Zappos: The Mother of Social Invention

Posted By on February 5, 2013

Copyright Brad Swonetz/Redux

Copyright Brad Swonetz/Redux

There’s nothing mysterious about social clans. We band together with those who share our interests. People who hand-roll sushi and pickle three types of radishes find each other online as do those who collect albums by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

But can businesses create clans? If their purpose is to make money, isn’t it disingenuous to intentionally build a community?  Zappos does both—it sells to and shares with kinfolk. And in every tweet, status update, advertisement, and blog post, you always know which is which.

Their honesty is based on sharing the company’s values—those that underpin how they do business, and interact with customers and each other.

Build a Strong Core

You don’t have to look far to find Zappos’s core business values—just click About on its website. Zappos promises to operate according to the principles listed there, and so creates transparency—we know who the company is (watch the employee videos) and how it goes about both making money and caring for us.


zappos core values

How Sharing Values Helps You Sell

Going through the same exercise will clarify how to promote your business. Think through your values — why you’re in business and what you really care about. Now you’ll have reasons to connect with a specific group of people.

The purpose of the Zappos status update below is to get you to buy a pair of boots, but it also gets you excited about hiking season.

A Zappos Facebook Ad


You want those boots so you can shut off your computer and get outside. On a subliminal level, it connects you to Zappos.  Someone at the company has tromped more than their fair share of the Appalachian Trail.

CEO Tony Hsieh Speaks for the Clan

Guess what? The name that shows up above the Zappos Twitter handle is “ CEO –Tony.” He’s the guy who runs the company—Tony Hsieh—and he even includes the customer service number in his profile. There’s no hunting and gathering to find him. By making its CEO human and available, Zappos demonstrates its number one value: “Deliver WOW through Service.”

Zappos Twitter Profile


Tony’s tweets encourage you to get to know him and the company—an openness not often seen in corporate America. In this excerpt from his feed, he tells you about

  • an email he sent to employees about an      incident—transparency
  • a link to a video about birds, something he cares      about—personal openness
  • a riddle—engagement with customers
  • advice to take a break from buying—meaning

A Sample of Zappos Tweets

Customers Stories Can Be Powerful—and Not Just For You

You might have noticed that the URL on the Zappos profile below the Twitter handle (see image above) is about delivering happiness. Who’s not going to click? You’ll find yourself on a site that asks you to tell a story about your own happiness. The purpose for doing so is to “Nudge the world to a happier place.” If you join in, you’re connected to Zappos and all the people around the world who’ve told their story. Talk about customer engagement!

An Inspirational Leader Doesn’t Hurt

It helps to have a CEO who’s a visionary, a thought leader who runs a company and is dedicated to changing the world—his part of it—for the better. Through the Downtown Project, an organization that Hsieh co-founded, he’s seeking to revitalize Las Vegas’s downtown.

las vegas

In this article [“Tony Hsieh’s Rule for Success: Maximize Serendipity]” Tony explains how serendipity underlies the success of both Zappos and the Downtown Project. Both physical locations were designed with lots of exits and entryways to increase “collisions.” “The best things happen,” he believes, “when people are running into each other and sharing ideas.”

I think you can create your own luck. The key is to meet as many people as you can and really get to know them. If you’re in an environment where you’re always running into people, the chances of one of those collisions being meaningful is maybe 1 in 1,000. But if you do it 100 times more, your odds go up.

The Collision Between You and Your Social Media Presence Is All Good

Most of us want to be like Tony. We want to earn a meaningful living, one that relates to what we care about most—our families, passions, and places. Thinking through your core values and communicating them via social media makes it more probable that you’ll bump into people who want to get into business—yours and the money-making one.