in November of that year by Amazon.com for $1.2 billion.

One of the most exciting things about the success of Zappos.com is that there is no secret sauce. The company’s competitive advantage is not due to proprietary technology, special deals from vendors, nor special financing arrangements. Zappos.com wins the old fashioned way: with a maniacal focus on providing radically better customer service than anyone else on the planet, and by betting the whole company that this approach will not only keep customers coming back in droves, but also will create a groundswell of word-of-mouth (and word-of-mouse) advertising.

Social media plays a large role in promoting the company, and it has certainly helped fuel the rapidity of its growth. Hsieh has more than 1.7 million Twitter followers (@Zappos), and a huge percentage of the company’s several hundred team members tweet regularly about special offers, how they help customers, why they love their jobs, etc. But probably the smartest application of social media by the company is how Zappos.com uses it to leverage and extend the efficacy of its already massively successful earned media efforts (PR lingo for positive press coverage). They not only generate buzz, but they also generate buzz about their buzz!

Scores of social media marketing case studies, presentations, and blog posts have sung the praises of the company’s social media exploits—and rightly so. But make no mistake about it, the real reason for Zappos.com’s social media marketing success lies not in its tools and tactics but in the basic business strategy.

It’s a reminder that we cannot repeat too often: social media works not because of how you say it, but because of what you have to say.

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