Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Interview: Zappos CEO on Twitter

Editor's note: Until an Iraqi journalist threw his shoe at President Bush this week, online chatter about shoes kept veering back to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. That may be due to Hsieh's presence on Twitter, the online service that asks you to answer "what are you doing?" in 140-character "tweets" or updates. Hsieh, who started as an investor and adviser to the online retailer before joining it as CEO, has fostered a creative corporate culture that gets results. From his bio: "Under his leadership, Zappos has grown gross merchandise sales from $1.6M in 2000 to $840M in 2007 by focusing relentlessly on customer service."
Twitter's become a part of how the company communicates under Hsieh's leadership. Employees are encouraged to use the service, and they and customers can follow Hsieh on Twitter here. He even offers a beginners' guide to Twitter on the company website. I follow Hsieh on Twitter, and used the service to request the interview below, which we conducted via email.

How long have you been blogging? Using Twitter? Who are you hoping to reach?

I don't really blog much, but I've been using Twitter for a year and a half now. I first learned about Twitter in March 2007, and used it with just my friends for about a year. I found that it was a great way to meet up with friends as well as keep in touch with friends in other cities, so we decided to introduce it to Zappos employees in spring 2008 as a way of helping build up company culture. We now introduce Twitter to employees during new hire orientation, and also offer Twitter classes. We have several hundred employees now on Twitter and we aggregate all of their tweets here. We've found that Twitter has been a great way of building a more personal connection with both employees and customers.

How many of your employees are on Twitter for business purposes?

We have several employees using Twitter but it generally isn't for business purposes. Our guideline for Twitter usage is pretty simple: Be real and use your best judgement. If you look through the employee tweets you'll see most of the tweets are not business oriented.

How does social media/blogging/Twitter fit into your core values?

We have 10 core values. Core value #6 is about being open and honest, so we strive to be as transparent as possible. Twitter is one way that we embrace transparency.

Does Twitter replace some activity you were doing previously? If so, what and why?

No, it's an additional activity. Or maybe addiction might be a better word. :)

You blogged about employee layoffs. Talk about how social media helps (or not)when you have bad news to share.

It's not really specific to social media. We believe in being as transparent as possible, so as soon as our employees were notified about the layoffs (November 6), I blogged and twittered about it to the general public as well.

What's the most interesting thing you've learned from using Twitter?

One of the great things about Twitter is the instant feedback. You can find out within minutes if something you tweeted out was interesting or inspiring to people. I'm still constantly surprised by what people find interesting or not interesting. For example, I once tweeted out about what flavor chapstick I was using (peppermint) and I got a ton of responses right away, including some of people saying they were going to try out that flavor of chapstick!

Have you been able to fix any customer or employee problems using Twitter? Explain.

Twitter probably isn't the best way to deal with customer or employee issues. When customers ask me about a customer service type of question, I generally encourage them to email or call instead.

What would you tell other CEOs about blogging and using Twitter?

It's really only going to be effective if you actually are interested in developing more personal connections to your customers. For example, a lot of companies hide their contact information on their web site, whereas we take the opposite approach. We put our 1-800 number at the top of every single page of our web site. So before trying to embrace Twitter, I would encourage CEOs to embrace email and the telephone first. And when they're ready to embrace Twitter, then I'd say just be real and use Twitter as a way to connect with people as opposed to viewing it as a marketing channel

1 comment:

Shawn Scott said...

Thanks for the interview Denise. It's always great to see such good uses of social media.