A Gen Y Perspective: Keeping Your Brand Alive in Social Media

Today’s post is by Guest Blogger, Brian Sweet

There’s a reason why Zappos has been so successful in utilizing social media.  It’s not because they’re smart or because they work hard at it.  It really has nothing to do with in-depth market research or hours spent attending “How To Engage Customers Through Social Media” business conferences. I’m also pretty confident they never required employees to read “Social Media for Dummies”.

So, what’s the deal with Zappos?   Authenticity.
It’s who they are.

Zappos–unlike many aspiring copy-cat companies–hasn’t struggled to gain footing in social media.  That’s important, because the very act of struggling turns-off savvy consumers who can smell a worked-over social media campaign a mile away.

Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ CEO, tweets because he wants to.  That’s obvious to anyone who follows him on Twitter.  You don’t feel like you’re listening to the pontification or sly sales pitches of a CEO worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  Although Tony has made hundreds of millions in online business deals, he also refers to himself as a “monkey” and I’m pretty sure he has a tattoo on the top of his head.


And that’s just it.  Tony has built a company that–like him–is comfortable in its own skin.  That’s why Zappos has found so much success in social media, and that’s also why most companies haven’t.

What’s the Lesson Here?

It’s simple.  If you aren’t Tony Hsieh, then don’t try to be like him.  You would really make a terrible Tony, anyway.  You’re much better off being yourself. That’s what customers want, and hopefully you’ve seen by now that authenticity is one of the core values Gen Y has fully embraced.

There’s something attractive about a person who’s comfortable with who they are.  The same goes for brands.  Oh, and the opposite is true too.  You don’t want your brand to be like that person–you know who I’m talking about–that one person who’s always trying too hard to impress you.  The message communicated may be somewhat unconscious, but it’s still crystal clear. It goes something like this:

“I don’t really believe I have anything of value to you, but I’m still going to try to
convince you that I do anyway.”


Don’t Lose Hope

If you don’t have a tattoo on your head, that doesn’t mean you can’t blaze crazy trails in social media.  Here’s a way that just might help you unleash the power of social media for your company’s brand:

Lose the agenda. Yes, I did just say that.  Take a deep breath and try to forget all those strategic goals and profit-maximizing obsessions that dominate your thinking like ruthless dictators.  Allow yourself to wander mentally from the dollar-driven agenda you’ve learned to focus on.  Now exhale.  Feel any better?

Think about your brand.  Who is your brand?

I didn’t say what is your brand, I asked ‘who is your brand?’  Your brand should have personality.  If it doesn’t, it’s dead. If your brand doesn’t have personality then it has become disconnected from the people who, together, make up the brand. It’s lost.  Rigid.  Cold.  It’s a lot like the corpse in the movie Weekend at Bernie’s.

That makes you and the rest of your company like those guys who kept propping up Bernie’s lifeless body to make him seem alive.  It’s all just illusion.  You don’t really have anything to offer your customers, do you?

Once again, yuk.

Find the Who!

Have you ever read the book (or seen the movie) Horton Hears a Who!?  Doctor Seuss wrote about how Horton the Elephant managed to save an entire population by hearing the tiny voice of a Who living on a planet no larger than a speck of dust.  (I’m not so sure this is actually a true story, but the lesson is great anyway!)

Every brand has a Who.  Every company can answer the question “Who is your brand?”  I say that because behind every corporate brand there are people.  People with personalities.  But sometimes the loud noise of cutting costs and focusing on the bottom-line can drown out the life behind a brand.  You’ve got to find your brand’s personality because until you do, you can never be authentic.  Without it, your a ‘poser’ striving to convince customers you have what they want.  That’s enough.  Put Bernie’s corpse down and find the Who.

Now You’re Ready

Once your brand has found its personality, it’s ready to make its way back onto the social media scene.  After all, that’s what social media is all about: relationships between a whole bunch of Whos.

Get online and let your brand’s personality shine.  And alright, for those of you still holding your breath, it’s now safe to bring your “agenda” back into the mix.  But hopefully it won’t feel as much like an agenda.  Hopefully it’ll feel more like you’re just living out the nature of who your brand is.  You’ll be confident, comfortable in your own skin, and a heck of a lot more attractive to all the other Whos you encounter online.

Brian Sweet is currently a graduate student at the Mendoza School of Business at the University of Notre Dame. He is a candidate for an MBA degree in 2011. Brian holds a degree in Economics from the University of Mary Washington and is the former owner of the media company, Coastal Media. You can follow Brian on Twitter @brian_sweet.