The Importance of Showing Up

by Shannon Paul on January 20, 2010

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Richard Binhammer from Dell and Mack Collier at SXSWi 2009 Photo Credit: David Alston

Woody Allen said 80 percent of success is showing up, but when it comes to establishing a meaningful presence on the social web, that figure may be closer to 100 percent.

There’s an opportunity here.

As much as I respect and admire the work of companies like Zappo’s, Comcast, Dell and Ford with respect to their use of social media in connecting with customers and all other types of people online and offline. I’ve often heard people grumble that they’re actually sick of always hearing from and about this list of usual suspects, not because they don’t learn from their experience and expertise — a quick Google search will show a whole lot of conversation around each of these brands, but because people are hungry for more.

I also don’t believe that anyone really wishes these companies weren’t present in the space, but what they’re really saying is they want a wider variety of voices, experiences and stories to draw from.

Official Is Not Always Social

Unfortunately, rather than opening up and sharing, I’ve heard a few people who organize conferences and events bemoan the lack of companies willing to let their social media teams speak about their work.

The disconnect here is that the social media and tech audiences aren’t interested in hearing sanitized positioning statements from an official spokesperson, and most companies have policies that prevent anyone BUT the official spokesperson from speaking on behalf of the company.

Even journalists in mainstream publications will often bury quotes in features on social media from the official spokesperson and instead lead with quotes from companies who allow those with their boots on the ground in the social media space to drive the story. Often times, the ones driving these stories are on the list of our beloved usual suspects.

Zappo’s, Comcast, Dell and Ford show up in a big way — they show up online every day and they show up at our events. They talk strategy, tactics and measurement. They mingle and answer questions. They commiserate with others working in the space. They’re our friends!

The real lesson these brands offer is that their social media teams show up and they teach us, they don’t just market to us. But, in the teaching and sharing, we become much more receptive and supportive of their marketing messages.

It’s not rocket science, but the ethos of the social web goes much deeper than the 140 characters in a single Tweet.

These brands win because we can count on them to show up and share: isn’t that exactly what it means to be social?

I understand the need to have official spokespeople in an organization – or only a few who can speak on behalf of the strategy and direction of the business. But can new boundaries be drawn a little differently?

The amount of spend continues to increase for social media budgets in 2010, but I can’t help but wonder how deeply some strategies will be able to penetrate a community that values sharing if companies aren’t willing to show up and invest a little skin in the game.

2010 presents a whole host of new opportunities. How are you planning to show up?

Note: I have a lot of admiration for the companies named here. This post is not intended to be a criticism, but my hope is to show that the positive examples they offer go beyond the landing pages, web-based media and Twitter updates.  Several other companies are also doing a great job of showing up that aren’t named here and I did not mean to slight anyone.

Photo Credit: David Alston
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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

January 21, 2010 Kellye Crane 1

Companies who port their “competitive advantage” mindset into the social media space are often missing the point. As you note, organizations that share their experiences and information with us engender enormous goodwill — and in return the community will be more understanding when they stumble.

Being present = being human — there’s still a lot more education that needs to take place before corporate America understands this.


January 21, 2010 Shannon Paul 2


So true. This is the hardest part to teach – it requires a leap of faith on both sides. Trust helps, but I think this usually requires a lot more patience and trust building. This definitely does not fall under “business as usual” in most organizations. How do you think we get there?


January 21, 2010 mack collier 3

Shannon this is a GREAT post and one that many companies that are invested in social media really don’t ‘get’. The online stuff is great, but when it also translates to the OFFLINE, it’s magic.

Case in point: At last year’s SXSW, there were a ton of ‘parties’ that were sponsored by companies that were at bars in downtown Austin. The problem was that these bars were very noisy, and there were often very long lines to get in. The sponsors really didn’t get much bang for their bucks in being associated with these events.

But Dell did something different, remember the event they helped organize where Jeremiah Owyang moderated a discussion with social media representatives from IBM, Wal-Mart (bringing in the Wal-Mart Moms) and Dell? The setting was in a hotel and it was completely conducive to vibrant discussions and networking. And Richard and Lionel and former Dell exec John Pope were all there and mingling with everyone. Same thing with #allhat. Both events (can we call a shopping trip for hats and boots an ‘event’?) were very low-key, but they let us connect with Dell’s employees as people.

And I often hear the same ‘guys can we PLEASE talk about someone else besides Dell/Zappos/Comcast?’ Well you know what? As long as Dell and Zappos and Comcast are sending their people to these events to connect with people in REAL LIFE, we are gonna keep talking about them. Because we aren’t connecting with the company, we are connecting with the PEOPLE at those companies.

That’s big, and those connections are a BIG competitive advantage that these companies have. Hopefully we’ll see more companies following their lead and migrating the online connections into meaningful offline connections with their customers.


January 21, 2010 Shannon Paul 4

I love your passion, Mack. The event at SXSW was one of the best by far – we were able to have real conversations. It was definitely one of my favorite events of the conference. I also love that picture of you and Richard in your hats :-)


January 21, 2010 Heather Whaling 5

I met with a client this AM that wants to incorporate social media into his business, but he just received an initial social media policy from corporate that appears to be so restrictive and harsh that now he wonders if it’s even worth it. (Honest: The policy said that if you break the rules, corporate may shut the office down.) Many of these large companies are trying to apply traditional rules to social media … and that just won’t work. Like you said, you can’t show up 50% of the way and expect to see benefits comparable to Zappos, Dell and the others you mentioned. If “old” institutions like Ford can adapt their culture to fit social media norms, you’d think other companies could as well, right?



January 21, 2010 Shannon Paul 6

What a coincidence, Heather. Although I suppose this isn’t all that rare. Ford is a great example of a company that was really ready to embrace a lot of the messiness that goes along with social media communication. I think the X factor in exponential success lies in anyone’s effort to show up. Can success be had without this? Perhaps, but the real power is still in real connections — not just a focus on “influencers,” but in an ethos that is inclusive of everyone.


January 21, 2010 Scott Townsend 7

This post is a great encouragement for smaller companies such as ours who use social media tools to reach out offline and help others.


January 21, 2010 Shannon Paul 8

Thanks so much, Scott. That means a lot! I know the dividends don’t necessarily pay off right away, but I believe the real relationships developed over time will help you achieve your goals. Kudos to you for taking the road less traveled :-)


January 21, 2010 richardatdell 9

Hi Shannon, Mack, Kellye, Heather, Scott….enjoyed the read/comments (and the pic).

How ironic. Was on the phone chatting with @armano about #Allhat2 and David Alston’s photos and that Mack got his hat and might bow out this year and…Shanon, good timing:-).

You know, we cannot get everywhere, but we value the connections online and off. Social media is a tremendous benefit for our customers, for our business and for our relationships with customers….and those interested in Dell as a company.

By engaging in meaningful ways online and off, we learn more and work even harder to be a better business…thats good for us and those in touch with us.

Effective engagement takes time and patience…and we need that too sometimes. You teach us too. We didnt absorb social media all by ourselves, overnight. Many of you helped us learn and gave us time and patience to grow, even fumble from time to time, and then keep going. Thank you.

By the way, I know I am biased, but I always find the Dell story interesting and much more layered than many understand. Maybe we need to tell it more effectively and maybe you just did some of that right here :-)


January 21, 2010 Shannon Paul 10

Your comment here embodies what is so hard to teach. You’re willing to be a work in progress – not the ideal solution to our computing needs – but a team of real people having real conversations with real passion… sharing the lessons learned along the way. Sometimes the lessons are in the things that didn’t work so well and sometimes they’re in the things that did work well.

I appreciate the example you set and I’m very glad you showed up :-)


January 21, 2010 Arik Hanson 11

I know your main point in this post was more about “showing up” and “be a person, not a brand”, but you raise an interesting point about the whole ‘official spokesperson’ model, too. Can that model work in this new, more transparent world we’re now living in? There will always be a need for an official spokesperson of some sort. After all, some statements just need to come from an official spokesperson and meet certain regulations and legal requirements (Shannon, in your current role, I know you get this). But, I also think most brands would be wise to loosen up a bit and let employees do a little talking for them online. Similar to what Southwest Airlines does. The key to succeeding with that approach is making sure employees have the most accurate, up-to-date information possible. But, letting employees speak on behalf of the company in that way has tremendous potential for most companies.

I’d be interested in your take on that issue, Shannon.



January 21, 2010 Shannon Paul 12


I think having an official spokesperson will be a necessity for communicating the official voice and positioning of the company. I think there will always be a place for this — especially for publicly traded companies that are required to disclose certain financial details. However, I don’t think this is the appropriate person or positioning for all types of communication.

Like every other type of communication, companies need to consider the audience and how to connect with them in ways that are relevant to the receiver. Official communication (often removed from the day-to-day operations) doesn’t provide the level of insight all audiences are interested in.

For example – If I’m the owner of a restaurant, I might be the perfect person to attend chamber of commerce meetings and deliver quotes to the media about the local business economy, but if the reporter is doing a story on artisan cheese, or wants someone to demonstrate how a recipe is made – I’m much better off letting the chef take over.

Most of those interested in social media or social technology aren’t interested in the why, they’re interested in the how. People like Richard from Dell are the chefs that are much more in touch with the contextual details of the recipes involved in their day-to-day operations. They not only understand the why, but they are well-versed in how their work is done. Anyone who doesn’t have this contextual knowledge will not be able to connect with this type of community in a meaningful way.

It’s no longer about identifying the right channels and networks for conversation – it’s about identifying the right individuals to build meaningful connections in these spaces. One person just can’t do this anymore. Times have changed.

Great question – I’m glad you picked up on this particular thread in the post. :)


January 22, 2010 DWight Zahringer 13

I agree. You need to be “in-it to win-it”. This is something that a lot of companies need to take not of. Being social is not a matter of just signing up. You need to make this a strategy of your overall marketing plan and execute it, track and refine.


January 22, 2010 Danny 14

Hey Shannon,

I really like this idea of having a “showing up” strategy for 2010.

Personally, like many referenced at the beginning of the post, I’m getting a little tired of our industry focusing on the same big brand social media success stories.

I like to learn from failures. I would love to hear more about what brands have failed in social media, not from critics or bloggers, but from brand representatives themselves.

Fail conference #2010. What do you think?


January 22, 2010 roger ewing 15

As an x-school teacher, I understand the importance of “back filling” knowledge. By explaining to people why we do what we do, they have a better understanding our our motives. As a result, trust is a much easier commodity to create. Sharing is clearly what the web and social media is all about. If a company is not willing to embrace the concept of transparency, they will not garner the trust and the resulting business that follows.
Great insight, thanks for sharing.


January 25, 2010 David Alston 16

On a lighter note I hope we’re going to see you again at #allhat this year. Though I’m going to be expecting to shoot you with a hat on that head of yours this time :)

On a more serious note, with social media people have come to expect to talk to faces. Companies now need to humanize their brands if they want to be accepted into the hearts and minds of their customers.

See ya soon. David


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