Got Culture?

Zappos does.  Technically, I suppose, every group or organization has a culture.  Some are just better than others.  I categorize Zappos’ culture on the better side.

Zappos is one of those corporations that is often featured in social media case studies.  That includes my Social Media class textbook:  Joel Postman’s SocialCorp book.  Postman wrote the following:

Zappos is an ideal case study in how to help employees understand and embrace the benefits of social media. First, a senior executive endorsed the initiative and took a very visible lead role.  Tony Hsieh [Zappos’ CEO] demonstrated the utility of the service [Twitter] by using it daily and evangelizing its value (page 93).

What does that mean?  It’s all about creating a culture.  In this case, much of the company uses Twitter for both personal and corporate communications.  It’s a way of life at Zappos, and an appealing company for a social media class to study.

It’s no surprise then that our instructor reached out to Tony Hsieh to invite him to chat with our class.  With most companies, that would be a lost cause.  Not in this case.  She received a quick response, and my class was fortunate to enjoy a Skype call with Thomas Knoll, Community Architect at Zappos.  His job is not about selling product to consumers, it’s all about getting customers connected to other customers with the same interests. During the conversation Knoll said, “people trust their friends,” and later, “we’re big fans of our customers.”  Simple statements, but very telling. Most corporations want to know the dollar value of customer connectivity. When asked, Knoll spoke little about the quantification, and he simply said that connecting customers is just “how it should be.”  Ultimately, Zappos has a culture of seeking to “Wow” their customers.

Building community is Knoll’s job, and it showed in how he treated us.  He was open, honest and interested.  Not only in answering our questions, but also in seeking our opinions.  When he asked our class how Zappos could improve, half the class had to pick their jaws off the floor.  Crickets could be heard in the distance.  I think the collective opinion was that Zappos is doing it the right way, right now.  Thinking back on it, I realize that the act of asking the question is reflective of an amazing culture.  Thomas Knoll, and Zappos, was connecting with us.

Is the culture effective?  You bet!  My wife and I are discussing picking up a raincoat (and matching boots?) for Danny’s 2nd birthday.  The fact that Thomas Knoll promised a coupon for a small discount didn’t hurt either… now that’s generosity!  I can say with absolute confidence that the coupon was not offered in an effort to get our class to say nice things.  It was a legitimate thank-you.

I spent some time thinking about previous workplaces as I watched Thomas Knoll take us on a webcam tour of his workplace:  knots of people working, laughing and smiling.  It made me miss those workplaces that were “fun” and shake my head at the ones that were stodgy.  What caught everybody’s attention, though, were the storm of Nerf darts that Knoll had to constantly duck.  (For proof, check out some of my classmates’ blogs:  No Adult Left Behind, Red’s Revolutions and SharkNotes.)  The fun Zappos workplace culture makes me want to find a job like that.  I’ve got my Nerf gun ready to go.  I suppose, though, I’m already working in just such a culture in my current role as stay-at-home Dad.

The boys ready for some Nerf culture.

By the way, this post is the last official post for my Social Media class.  It’s back to focusing on the culture of the ordinary citizen and speaking out against the culture of corruption in politics.  Hopefully, you’ve learned as much about social media as I did during the class.

Leave a comment


  1. Lee Abbott

     /  June 17, 2010

    this is what my Daddy learned in school!

    • Heheh. It’s not just the nerf guns that they appreciate. They are always excited to have their babysitter come over when I go to school.


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