March 5th, 2011


Pointing ahead ...

I spent ten years running my own publishing company back in the 90's, so I've lived the small dramas that are always involved with the process of books being born. One of the more obscure pleasures of Twitter has been to voyeuristically experience this process again as several folks I follow have steered various books into the light. Oddly, it's with the authors “I know” (unfortunately, generally just in a “pixel people” context, although I've had the pleasure of meeting a few IRL) that I have to go hitting up the publishers for review copies. Fortunately, the folks at Harper Business were happy to send along this well in advance of its release date.

Gary Vaynerchuk has been an icon in the social media sphere, especially for his use of web video to build a business (he grew his family's liquor store business into a $60million/year juggernaut in just a few years). Gary's previous book Crush It! was a formative philosophical document of the current social media sphere, and his latest, The Thank You Economy takes a further look at how business is having to change to survive in a constantly-connected world.

While the book has structure (it's in five parts, Welcome to the TYE, How to Win, The TYE in Action, Sawdust [a collection of bits and pieces], and a 2-page “quick version” at the end), it's not particularly linear, but runs through thoughts, rants, examples, and overviews of trends. One section, however, has enough structure to discuss independently, and that's Chapter Three: Why Smart People Dismiss Social Media, and Why They Shouldn't, where the author reflects on the consulting he's done with large companies, and the sort of fear-based justifications that he's heard, with a list of eleven of these, and “answers” for each:
  1. There's no ROI.

  2. The metrics aren't reliable.

  3. Social media is still too young.

  4. Social Media is just another trend that will pass.

  5. We need to control our message

  6. I don't have time to keep track of what every Joe or Jane says, and I can't afford/don't want to pay someone else to do it.

  7. We're doing fine without it.

  8. We tried it; it doesn't work.

  9. The legal issues are too thorny.

  10. It takes too long to pay off.

  11. Social media works only for startup, life-style, or tech brands.
In each case, Vaynerchuk says “The Answer Is Always The Same”:
I think we're entering a business golden age. It took a long time for people to recognize the value of intellectual capital, whose intangible assets don't show up on a spreadsheet, couldn't be tracked, and couldn't be expressed in dollars. Now it's widely understood that intellectual capital is part of the backbone of every organization, and worth protecting. While the ability to form relationships has always been considered a subset of intellectual capital, social media has catapulted that skill into a wealth-building category. In the future, the companies with tremendous “relationship capital” will be the ones to succeed.
How does a company succeed in the new reality? By caring, and the ones that “out-care” their competitors are the one that will come out on top. The author suggests that we're returning to “small town” realities, made possible by the immediacy and intimacy of social media's capabilities to allow person-to-person communications on the Web.
These decades that brought greater distance between friends, family, and neighbors coincided with the rapid rise of big business. … Eventually {the corporation's} reason for being less about {its core business activities} or building a legacy, and more about satisfying quarterly returns and improving stock options. The prioritization of profit over principle quickly took over American corporate culture and is what shaped the perspective of all ranks of many of today's business leaders. Most have never known anything else. They're just playing the game as they were taught.
Anyone waiting for the marketing landscape to stabilize before incorporating social media into his or her business strategy is living in a fantasy world. We're riding a really, really fast train; the changes we've seen mark only the beginning of the transformations yet to come. Stable isn't going to happen any time soon.

Social media gives us the opportunity to figure out what people want before they even know that they want it. Using social media to talk to customers is like getting access to the most honest focus group that's ever sat around a conference table … We have to listen, participate in the conversation, ask questions, and solicit feedback. We have to be more involved, and more attentive, and more interested, than we have ever been.
Again, one of the things which gives Vaynerchuk “gravitas” in these arguments is that he's done it, he's taken his gospel of social media and in a short period of time taken a business to a level fifteen times what they'd started at when he began implementing these ideas. This is not “ivory tower” philosophizing, but the words of a guy who's been hustling in the trenches, and creating a huge success story for himself.

The Thank You Economy is filled with theory, practical advice, and detailed looks at how numerous companies have used social media successfully, and some who have dropped the ball. He takes particular looks at how companies like Zappos have made solid connections with their their staff and customers to create a culture that is far richer (and profitable) than most “conventional” models. He also picks apart several social media programs (that you would recognize) showing how they worked, didn't work, or could have worked better. There are also profiles of a wide range of types of business here, and how the particular challenges of each benefited by moving into the TYE model.

Of particular interest to me were some nuggets from the author's research … one particularly stood out as “context” for the communication-rich environment we're in: “Just how much information are we trying to absorb? At the 2010 Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe, California, Google CEO Eric Schmidt stated that every two days people create as much information at they did from the dawn of civilization to 2003, about five exabytes of data.” … that's amazing!!!

While this is a book primarily for businesses, it's a wake-up call for everybody on the changing nature of business, as society becomes more and more intertwined with its communication systems. Approaches which were solid and time-tested a decade ago are suddenly approaching the point of being useless, and whole industries may go the way of sheet music and sealing wax in the near future. For the job seeker (or worker looking to keep their job), this is a look into what sorts of skill sets are likely to be in demand on-going … and I highly recommend it to all and sundry on this basis.

As I'm writing this, The Thank You Economy is just shipping, so it will likely be in your larger brick-and-mortar book vendors in days. However, both Amazon and have it for pre-order at nearly half off the cover price, enabling you to pick it up with another book (perhaps Vaynerchuk's previous title Crush It!?) for just a smidge over the $25 free-shipping line!

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