Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Lawyer's Review of The Thank You Economy

I wasn't going to buy The Thank You Economy, Gary Vaynerchuk's follow up to his best seller Crush It. I mean, who needs to read another book about how social media is taking over the world and if you don't join in the take over of the world, the world is going to take over you?

But I bought it for two reasons: One, to support someone I know and respect as a businessman, and two, because one of the not-so-secret secrets of business success is to find those who have had success in business and learn everything you can about their philosophies, strategies, and predictions.

At his core, Gary Vaynerchuk is a loud-mouth New York Jets fan who works at his father's wine shop. This begs the question why a lawyer in Miami would give a crap what a guy who peddles wine in Springfield, New Jersey has to say about anything. He sells wine, I represent people in trouble.

We'll get to that.

Vaynerchuk, or "Gary V" as he's better known, took his father's local wine shop, formerly known as Shopper's Discount Liquors, and turned it into Wine Library, and, now an 8 figure affair with Vaynerchuk hosting a daily video blog garnering a six figure audience as well as a weekly satellite radio show, making regular national TV appearances, and signing a multi-book publishing deal.

Vaynerchuk's meteoric rise in the wine world and thus the business world, is much attributed to his use of social media. He ran out of space to accept new "friends" on Facebook, has north of 800,000 twitter followers, and laments his inability to continue to answer every e-mail, something he used to do religiously.

Let me get some things out of the way for those so keyed in to the world of 140 character messages that this post is already much too long - If you sell a product or service, which pretty much includes anyone in business, read the book. For you social media freaks - all the great buzz words that drive me crazy are packed in there - "early adopter," "best practices," "game changer," they're all there. But a warning, if you use social media as "billboard," (a word mentioned many times in the book, and one of my favorites) you won't like what you read.

What you need to understand in reading The Thank You Economy, is that Vaynerchuk is not one of those trolling the internet expressing passion about social media with no street credibility to back it up - he is one of the few who has actually used social media to create success in an underlying business. Vaynerchuk doesn't see social media as "tech" or a new way of doing business - he explains that social media is bringing us back to the days of our grandparents when:

Businesses lived and died by what was said via word of mouth and by the influence people had with one another. That meant every person who walked through the door had to feel like he or she mattered

The Thank You Economy is probably not a welcome read to those who see social media as a way to game consumers, as it offers example after example of human interaction, transparency, and Vaynerchuk's mantra - "caring," that has created success for everyone from a burger joint owner to a dentist.

At it's core, social media requires that business leaders start thinking like small-town shop owners.

Doesn't really get your techy SEO does-Apple-have-a-new-product-that-will-launch-me-into-the-stratosphere blood pumping, does it?

Midway through the book, Vaynerchuk debunks the numbers side of social media, and makes clear he's not writing to the crowd of SEO tacticians (an aspect of the internet he has little use for):

If your view of social media is so tunnel-visioned that all you care about are the number of fans or retweets or views you're garnering, you're missing the whole point.

As I read The Thank You Economy, it became clear that this is not a book about social media creating business success - something the hucksters are trying to sell you. The book is about how general concepts of treating employees right, treating customers as if it matters that they are your customer (or client, lawyers) by saying "thank you," and understanding that loyalty is created by the way a business handles problems, combined with the use of social media, can do a lot more for your business than taking out ads and developing traditional media campaigns.

The Thank You Economy doesn't just use statistics to explain how social media can create brand loyalty, it gives detailed and recent examples that make clear how direct and sincere contact with those that patronize your business - even, and especially with those who complain, can create "advocates."

So back to why a lawyer with a traditional practice based on word of mouth would care what a internet-savvy wine merchant and misguided Jets fan has to say about social media in business?

Because you can dismiss everything Vaynerchuk says about social media and still learn something from the book. The social media revolution, if you consider it that, is something for you to join, or watch. You may not think social media is appropriate for your business (and the book discusses that as well), but if you think that differentiating yourself is beneficial to beating the competition, then I would read what this former shelf-stocker at Daddy's liquor shop has to say about the future of business.

Understand that Vaynerchuk's product - wine - is not the differentiating factor that sets his shop apart from the others. A bottle of 2007 Beringer Cabernet from Wine Library tastes exactly the same as a bottle of 2007 Beringer Cabernet from one of the dozens of other online wine merchants, or your local gas station. The answer to how social media has created a real "following" for Wine Library is laid out in the book. If you own a business where your product, like Vaynerchuk's, is widely available, and you want to understand how today's consumer makes a purchasing decision, read the book.

For lawyers, the product is not the same. Some lawyers are good, few are outstanding, many suck. Is authentic engagement in social media going to make a difference in your practice? Not unless it's real, and not unless behind that tweet or blog post is a real lawyer who gives a crap about the client.

Most lawyers are lousy business people. As much as lawyers like to debate whether "law-is-a-business-or-a-profession," the reality is that for the private practitioner, it is both. I learn my craft of lawyering from other lawyers. I learn about business from other business people.

Some of the best business advice I've received over the last 10 years has come from a dry cleaner - a business where complaints are a natural occurrence. He said "problems are great - they turn a good customer in to a loyal customer if you handle it right." Vaynerchuk talks about the exact issue in the book. In a world where so many pumping out "billboards" on social media run from criticism and complaints, Vaynerchuk explains how problems are a foundation for building the "culture" of your business, not only in his own company, but in others in which he provides great examples.

As I read the book, and read examples about companies like Best Buy, Ann Taylor LOFT, and BP, I kept thinking that Vaynerchuk needs to write a book about how professional service firms can use social media in a ethical, transparent way. Then, at the end, at the very end, he talks about a dentist and a lawyer who used social media in a way that follows his "human interaction" philosophy.

I was disappointed in the portion about the lawyer, as it was quick, and thin on detail. He did appear to understand the ethical issues surrounding lawyers on social media, I just was looking, selfishly, for more examples of successful lawyers and other professionals who took an already burgeoning practice and added a social media component.

Although it's clear that law firms aren't Vaynerchuk's focus, his advice is important to those lawyers whose only other option is paying failed lawyers with no business success for worthless social media advice. I think he has an opportunity to expand on this part of the business world in future books - for those stuff-shirts who understand that good business advice comes from people who have been successful in business, even if it's not their type of business, and even if the one giving advice wears t-shirts and jeans, and roots for a despicable NFL football team.

Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of I Got A Bar Complaint.Share/Save/Bookmark


Carolyn Elefant said...

I read Gary V's first book. I too find him far more palatable than some of the other gurus. This guy works like a dog, and makes no bones about the importance of work ethic.

Dan Hull said...

Work Ethic. Work Ethic. WORK Ethic. Interesting to see that in print. Haven't seen or heard it much in the media, and especially on the Internet, in last 6 or 7 years. It's a 1990s band out of Belfast or Milwaukee, right?