A Review of
Reviewed by Will Fitzgerald.
Gary Vaynerchuk sells wine and himself; Gary Vaynerchuk is the classic American immigrant story. He arrived in the United States at the age of four, from what is now Belarus, started working in his father’s discount liquor store as a teenager, after running a chain of lemonade stands as a nine-year-old. He helped his father increase his business from four million to over fifty million dollars. One important way he did this was by creating a video weblog about wine, a kind of everyman’s guide (he even has a New York Jets spittoon), called Wine Library TV, aka “The Thunder Show, the Internet’s Greatest Wine Show”. After recently producing his 1000th show he’s stepping it up a notch: a show every day called The Daily Grape.
And now Vaynerchuk has written a self-help guide for entrepreneurs and company owners who want to know how to use social media (such as Twitter and Facebook) successfully. Vaynerchuk as a simple prescription for companies:
At its core, social media requires that business leaders start thinking like small-town shop owners…They’re going to have to do their damndest to shape the word of mouth that circulates about them by treating each customer as though he or she were the most important customer in the world.
In other words, companies must, by using social media, capitalize relationships they have with their customers, so that they each feel as uniquely treated as any of Jayber Crow’s customers in Port William—but at Internet scale. They need to say their pleases and thank yous (and thus, the title of the book—he is not advocating anything as radical as the open source gift economy or a general Christian attitude of thanksgiving).
The book itself is both insightful and sloppy, a fair reflection of Vaynerchuk’s persona. He has useful things to say about marketing, and he walks his walk. For example, he responds directly to people’s tweets, Facebook wall posts, and emails, and he invites other company and company owners to do the same. For example, I tweeted, “Writing a review of @garyvee ‘s book, The Thank You Economy. How quickly I will receive a response from him on this tweet. Timer starts now!” And I got a reply tweet from him within an hour (“@willf thank u, was in an interview”).
But this book more profoundly prompts the question: What does it mean for a corporation to be humane? In particular, I wonder if we really want companies to pretend to know us. For example, it wasn’t Gary Vaynerchuk who first responded to my tweet. Almost immediately, a spambot calling itself Alysia Moman tweeted me, “RT @willf Writers wanted” followed by link to a company that promises that I will “get cash for writing blog posts.” (No thank you, Alysia; I prefer to write for The Englewood Review of Books for free). There is a very thin line between being spammed and being treated “as though” I were an important customer.
It will be worse when companies know enough about us to make the kind of insightful guesses about our wants and needs that a friendly small town shop owner can make. It’s one thing for a search engine to show me airport parking sites at SFO if I happen to make the query “airport parking” while in San Francisco, and results for airport parking sites at DFW while I am in Dallas. But the day Amazon.com stops suggesting romance novels for my Kindle (because my daughter has bought many such books), I will start to worry: how do they know it’s me and not her?
Now, I want corporations to treat me respectfully: to say their pleases and thank yous in a professional and transparent manner. When I have a problem with a product or service, I want to be heard and responded to in a timely and professional fashion. I want companies to minimize, not maximize, the information they have about me. (I also want government oversight of corporate honesty, fairness, and privacy.) But companies and business leaders, please understand: I am your customer; not your friend.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com