Beyond Social: Zappos’ Success with Value-Driven, Customer-Care Videos

In a double-interview special: I talked with Zappos’ Senior Manager of Photo & Video, Laurie Me’chelle Gates (previously Laurie Me’chelle Williams), who shared some of the tangible, real-world business benefits from her company’s social video strategy.  Before I get to my interview with Laurie, below is a dissection of why I think some companies and agencies are not using social video in the right way.

My “rant” about the big problem today with social video

“Social video” is already being considered the next big business trend. So why am I starting to get worried?

Unfortunately, I am seeing “social video” already falling into the trap of previous trends with the word “social” in them – “social media,” “social business,” etc.  It’s getting hijacked by the big creative and advertising agencies.  These agencies are corrupting the promise of what it was supposed to mean for all of us as a democratizing form of doing business. Instead, it’s fixated on the old ways of doing “business as usual” – generating mass awareness over personalized attention. I am now seeing this misguided definition start to seep into parts of the social media ecosystem.

Why “social video” isn’t valuable when it’s just a popularity contest

Although big creative agencies have always been very good at getting our attention with online video, I would argue it’s been mostly done on a superficial and fleeting level. They miss the point of what it means to genuinely be “social.” Like my social business colleague Mari Smith would probably say, they go “a mile-wide and an inch deep,” rather than the other way around.

In the creative/ad agency mindset, a social video that manages to go viral (i.e., get a lot of views from shares) is construed as an automatic business success for the brand. I would argue instead that much of its “success” is in just serving as a temporary distraction. This benefit is often dependent on the minimal reward for the consumer of instant gratification, and the minimal effort by the consumer in sharing an instant response or any response at all. With such a low ante, is this type of social video really all that valuable?

Here are the some of the key problems I see with much of today’s so-called “social video”:

  • a misconceived value to the business via views, shares and likes
  • an implied promise by the brand to the consumer for personal correspondence that is often left unfulfilled
  • a diversion from showcasing the right things
  • a distraction from measuring the right things

I would argue that much, if not most, of what passes for “social video” today is fraught with these problems. When any video is treated primarily as part of some kind of popularity contest, without measuring how well the actual product is being featured, or how it engages and brings value to the customer, then what you have is something that is actually more anti-social than social.

Zappos’ take on the benefits of social video

Laurie Me'chelle Gates

When I interviewed Laurie, I asked her what tangible benefits she thought social video was bringing to Zappos.  She mentioned to me that while they have certainly experienced an increase in sales and a decrease in returns, what she says may be more significant (albeit less measurable) at this point are the “soft benefits” of increasing customer satisfaction with the overall shopping experience.


“It’s not so much about product information as it is about product explorations,” says Laurie. “It’s helping our customers out with questions like: Is this the right gear for my camping trip? How do I tie a tie? Or, what’s in season right now? Our ultimate goal is to reduce the barrier between our online shopper and the merchant delivering the Zappos level of service.”

“We also like think that being valuable to our customers is the number one need when it comes to social enterprise. “LIKE” buttons and Share widgets don’t have implicit value. We strive to create products that save our customers time during product discovery, make our customers feel special, and enable them to share their experiences with others. All of our social products, social video included, have to pass our core value litmus test, and we never trade user experience for conversion.”


The gap in social video’s promise: customer care!

In a recently released eBook on ReelSEO, The Social Video Blueprint, the definition offered for what makes a social video was along the lines of: just produce entertaining videos that people want to share, and that will naturally lead to business success.

When it comes to retail and e-commerce social video, I don’t think that’s nearly enough. In today’s increasing social world, which is being driven more and more by the consumer, the customer expects more from a brand than just entertainment.  Customers expect real customer care, which is what I think Laurie’s response above illustrates about Zappos’ success.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent article, “Social Business Can Kill You” by social business and customer care expert, Christine Crandell, which better illustrates by point:

“The gap in social’s promise versus the reality is most obvious in customer service… Marketing is more concerned with brand sentiment… Embracing social business seems deceptively simple.  It is not just a marketing-thing; it is a critical customer care enabler.

Tips for what retail and e-commerce businesses can do to create customer-driven social video:

I also had the opportunity to personally interview Christine, and she recommended to me several ways social video in e-commerce could be blended with valuable customer care:

  • How-to’s and Q&A’s – Add video to support sections of your website including product training, self-help and problem investigation areas. “These are great uses of customer-care video because text can often be misinterpreted, and seeing a video example can often times be more helpful,” says Christine.
  • Enabling video collaboration on social media sites – Setting up Google+ Hangouts for users groups and using video to collaborate and engage in co-creation of customer help materials is another good way to use social video. “Personally, I would often like to submit a video of a product issue to a company in order to get the right kind of resolution,” says Christine.