Mark Athitakis is a contributing editor to Associations Now.
According to technology entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki, the things that get people eager to get to know you in person aren't much different than the things that generate the same feelings online. The author of Enchantment discusses what it takes to charm your colleagues and members, both online and off. (Titled "The Lures That Create Connections" in the print edition.)
Guy Kawasaki has a long history as an advocate for technology and community. Following his role as Apple's Chief Evangelist in the 80s, he has since taken on the roles of venture capitalist and entrepreneur, helping to launch a variety of online products. His new book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, is an overview of strategies that work when it comes to building online community, and the proof of concept is visible as soon as you pick it up. Kawasaki decided to crowdsource the book's cover, hosting an online contest inviting people to submit designs for the book's cover. More than 250 people took him up on it.
Still, Enchantment opens with some advice about offline behavior that at first seems a bit old fashioned, even stodgy. Smile. Dress well. Have a strong handshake. Be well spoken. Those suggestions play into the book's core theme: What engages us online isn't much different than what connects us in person. So online efforts that support your association—be they Twitter feeds, webinars, or even just the website—work best when they emphasize storytelling, create feelings of immersion, and reward an urge to connect. Online and off, everybody belongs. "Anyone who understands and embraces your cause and wants to spread the word is worthy of your attention," Kawasaki writes.
Kawasaki spoke with Associations Now about the parallels between common courtesies online and offline, creating elegant experiences for members, what enchants volunteers, and more.
Associations Now: The first chapter of your book addresses things that aren't very tech oriented, like the importance of smiling and dressing appropriately for your audience. Why did you feel it was important to start there?
Guy Kawasaki: Because the basis of enchantment is not your Twitter account. The basis of enchantment is that you're likable and trustworthy. If some people are saying, "This is just such basic stuff that I could have read this with Dale Carnegie," or, "My mother told me to be like this," or something like that—if that were the case, why are there so few enchanting people in the world? I had to put it in, because I can teach you how to use Twitter and Facebook, but if you're a jerky person, you're not going to be enchanting.
Do you think that our embracing more online tools has eroded some of those common courtesies?
Not at all. I think that there is that downside, but the upside is you can have so much more impact so cheaply and so quickly that the risk of a downside is overshadowed by the potential of the upside. It would be a sad world if all we could do is enchant people by getting on our horse and riding to the next town. I understand the argument, but on the other hand, I know that I have many, many more friendships all over the world that would not have been possible without technology.
In the book you list the elements of a great product: You say great products are deep, intelligent, complete, empowering, and, lastly, elegant. Elegance is not something that's always common for associations, even though they know what their cause is. What's involved in creating an elegant product?
For an elegant association, it probably starts with the website. Is the website inviting? Is it clean? Does it have too many things going on in the sidebar and the left sidebar, the right sidebar? When your eye sees it, do you know what to do? Do you know that this is where you log in or not? Does the content change? A month after the yearly association conference, is it still on the front page, asking you to register for something that's already over? It's those kinds of things.
Is it important to have a Steve Jobs-type figure who is really championing the importance of being elegant?
It can work like that with Apple, where at the very top of the organization you know that someone is going to make a call, and the call could be to off your neck if you don't make elegant stuff. So, that is one method, but I wouldn't say that's the only method. There are organizations that make elegant products who don't have one particular authoritarian figure. So I don't think the key is that you pick a certain management style. There's no right or wrong here. It's just, at the end of the day, you either have elegant stuff or you don't. Whether it's rubbing two sticks together or having Steve Jobs at the head of your company, it doesn't really matter.
How do you know when an association is not just elegant but enchanting?
One thing I would like to establish is that I think it would be a noble goal for associations to look beyond "serving their members," which would be lobbying for them, providing information for them, providing conferences for them, providing ways to connect with each other. I think a higher calling and a greater test is that they actually enchant association members; that an association member becomes, in effect, an evangelist for the association. A very good test is when people gladly pay dues.
They gladly pay dues not because we need to keep the legal fund going or we need to lobby, but just because [the association does] such valuable things. They put on such great conferences for networking and content and they provide me on a daily basis with very relevant information, and they just delight me with what they do. They make my job easier, faster, and better. I think that's the greater test. I would say this to a consumer-facing brand: Don't be content with "serving" your customer. You should go to the point where you enchant the customer.
Many people are claiming that Twitter plays a very important role in connecting people protesting in the Middle East. Do you think there are limits to social media in terms of being able to get people to rally around a cause?
I think that Twitter and Facebook are certainly things that make revolutions of that sort more possible more quickly and more ubiquitous. There is no question that they are accelerators, just as the phone accelerated things, just as desktop publishing accelerated things, just as the telegraph accelerated things and perhaps even the wheel, right? It was difficult to have a countrywide revolution before you had a wheel. Arguably, you couldn't have a country without a wheel, so you couldn't have a countrywide revolution. So, I think as we go down the history of man, we've gone from fire to wheel to Gutenberg to telegraph to telephone to desktop publishing to website, blog, email, Twitter, and Facebook. That's kind of where we are right now.
I don't know if I would say those things cause revolutions, because the cause of a revolution is the desire for people to be free or to be [part of] a different political system. But they certainly help the cause. You could make the case that Twitter is the AK-47 of social media. The AK-47 certainly has caused a lot of political change, right? When Mr. Kalashnikov invented the AK-47, I don't think he anticipated a day when there would be a Chinese version of the AK-47; there would be these millions and millions of copies of that rifle, and it's been pretty crucial. I don't think the founders of Twitter foresaw the day when they'd play a role in the downfall of a government.
In the book you mention a video about a person dancing by himself in a field and then finally attracting that first follower to dance with him. What's involved in getting that first follower?
The person who is dancing in a field: this would be the founder of a company. He believes that people want personal computers or a better search engine or some place to upload video. Now, the moment that a second person joins him, that's when people start really noticing, because now it's just not a single nutcase who is out there dancing in the field. This person has created something attractive enough for a second person. The second person verifies the goodness of this thing for the third person and the fourth and the fifth and sixth. Arguably, the follower is very important because the follower legitimizes the pioneer. That's kind of this principle of social proof that that second person is really quite important.
But that person has to be genuinely interested, right? You can't hire your first follower.
Well, honestly, you probably could hire your first follower, but I think it would eventually blow up in your face. To use that dancing example, that person could say, "Hey, here's $20. Will you dance with me?" But money is not the way to enchant people. If you have to resort to money, something's wrong. What happens when the money runs out?
So what is it, exactly, that's enchanted that first follower?
That's all over the map. It could be just the quality of the product, the desire to be affiliated with these people. It can be many, many things, and in a sense as a businessperson, you have to just take your best shot. You have put your product out, put your service out, throw your first conference. The only way to truly find out is to ship, and then you have to truly fix. I don't see any shortcut around that. That's the difference between successful and unsuccessful people: Successful people ship, and unsuccessful people keep trying to create a perfect product and never ship.
Toward the end of the book you discuss the importance of volunteers, and you stress giving challenging work because people don't want to feel like they're doing a lot of "administrivia." Why do we avoid challenging people, especially volunteers?
I think the irony is that it's because of good intentions. The organization thinks, "Oh, these people are not being paid. They're volunteering, so I can't ask them to do really hard, challenging stuff." So, rather than ask them to do challenging stuff because they're not being paid, we'll give them menial stuff. The thinking is that menial stuff equals free. I think that thinking is wrong. If the person has volunteered, the person has shown an interest in helping you, and then you should help that person help you in the best way they can, which might be very difficult things. What has driven me nuts about working on not-for-profit boards is that they [don't] ask for too much. Because if there's anything worse than asking too much, it's asking too little when the person is willing to do something.
In the book you talk about the relationships between employers and employees, and one of your suggestions is that if your boss tells you to do something, do it. Do you have to be worried about stifling your own interests, becoming obsequious, or worried that you get a reputation for being a toady?
I understand all those issues, but at the end of the day you either are enchanting your boss or you're not. If you truly want to enchant your boss, I think the most powerful way is if your boss asks you to do something, you make that top priority. In my view of the world, if you do that a few times you'll enchant your boss, and then your boss will start letting you slide and work more autonomously and work with less control. So you will, in fact, have achieved what you want to achieve, which is autonomy, but you have to first give a little by prioritizing according to their priority. I don't think you can ever win the battle of, "Yes, boss, you asked me to do this, but let me explain to you why you're wrong."
Associations Now: In the book you say that if you want people to trust you, you have to show up both physically and virtually. What do you do to convince people who are worried about lack of control about the importance of going through this trust-building process online?
Guy Kawasaki: I don't know how you can prove it. I will tell you that of the X many friends that I have online that do things for me, with me, by me, etc., etc., I can tell you that I probably have met physically 20 percent. Eighty percent I've never met or maybe I met once at a conference for 30 seconds, but certainly I haven't met them in the "Kumbaya" sense, spending quality time walking on the beach with them. So I guess I'm living proof that it can be done.
But it wasn't a strategy on your part.
No. But I can point to a corporate example of something like this. How many people have met the CEO of Zappos? How many people have gone to the Zappos headquarters? Very few. Yet they trust Zappos. By contrast, in the old days, you developed a trust relationship with Nordstrom because you went to Nordstrom, right? You had the shopping experience. You actually took something back there and got returned, and it was all analog. So that's how Nordstrom built trust, but Zappos is purely a website. Click, enter your credit card and address, and, boom, two days later you have shoes. You don't like it, you send it back at their expense and, boom, your credit card is credited. There's not a lot of hand-to-hand combat there. That's pure digital. And look at the reputation of Zappos.
It strikes me in connecting those two that there is something they both have: They create experiences that people want to share. People want to talk about the great customer service they got at Nordstrom, and it's the same thing with Zappos.
But God forbid if everybody had this experience, what would we talk about? It wouldn't be special anymore. I don't think we need to worry about that in our lifetime. There's plenty of space to be outstanding yet.
In the book you discuss the importance of enchanting people through social media when you're launching a product and how you need to work on all the influencers. Does this mean you can control what people will say about your product or organization? How much control do I have and how much should I control what people are saying?
You cannot control anything. Do not deceive yourself. I would make the case that you don't want to control this stuff because, well, it's just undemocratic. It just is not going to work. You may be on the other side of the Twitter revolution if you try to control things. I think it's just a healthier situation that you kind of let it rip. Perhaps the people who are criticizing you have a point. Maybe it's your fault. The quicker you hear that and the faster you fix it, the better it is.
[In the interview above, Kawasaki talked about Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Below is more from Kawasaki on Steve Jobs as a management model.]
Apple products have a finish to them and a fit to them that you can tell that somebody really cared. There was some authoritarian figure who said, "It's got to be great," and of course that's Steve Jobs. Whereas, I think you look at most Japanese electronics, for example, and you just have to wonder, why are there so many buttons? Why is the menu structure so bizarre that I can't even figure out how to turn the blinking 12 on and set the time. Why are those things so hard?
Sometimes with an example like Steve, the very big danger that you think that, OK, Apple is successful. Apple has Steve Jobs, so if we want to be like Apple, we need to have a CEO like Steve Jobs. That's not necessarily true. It depends on the type of industry, the type of company, the type of employees, the type of competitors. Steve Jobs is a unique example where everything is working perfectly, but this is not the same. Steve Jobs started a computer company called Next. Have you heard of that lately? There's a reason why he's at Apple. So even Steve
Jobs can't defy gravity, so I wouldn't say everybody should go into Steve Jobs emulation mode. I just wanted to keep their eye on the ball, which is a deep, intelligent, complete, empowering, and elegant product.
Mark Athitakis is senior editor of Associations Now. Email: [email protected]