Inject Dash of Zappos Fun or Risk the Walmart Syndrome of Online Boredom

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh shows off his company spirit with a shaved head and tattoo

Zappos CEO shows company spirit

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is a guy I can’t help but like, despite never meeting face-to-face. With Twitter, Hsieh Tweets about everything from shaving his head and eating too many jalapenos to celebrating Zappos’ 10th anniversary. This 140-character glimpse into a CEO with real personality makes me want to invite Hsieh for a pint at the local bar and battle his more than 747,000 Twitter followers for a bar stool.

Hsieh started using Twitter to “build our company culture,” encouraging employees to sign on and share their Tweets on the employee Twitter page. By giving employees a voice, Zappos gives customers honest, unfiltered communications from 431 employees.

Beyond Twitter, Zappos employees write blogs, including one that pairs shoe recommendations with outdoor vacation suggestions, and create videos for Zappos.tv and YouTube, which feature goofy, fun-loving employees and their love of Zappos.

I selected Zappos as an example of a company that “gets” social media because of the focus on fun, honest, relationship-building and personality-driven communications. Each use of social media stays true to Zappos’ core values of:
•    create fun and a little weirdness;
•    be adventurous, creative, and open-minded; and
•    open and honest relationships with communication.

From an e-tailer to a mega-retailer. I chose Walmart as a company that is using social media poorly. Walmart’s weakness stems from the fact that it faces intense scrutiny and thousands of critics after an early foray into blogging ended in scandal. Walmart’s for-hire public relations agency posed as real customers taking a cross-country RV trip.

Walmart employees blog about products on Checkout blog

Walmart's Check Out blog

After pulling the plug and taking time to lick its wounds, Walmart returned with a series of blogs authored by employees. Want to read posts about helping the family or decorating centsibly chic? Sorry, there are absolutely no entries in those designated categories! Add in the product pitches, or the overly long and detail-laden posts, and I felt as if the blogging employees were reading from a Blogging 101 book and regurgitating corporate PR-speak.

Walmart does have a YouTube channel with videos about the environment and motherhood, but the videos lack creativity. After watching one, I felt as if I had seen them all. They have the same locked down camera, mother standing-in-front style.

Walmart’s social media is lackluster and boring, nothing really to make me want to stop, watch or read. On the other hand, Zappos’ social media implies a well-managed, authentic, happy company that inspires me to buy. If Walmart and other companies took a page or two from the Zappos social media manual and put the following lessons into practice, the companies would see real results and increased respect in the online world:

•    Bring in personality. There have to be fun employees worth sharing with the world. Put them out there and give them the tools to communicate.
•    Move away from product placement. Let people know more about your employees, your stores, your philosophy.
•    Get original. Scrap the old school way of doing videos (person + camera) and think outside of the box.
•    Engage your audience. Just because mothers shop your stores does not mean that they don’t deserve fun and interesting content.
•    Be honest. Companies must remove the filter of public relations and focus on authentic communication.

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4 Responses to Inject Dash of Zappos Fun or Risk the Walmart Syndrome of Online Boredom

  1. Stephanie T. says:

    Just got done reading your post and I did enjoy it! As a Zappos.com employee, I’d like to thank you for the mention. I use twitter and blogs and connect with customer and even people that tour our office. Tony is certainly a character and lives up to his Twitter! While I have never viewed the Walmart YouTube.. I feel the need to check it out now! Again, thanks and have a great day!
    Stephanie

    • mintybeth says:

      Stephanie,
      Thanks so much for reading. I must admit that I found it fun to delve into the Zappos personalities that shone through on the blogs and videos. Keep blogging and Twittering. Customers like to know that real people exist behind an e-tailer. And I will keep the local bar’s stool reserved for Tony the next time he’s in the D.C. area. As for Walmart, just maybe they were reading too and will take my unsolicited, friendly advice.

  2. Great post and combination of two brands to compare and contrast. Your use of imagery and video helped to make your point and most importantly, you took what you thought was good about Zappo’s and turned it into a useful list of advice for other brands like Walmart to improve. One of the best posts of the week! (4)

  3. mintybeth says:

    Rohit,
    It was good to hear from you! I know the class was on pins and needles waiting to hear how we did on our first blog post. Thanks for the kudos… now the tough part is trying to keep it up. It was a fun assignment and I can’t wait to order my first shoes from Zappos.

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