Zappos Between the Tweets: Breaking Down How Zappos Uses Twitter

A veteran direct marketer was commenting on a LinkedIn forum that she wasn’t really bought into the value of having a ton of followers on Twitter – it’s costly, time consuming and “isn’t direct marketing just more efficient?” The ROI vs “engagement” and “conversations” argument went back and forth and ultimately others in the forum pointed to Zappos as an example of marketers who leverage social media to indirectly drive revenues.

Indeed, Zappos.com CEO Tony Hseih has amassed an impressive 650,000 followers. While a lot of Zappos rabid following is a reflection of the company itself (The Nightline video overview of Zappos nicely summarizes the “great customer service” and “fun” philosophy), you don’t get hundreds of thousands of followers without providing some reason to be loyal.

So what can a marketer looking to go social learn from Zappos? Sifting through 169 Tweets over the last three months (March 1st – May 25th), a few things stand out:

Tweet Frequency: Keep it Steady, but Don’t Overwhelm

  • Tony averages just under 2 tweets per day
  • Over the 86 days, he Tweeted on all but five days (and two of those were well-deserved Easter and Memorial Day holidays)
  • Only 9% of the time did Tony Tweet more than three times during a day and his max number of tweets in any one day was five (which he hasn’t repeated since March)

Tweet Content: Keep True to the Brand and Stay Away from the Hard-Sell

  • 54% of the Tweets were humorous, often reflections on the absurdities of travel and/or meetings
  • 10% of the Tweets offered inspirational quotes, more often funny than not
  • 25% of the Tweets were about interaction with the brand, either soliciting feedback, sharing insider info
  • 11% were random things that Tony shared, whether viewing a movie, a book, an article or a picture
  • 0% of the Tweets were about a specific product
  • 0% of the Tweets were about sales

In addition to humor, much of the insider information is really showing the extension of the Zappos culture, whether it be their rap video about the Zappos golf cart, a video to solicit Ellen DeGeneres to visit their office, or pictures of the Zappos team getting their heads shaved (an annual event). The posts humanize the company as being made up of individuals; the Tweets aren’t being out-sourced to a PR agency, just like Zappos makes it a point of strength that they don’t out-source customer support (it’s the foundation of their brand).

Engaging Customers: Planting the Seed, Subtly

While the ROI hungry may bemoan the lack of the phrases “on sale” or “buy now” in the Zappos Tweets, the company is actually subtly leveraging the Twitter followers to further engage in the brand (75% of sales come from repeat buyers) in a multitude of ways:

  • Cross-promoting a sister site: “Excited about the relaunch/redesign of 6pm.com (our sister web site, lots of discounts)! – http://www.6pm.com
  • Getting users to check out their extension into selling clothes in addition to shoes: “Fill blanks & tweet out by 11:27 AM Pacific “My favorite CLOTHING brand @Zappos sells is _ because _.” I’ll pick 3 winners ($150 Zappos GC)!”
  • Getting users to explore and give feedback on a site seach/buy redesign: “Headed to a meeting to discuss the future of fun experimental web site http://explore.zappos.com
  • Sharing with users what’s selling in real-time: “Cool… See what people are buying from Zappos in real-time! (Warning: may induce hypnosis) – http://bit.ly/zapposmap
  • Cross-promoting Zappos on Celebrity Apprentice: “At Celebrity Apprentice viewing upstairs at Hot Rod Grille in Henderson. Stop by if you’re around, it’s a @Zappos task episode! NBC 9-11 PM”
  • Showing web/tech stars like Guy Kawasaki opening up Zappos boxes and getting non-shoe items at SXSW: “Thx @magnify @briansolis @StephAgresta for putting together the Zappos BoxBreak vids (thought Shira’s was funny)! – http://bit.ly/zboxbreak
  • And providing various ways to meet up directly: Tweetups, registering for the local Las-Vegas area marathon and even the company picnic.

In the end, the Zappos story is not necessarily that they are great at using Twitter, but that Zappos has a unique brand philosophy of driving loyalty that is augmented by Tweets that are true to that message. For them, the ability to spark loyalty amongst their customers (through sending users to competitive sites if they don’t have something in stock, a 365 day return policy and yes, engaging Tweets from a brand with personality) will turn into happy customers that will shop with them again and again. It’s not a short-term return, but a long-term relationship that drives Zappos, which comes through loud and clear in nearly every Tweet.

As marketers, we have to continue to push our organizations toward the long-term view and invest in social media not as a short-term ROI project, but as a long-term commitment to improving customer lifetime value.

Update: Being a numbers guy, couldn’t help explore the click through rates though: After the Tweet: Exploring Twitter Click Through Rate Benchmarking to Measure Engagement

5 thoughts on “Zappos Between the Tweets: Breaking Down How Zappos Uses Twitter”

  1. we’re seeing the same results. whenever we blog/tweet/post about ‘unrelated’ issues – users respond. most popular have been around travel or ‘where do you think this pic is from?’ nature. but great overview 🙂 zappos is on the forefront and I hope serving as an example for other businesses!

  2. Very interesting article. I am interested in what you think has allowed Tony to reach 600k followers simply by being a people person. There is no advertisement of Twitter at all on their site. Even an ordinary person who tweets the same tweets as Tony would not be able to get such a high amount.

    If I don’t read this or reply, would be great if you could email me to check your response =)

    1. I think Tony is a very connected person (successfully selling his initial business to Microsoft and working with VCs while at Zappos greatly expanded his network of people). Tie that with being an early adopter of Twitter (joined June 23, 2007 according to http://www.whendidyoujointwitter.com) and his ability to build a successful niche company with a unique culture, he definitely had the ability to build a strong base of followers early on. But what grew it beyond that core group, and helped it grow another 350,000 followers since I posted this less than two months ago, is the authentic delivery of content that reflects the company’s unique culture. I think finding a niche and consistently delivering content for the audience in that niche is what makes a company successful with Twitter (see my other Between the Tweets analysis for Whole Foods: http://www.voncoelln.com/eric/2009/07/15/between-the-tweets-analyzing-how-whole-foods-got-to-1-million-followers/)

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