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WWD Forum: Zappos Builds its Social Network

At Zappos, every employee is encouraged to tweet, post photos and videos, comment and blog freely on behalf of the $1 billion company.

At Zappos, every employee is encouraged to tweet, post photos and videos, comment and blog freely on behalf of the $1 billion company.

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


As a result, sometimes strange things end up online. Take, for example, the photo of an employee doing a karate-chop move while wearing a Snuggie in the office. The picture generated 61 comments on Facebook, most along the lines of “Do not take Ambien until you can be sure you will not walk in your sleep.”

Chief executive officer Tony Hsieh likes to post quotes that inspire him, such as “I failed my way to success.”

Inspirational pieces have the biggest following among the Zappos customer base. Such statements “have absolutely nothing to do with sales, but it communicates our brand,” said Brian Kalma, Zappos director of user experience. “Instead of us trying to force product on them, we try to make them smile, make them laugh. It’s an opportunity to create a fun conversation.” Watch a quick highlight from Brian Kalma’s speech about engaging consumers>>

The company gets about 6,000 phone calls, does about 400 live chats and sends out about 1 million invitations to interact in the social space per day.

Zappos measures success by engagement, not sales. Nonetheless, sales have been good. Now a decade old, it reached $1 billion in sales last year and was purchased by Amazon for 10 million shares, or approximately $807 million, in July.

“If you’re observing and listening, there are a lot of opportunities to interact,” Kalma said.

Zappos is reaching out with company videos on Zappos TV, user-generated videos, improved features for sharing products, and a social network. For example, customers can post a “badge” showing a photo of a favorite product and the Zappos brand anywhere on the Web. “We call these triggered messages,” said Kalma. “These lead to a lot of sales.”

The social network MyZappos is a collaborative shopping tool that lets users showcase favorite items, items they want, ask friends if they should buy something, blog, upload photos of themselves wearing items or whatever they want.

“It’s a little bit of an experiment, it’s not necessarily getting a ton of traffic yet, but it’s turned into a pretty powerful tool for us,” he said of the social network. “It’s pretty decent for acquisition and most importantly for engagement.” Certain customers have become very involved and are “becoming a voice for us,” Kalma added.

The site will be better integrated into Zappos in the future, he said, because “no one wants another site to go to.”

Zappos trains employees about the significance of social media, but doesn’t tell them what to say. “We say be real, be smart and don’t do stupid things,” said Kalma.