Guy Kawasaki on the Power of Social Media

Maximizing social media - it isn't about strategy; it's all about tactics. That's the message from entrepreneur and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki.

"There is no strategy for social media; you just dive in," Kawasaki says. "I think strategy is vastly overrated when it comes to social media."

In an exclusive interview, Kawasaki discusses the power of social media, including:

Why social media tactics are more important than strategy;
How security and privacy concerns are "massively overblown";
What organizations need to do to harness the power of social media.

Kawasaki is a founding partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Garage Technology Ventures. He is also the co-founder of, an "online magazine rack" of popular topics on the web. Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer, Inc. Guy is the author of nine books including Reality Check, The Art of the Start, Rules for Revolutionaries, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, Selling the Dream, and The Macintosh Way. He has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

TOM FIELD: How do you tap the power of social media? Hi, this is Tom Field, editorial director with Information Security Media Group. And we're talking today with Guy Kawasaki, well known as a founding partner and entrepreneur in residence at Garage Technology Ventures. Guy, thanks so much for joining me.

Guy, you've got a diverse resume, and you've got a lot on your plate. What are some of the hottest items on your plate right now?

GUY KAWASAKI: I'm working on a new book that should be out in March of 2011 called Enchantment. That is: how to change what people will do. That occupies me, and I have a website called Alltop, which is a news aggregation site. Think of it as an online magazine rack. So, between that and being a venture capitalist, I'm pretty busy.

FIELD: You've got deep experience obviously in entrepreneurial ventures, in innovation. When you think of those topics, where does social media fit into innovation and entrepreneurial ventures?

KAWASAKI: Let's draw a line in the sand. It is 2010, and there still is a recession going on. That's the bad news. The good news is: It's cheaper than ever to be an entrepreneur for several reasons. Think of all the things that you need as an entrepreneur. You need tools. But tools are free because of open source. You need people, and people are cheap or free because everybody's unemployed. You need marketing, and this is where social media comes in. Marketing is free or very cheap because of your ability to directly reach out to bloggers and to use Facebook and MySpace and Twitter and various kinds of social sites. So, marketing is free.

And as far as putting your stuff up in the cloud, that's very inexpensive for terabytes of data, whereas before you'd have to buy your own servers. So, the place for social media is as this free marketing platform that was really not available before.

FIELD: Guy, what excites you about how organizations use social media today?

KAWASAKI: I just love the fact that it's really democratized marketing. It used to be that if you had a few million dollars to run a Super Bowl commercial and to hire an ad agency, you were in the ad and marketing business. Today you need a free Twitter account and a free Facebook account, and it's off to the races. I just love when it's no longer a rich person's game.

FIELD: So flipside of that. I asked you what excites you about social media and organizations. What scares you about how organizations use social media?

KAWASAKI: Really, nothing. We're very early in the social media game. It's like 15 years ago in the internet business. And the internet, if we can remember correctly, started off as sort of as a personal expression - "This is my website ..." It was only meant to communicate with my friends and relatives, and today companies are selling shoes, right? And back then the first ads were a travesty. It was a crime against humanity. When you searched in Google and you saw sponsored links, that was just wrong -- how could people do this? "This is not the Internet. It's supposed to be about information and social responsibility" and blah, blah, blah.

And now think about it today, right? Everything has a banner ad on it. Everything is sponsored links. Everything is marketing. That's where social media's going to end up. It is a platform.

FIELD: What are you thoughts about the security concerns?

KAWASAKI: Security concerns are massively overblown. Let's take this whole Facebook thing. A lot of these people are flattering themselves so much -- they think that their data is so valuable and so precious and so private and so confidential that these evil people at Facebook and these evil marketers are going to use it to, what -- sell them a BMW? Sure, you don't want your credit card account out there and all that kind of stuff, but ... don't do stupid things and publicize it on the internet. It's that simple.

My attitude with Facebook is that it's hosting millions of photographs and millions of lines of text and information -- been doing that all for free, right? So, it's like you got invited to someone's house for dinner. You go to the dinner, you eat, you love it, and then after a while you say, "Oh, but I don't like what you're doing to me because you're telling other people that I'm at your dinner." You're an invited guest; if you don't like it, leave.

This is not a popular attitude, but these services provide such value that you either shouldn't complain, or at least if you complain you should complain from the constructive perspective of trying to help them improve it. But to get all high and mighty and to have this moral indignation ... I once got into an argument with somebody, and he said "The reason why Facebook has to listen to me is because I provide them with such valuable data that I'm doing them a favor."

"What drug are you on? What data do you provide that is so valuable that Facebook has to create an infrastructure and store all your stuff for you for free that you think that you're doing them a favor?" I don't get it. So maybe you shouldn't have asked me that question.

FIELD: As you look around at organizations and how they use social media, where are they just missing the boat?

KAWASAKI: I don't know if they're missing the boat so much as the boat is still being constructed. Again, put yourself in the place of the Internet. If you asked this question, 'Where are companies missing the boat?' of websites 15 years ago, it would have had a lot of answers. They were only brochure-ware, they weren't interactive, they didn't have shopping carts, they didn't have adequate security for transmission of your credit card. There are all these fundamental problems back then and ... like with social media today, they'll get fixed.

It's too harsh to say that people are missing the boat. Yes, brands could do social media better. On the other hand, it's so early; slide people a break. It's a brave, new world here.

FIELD: So look ahead, five years from now how do you see organizations using social media?

KAWASAKI: I'm not a visionary. I have no clue. I would have never, ever predicted the success, for example, of Facebook or Twitter. Now, everybody who's a pundit today can say, "Oh, yeah, I know it was going to happen. I knew it was going to be successful," but -- let's take the case of Twitter:

When Twitter started three or four years ago, if somebody came to you and said, "Well, we're going to have this system where people can send a whole 140-character update out into the Internet, and people who follow them are going to find out their cat rolled over, the line at Starbucks is long, they just got took a shower -- isn't that a great idea?" And who among us would have said, "Oh, yeah, you know, that Twitter; that's going to change the world."

And so the point is that was only two or three years ago, and you're asking me to predict five years? I can't. Nobody can. And if anybody tells me they can, they're lying.

FIELD: Based on what you know now, what you see, what do organizations need to do just to maximize the power of social media that's in their hands right now?

KAWASAKI: They need to just dive in and try it, and this is another debate. I've been getting into a lot of debates recently online. So somebody posted a thing where he asked so-called experts, of which I do not consider myself one, how do you create the strategy for social media? So all these pundits said "you set the goals, you do all kinds of strategic stuff." I'm the only person who said, "There is no strategy for social media. For social media you just dive in." You open up a Facebook account or a Twitter account, and you just try stuff. And what works, works; and what doesn't work, doesn't work.

And all these people went into a big huff. "That's like building a house without architectural plans. That's like going on a trip without a map." And you know what? They missed the boat with social media. Social media is not building a house. When you build a house, you are digging a foundation. You are laying concrete. You're putting up posts. You have rebar in there. There are four by fours going up. There are beams going up. You are building a very, very permanent thing. If you don't have architectural plans, you have a problem.

Social media is not like building a house. Social media is like carrying your sleeping bag around with you and ... I guess I could get myself into trouble here because I'm not exactly a camper. But it seems to me that if you go to a campsite and you put your sleeping bag down, within some reason you should say, "I shouldn't be next to the latrine, and I shouldn't be next to the water because it's low tide now." But within those sort of general parameters, you put your sleeping bag down and you go to sleep, right? And if you find out that you're sleeping in a bad place, you get your sleeping bag and you move. It's that simple.

And social media is like that today. I don't think people have crafted a deep strategy for where they're going to put their sleeping bag. So, don't worry so much about strategy, just focus on tactics. How are you using Twitter? How are you using Facebook? What kind of emails are you sending out? What kind of videos are publicizing? Strategy is vastly overrated when it comes to social media.

FIELD: How has social media changed the way you communicate personally and professionally?

KAWASAKI: I was email centric for the first, I don't know, 20 years or so. And I'm kind of getting Twitter centric right now. I wish every message to me was only 140 characters. That would be a lovely thing. Do you know how much better the world would be if email were limited to 140 characters? Oh, the world would be such a better place.

FIELD: How does this effect the books that you research and write?

KAWASAKI: Certainly when I finish a book, I'm going to market it heavily through Twitter. That's the beauty of having 300,000 followers. How could you have reached 300,000 people 15 years ago? I'd like to hear the answer to that question. Very few people had 300,000 email addresses in their database. That's at the backend, marketing. But for writing a book, I found Twitter and blogging to be so valuable. One of the most difficult parts for me of writing a book is to find good examples to illustrate my concepts. Now I go on Twitter or I go with my blog and I say, "Hey, I need to find an example of an employee who enchanted you as a boss." I put that out to 300,000 of my closest friends, and I get 15 responses, and of the 15 two or three are good enough for the book.

I don't know how I would have done that before. Prior to social media, many business books cited the same psychological studies. How many times have we read about Post-It Notes at 3M, right? And Southwest Airlines and Virgin and iPod? I mean, there are 25 business examples that explain everything in the world. It's because finding good examples was so hard.

FIELD: So in other words we're going to end up looking back and saying there was before social media, and there was after?

KAWASAKI: We are already looking back and saying there was before and after internet. We're going to look back and say there was before and after social media.

FIELD: We've been talking about social media. We've been talking with Guy Kawasaki. For Information Security Media Group, I'm Tom Field. Thank you very much.

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