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Gary Vaynerchuk and the warmth of social media

Out­spo­ken? Arro­gant? Just plain crazy? What­ev­er you might think of Gary Vayn­er­chuk, there’s no deny­ing he’s a great expo­nent of sim­ple, pared down social media mar­ket­ing.

CEO of Vayn­er­Me­dia, Gary Vayn­er­chuk began his dig­i­tal career by set­ting up the online arm of his par­ents’ wine busi­ness, winelibrary.com, tak­ing turnover from $3 mil­lion in 1997, to $45 mil­lion just eight years lat­er

He’s a social supre­mo who is def­i­nite­ly one to watch for any­one in media jobs.

By read­ing up on the indus­try, gain­ing as much expe­ri­ence as he could and mak­ing him­self indis­pens­able to wine buffs every­where, Gary’s wineli­brary is still going strong thanks to his com­mit­ment to devel­op­ing the busi­ness and his endear­ing­ly infor­mal style.

Since set­ting up wineli­brary, Vayn­er­chuk took every­thing he learnt and cre­at­ed Vayn­er­Me­dia, a com­pa­ny that helps For­tune 500 com­pa­nies ‘find their social media voice’. But don’t be fooled into think­ing that Gary Vayn­er­chuk is a hard-head­ed mar­keter who’s all about the quick buck. In fact, the oppo­site is true.

In It for the Long Term

Vayn­er­chuk was born in the for­mer USSR in the small town of Babruysk. He emi­grat­ed with his fam­i­ly to the US in 1978 and he and his par­ents set­tled in Edi­son, New Jer­sey. After grad­u­at­ing from Mount Ida Col­lege In New­ton Mass­a­chu­setts he set his sights on trans­form­ing the fam­i­ly liquor store. He named it Wine Library and the rest is his­to­ry…

In 2006 Vayn­er­chuk rev­o­lu­tion­ized wine mar­ket­ing by adding video reviews to the wineli­brary site. His irrev­er­ent and amus­ing cri­tiques earned him an army (up to 100,000 views per day) of fans, who nick­named them­selves the ‘Vay­ni­acs’ and it’s this less intel­lec­tu­al approach, cou­pled with an eye on the long game, that has earned him a place on BusinessWeek’s list of top 20 peo­ple every entre­pre­neur should fol­low and almost a mil­lion fol­low­ers on Twit­ter.

He feels strong­ly that brands using social media have a duty to lis­ten, rather than talk.

“What peo­ple don’t under­stand is, with so much noise, not hav­ing con­text around that ‘push’ is real detri­men­tal,” he said. “To me, it’s always an app or ser­vice or product—you always hear that cliché of ‘giv­ing val­ue’. In social, giv­ing val­ue is lis­ten­ing instead of talking—think about the friend that you would call when you have a prob­lem ver­sus the friend that always calls you with a prob­lem. Usu­al­ly they’re a dif­fer­ent per­son.

“I used Twit­ter’s search the oth­er day…I just searched some mar­ket­ing terms, like ‘engage’, and right away a cou­ple of new peo­ple start­ed fol­low­ing me. And when I’m push­ing out my stuff, one of them I noticed (because I was pay­ing close atten­tion) respond­ed to it because the con­text of our rela­tion­ship wasn’t that they were a fan of mine, it’s that I did some­thing nice first. That’s how I built my wine brand. I was answer­ing people’s wine ques­tions, then they fol­lowed me for wine.”

So to Gary, it’s not about units sold, it’s about loy­al­ty and by show­ing inter­est in your exist­ing and poten­tial cus­tomers you are show­ing you care, and they like that.

Mega Mon­ey Doesn’t Mean Mega Fol­low­ers

As well as espous­ing the val­ue of nur­tur­ing your fol­low­ers and cus­tomers, Gary also believes that phe­nom­e­nal­ly high pro­duc­tion val­ues for online con­tent may also be mis­placed as the social space is a much warmer, more accept­ing place than, say, print media or TV. He feels that high pro­duc­tion val­ues do not equate to high­er engage­ment.
“It’s not engage­ment,” he said. “It may make you feel dif­fer­ent­ly.  It’s brand posi­tion­ing. If I’m a high-end brand, do I want to have bad light­ing like an Iraqi hostage? No. But on the flip side, I think that quick, cheap con­tent works for so many brands and individuals—so many peo­ple. I’m big on just turn­ing the cam­era on your­self and just ‘flip-cam­ing’ it out.”

Vaynerchuk’s mantra of ‘if you lis­ten, they will come’ seems to be work­ing for him – Vayn­er­Me­dia works with some of the world’s biggest brands – Camp­bell Soup Co., Pep­si­Co, the NY Jets and Green Moun­tain Cof­fee, and winelibrary’s 100K vis­i­tors per day seems to sug­gest there maybe method in his mad­ness.

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