Zappos and social media: it’s all about the values

I should be clear from the start: I drank the Zappos Kool-Aid. Here’s how it happened.

A few weeks ago, some other executives and I gathered to learn Zappos secrets for building a great business. How did they build a culture where people see work not just as another job, but also as a true calling? I’d read about how they built their success on their cultural core values. I wanted to believe they were for real. But I was skeptical. Were workers at Zappos truly happy, or were they programmed: a happy, shoe-worshipping cult?

As I toured their offices, and asked people questions on the sly (occasionally under the influence of their founder’s favorite drink, Grey Goose), it seemed actually quite true. What made people leave their lives in San Francisco or Washington DC or Miami to call Vegas home, all to work for Zappos?

It all comes down to meaning. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh believes that for people to invest in work, work should be meaningful, and that other things in life that are meaningful for people (friendships, fun, personal growth) should be a part of work. And the upshot for Zappos is not just a successful company. It’s a successful, profitable, happy company, and an incredibly attractive place to work; less than 1% of job applicants to Zappos get offers. And they won’t even be considered if they’re not a cultural fit.

So how does this connect to social media in the nonprofit world?

For you, my nonprofit practitioner friends, your social media audience is like a potential employee. When they consider involvement with you, whether as a volunteer, a donor, or an online advocate, they also crave this thing called meaning.  Why a person connects with your org may be as simple as someone asking them, or it may be more layered – knowing someone who died from cancer makes advocating for funding cancer research all the more real.

But to transform these connections into meaningful, fruitful relationships takes real work. So I’m going to suggest you make like Zappos.

Think through some questions: what makes connecting with your organization meaningful? What are the values you represent? What stories matter to your potential connections? Take some time considering your values. Answer these questions about what makes you tick as an org. And then, consider sharing what you value more than sharing what you need.

From our experience developing not just Facebook pages, but movements, these questions are the key to building true, lasting relationships with your donors, advocates and volunteer friends. Try it. You might just like the Kool-Aid, too.