How Twitter Can Make You A Better (and Happier) Person

I was in Washington, DC last week and spent several days participating in inauguration-related events with various people including Evan Williams, the CEO of Twitter. So I thought this would be an opportune time to write about a topic that I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past few months: how Twitter has contributed to my own personal growth and made me a better person, and how you can take the same principles and apply them to yourself if you’d like.

I’ve talked a lot in the past about how we’ve used Twitter at Zappos for building more personal connections with both our employees and our customers. In fact, we recently “debuted on FORTUNE MAGAZINE’s annual “100 BEST COMPANIES TO WORK FOR”“:p-4382 list, and they began and ended the article talking about our use of Twitter to build more personal connections with people. That in itself is its own reward that has both personal and business benefits, but for this blog post, I wanted to share my stories and thoughts on how Twitter has helped me grow personally.

For me, it comes down to these 4 things:

  1. Transparency & Values: Twitter constantly reminds me of who I want to be, and what I want Zappos to stand for
  2. Reframing Reality: Twitter encourages me to search for ways to view reality in a funnier and/or more positive way
  3. Helping Others: Twitter makes me think about how to make a positive impact on other people’s lives
  4. Gratitude: Twitter helps me notice and appreciate the little things in life

The great thing about all 4 of these things is that not only have they helped me grow as a person, but they’ve also led to me being generally happier in life. And the benefits aren’t just personal — they also spill over into what we want the Zappos brand and business to be about: Zappos is about delivering happiness, whether for customers (through customer service) or for employees (through company culture). It’s been interesting thinking about how all of my personal learnings about happiness can be applied to delivering happiness in the business world as well.

——- #1 – TRANSPARENCY & VALUES

What would you do differently if you were always on camera? I’m not talking about being on a reality TV show, but what if there were a permanent public record of everything you do or say from now on that anyone in the world could view at anytime? How would you act differently in certain situations? Would you be friendlier to people? Would you be less negative and less judgmental?

If you were always on camera, then everything you did would go towards shaping your personal brand, whether positive or negative. What are your personal values, and what values do you aspire to?

At Zappos, we have 10 core values that act as a formalized definition of our company culture. Our core values weren’t formed by a few people from senior management that sat around in a room at a company offsite. Instead, we invited every employee at Zappos to participate in the process, and here’s the final list we collectively came up with:

1) Deliver WOW Through Service
2) Embrace and Drive Change
3) Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4) Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
5) Pursue Growth and Learning
6) Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
7) Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8) Do More With Less
9) Be Passionate and Determined
10) Be Humble

The cool thing about the Zappos core values is that I’ve used them as my own personal values as well. So it makes tweeting really easy for me… Whether I tweet about something personal or something related to Zappos, if I’m living my life through these 10 core values, it all goes towards building the Zappos brand while shaping me personally as well.

A lot of marketers are initially mystified by how Twitter, in which you’re limited to 140 characters or less per tweet, can actually help a company build a brand when you’re so restricted in the length of your tweet. Here’s the analogy I like to use:

Think of each tweet as a dot on a piece of paper. Any single tweet, just like any single dot, by itself can be insignificant and meaningless. But, if over time, you end up with a lot of tweets, it’s like having a lot of dots drawn on a piece of paper. Eventually there are enough dots for your followers to connect them together. And if you connect the dots, in the aggregate it paints a picture of you and/or your company, and it’s that total picture that is your brand.

I have to admit, like probably most other people, when I first joined Twitter I felt a bit uncomfortable publicly announcing what I was doing and what I was thinking. But because radical transparence was part of the culture of tweeting, I decided to give it a try and be as transparent as possible, both for myself personally and for Zappos. It was also consistent with Zappos Core Value #6: “Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication”.

What I found was that people really appreciated the openness and honesty, and that led people to feel more of a personal connection with Zappos and me compared to other corporations and business people that were on Twitter.

By embracing transparency and tweeting regularly, Twitter became my equivalent of being always on camera. Because I knew that I was going to be tweeting regularly about whatever I was doing or thinking, I was more conscious of and made more of an effort to live up to our 10 core values.

A lot of people use Twitter to complain or vent, but I generally try to avoid doing so because it’s not in line with our core values. What I’ve noticed is that it’s also caused me to complain a lot less in real life, and because of that, I’ve found that my own personal happiness level has gone up.

——- #2 – REFRAMING REALITY

That’s not to say that I don’t get into situations that I’m not initially happy about. But now anytime something that used to get me upset or frustrated happens, I try to find the humor in the situation and think about how the situation can be reframed. I’ve found that almost every “bad” situation is actually an opportunity that can be entertaining to my followers on Twitter, which also forces myself to see things in a different light.

For example, last year I was staying at a hotel in Mexico and somehow managed to lock myself out on the balcony of my hotel room. I was stuck there for 45 minutes before I was finally rescued. This would haven normally been a very frustrating experience, but because I had my cell phone with me, I was able to tweet about it and it actually ended up being a very enjoyable 45 minutes as I tweeted about the progress of my situation and read all of my followers’ responses to it:

Went 2 my room after my speech, came out 2 balcony. Balcony door somehow locked behind me so now I am trapped outside. @ zappos_fred 2 rescue [http://twitter.com/zappos/status/812279213 |http://twitter.com/zappos/status/812279213%5D]

Hotel front desk is telling @zappos_fred it’s not possible for me to be locked out on balcony. I assure you it is, I am not pretending. [http://twitter.com/zappos/status/812287969 |http://twitter.com/zappos/status/812287969%5D]

Hotel security finally believed @zappos_fred, rescued me after 45 mins. Asked 4 ID so I could come in from balcony. No ID = stay on balcony [http://twitter.com/zappos/status/812292469 |http://twitter.com/zappos/status/812292469%5D]

in fact, I now almost looked forward to situations that would normally be frustrating, because I’ve learned that almost any situation can be reframed to be funny as a tweet, which then makes the situation in real life funny as well. For example:

Airport bathroom: guy tries washing hands – auto faucet motion sensor broken. He tries voice recognition instead by yelling “Wash!” at sink [http://twitter.com/zappos/statuses/806944443 |http://twitter.com/zappos/statuses/806944443%5D]

If it weren’t for Twitter, I would have instead probably been a bit annoyed waiting in line behind this man who was unfamiliar with motion-activated sink faucets. But instead, Twitter forced me to search for and find the humor in the situation by taking a step back and realizing that it actually was a pretty funny situation.

——- #3 – HELPING OTHERS

One of the great things about Twitter is the instant feedback loop. Within 5 minutes of sending out a tweet, you can find out whether people enjoyed or appreciated your tweet. When I first started using Twitter, I used to just tweet about what I was doing. Most of my tweets were very “me-focused”, because the guideline Twitter gives is to answer the question “What are you doing right now?”

Every once in awhile I might share an inspirational quote or funny story or link to an interesting article. What I found was that those types of tweets also garnered the most responses. So today, with most of my tweets I try to do at least one of the following:

  • Cause my followers to smile with something funny
  • Inspire my followers (for example, with an inspirational quote)
  • Enrich my followers’ perspectives (such as with a link to an interesting article)

In other words, I’ve become a lot less “me-focused” and instead do a lot more thinking and asking myself, “What can I tweet about that would brighten the day for my followers or enrich their lives somehow?”

And by regularly putting myself into the mindset of asking what I can do for others, it inevitably ends up spilling over to my regular life outside of Twitter. And somewhat ironically, becoming less “me-focused” has actually increased my overall level of happiness for myself personally.
——- #4 – GRATITUDE

In my research into the science of happiness, many studies have shown that gratitude activities (such as keeping a gratitude journal) helps people increase their overall happiness level in life. There are many ways to be thankful, and many things to be thankful for, but one technique is to make a more conscious effort to notice and appreciate the little things in life.

For me, because I try to tweet every day, I’ve found that I’m always looking for opportunities to have something to tweet about. So I end up noticing and appreciating things that I would normally not even give a second thought to. Here are examples of some tweets I’ve sent about things I’ve noticed that I would have normally ignored or forgotten about:

http://twitpic.com/rcli – Guy in New York with a cat on his head. Apparently this is normal. [http://twitter.com/zappos/status/1046534414 ] http://twitpic.com/13fn1 – It’s so cold that the NY street food vendors’ tomatoes & lettuce are frozen [http://twitter.com/zappos/status/1124243255 ]

At Vegas airport. While in bathroom, I had an AMAZING revelation: Toilet seat covers are shaped exactly the same as life vests! [http://twitter.com/zappos/status/1109483429 ]

Enjoying just hanging out at home for my birthday. Looking at the full moon which is closest to earth today, happens once every 15 years. [http://twitter.com/zappos/status/1054918866 ]

So now, anytime I notice something that would normally be inconsequential, the very act of tweeting forces me to spend some time appreciating what would have otherwise been ignored or forgotten. And because of that, I’ve learned that every day, there are many, many opportunities to notice and appreciate the little things in life.

——-
So for all of the reasons I’ve outlined above — Transparency & Values, Reframing Reality, Helping Others, and Gratitude — I’d like to say thank you to Twitter for helping me grow as a person.

Tony Hsieh – CEO, Zappos.com

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SOME QUESTIONS FOR YOU

Some questions for you to consider thinking about: What are your personal values? What do you want your personal brand and values to be? How can you use Twitter as a tool to help you grow as a person and be happier? If you’ve ever vented on Twitter, do you think you would be happier if you thought of Twitter as a tool for you to reframe your perspective? I’d love to hear people’s thoughts and comments below!

——- *Follow me on Twitter: @zappos *

Want to learn how to get started on Twitter? Take a look at the beginner’s guide I wrote !

The Power of 1%

The following was sent to all Zappos employees this past Monday:

——-
Team,

Happy New Year! To kick off the year, I sent this on Jan. 2nd to a smaller group, but a few folks suggested that it should be sent to all Zappos employees. Here is a slightly cleaned up and better version of what was sent.

“It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” – A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

On CNBC Reports 2008, Maria Bartiromo quoted Charles Dickens, noting that, while Dickens was referring to the French Revolution, he could have easily been talking about 2008.

No doubt, 2008 was a very challenging year, starting out with a weak economic and retail environment that degraded slowly in the first half of the year and then fell off a cliff in the second half of the year. Depending on what reports you read, online ecommerce was down 3-5% this holiday season, marking the first time ecommerce didn’t grow. Reading about these not-so-positive reports just goes to show how very lucky we are at Zappos, because we were able to ride through these rocky times and produce pretty incredible results. No, things weren’t perfect, but 2008 was still a great year for us! Official results have to wait until our finance team closes the books and releases the audited financials in early March, but we managed to grow our business over last year and during the holiday season (when ecommerce was down), exceeded $1B in gross merchandise sales, and by Doing More with Less, kept ourselves profitable and cash positive – all the while having a lot of fun serving our customers!

We can reminisce about 2008, but now that 2009 is here and we are back from some much needed downtime, it’s time to get our A-game back on. We’ll be going over our goals and our “official” plans as soon as our board approves them, but even before that “officially” happens, we already know what we need to do.

One thing I encourage you to do is to refer back to our Core Values document and specifically the challenge in there: make at least one improvement every week that makes Zappos better. Ideally, we would do this every single day. It sounds daunting, but remember improvements don’t have to be dramatic. Think about what it means to improve just 1% per day and build upon that every single day. Doing so has a dramatic effect and will make us 37x better, not 365% (3.65x) better at the end of the year. Wake up every day and ask yourself not only what is the 1% improvement I can change to make Zappos better, but also what is the 1% improvement I can change to make myself better personally and professionally – because we, Zappos, can’t grow unless we as individual people grow too.

Imagine yourself making 1% changes every day that compounds and will make you and Zappos 37x better by the end of the year. Imagine if every employee at Zappos was doing the same. Imagine how much better you, Zappos and the
world will be next year.

It won’t be easy and 2009 will no doubt present its own set of challenges, but we positively will get through it. Have a great and happy 2009!

——-
P.S. Also check out Tony’s blog entry, p-4231 .

P.P.S. This is for the math geeks. If you start out with $100 at the beginning of the year and you were able to increase what you have by 1% every single day, at the end of the year, you would have $3,778.34 = $100 * (1 + 1%) ^ 365. That is 37.78x what you had at the beginning of the year. Get that 1% every single day!

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Do you have a story about how small changes every single day made a huge difference in the long-run? If so, leave us a comment below or email me: alfred (at) zappos.com.

Follow me on Twitter: @zappos_alfred