Guest Posts, Social Media Case Studies, Social Media Strategy, Social CRM, Social Media Marketing

Do You Know Your Customers Enough to be a Social Media Hit?

Guest post from Susan Baier, a 20-year marketing strategy veteran with an MBA in Entrepreneurship. Her company Audience Audit provides strategic marketing support and audience segmentation research that helps organizations understand their customers better.

Being relevant to customers isn’t about just using their first name in an email. True relevance grows from a deep understanding of what motivates your customers, and ensuring that every contact they have with your organization shows to what degree your company values their reasons for choosing you. That deep respect for what drives your customers and prospects can’t be faked, either – you either live it or you don’t, and they can tell the difference.

The best example I’ve ever seen of this is from a company called ThinkGeek, which prides itself on carrying the most robust collection of unique, thought-provoking products with the biggest nerd appeal on the planet. They have 3 million unique visitors and 35 million page views every month.

ThinkGeek has a robust involvement in social media, with over 68,000 followers on Twitter, 50,000 fans on Facebook and over 11,000 subscribers to their channel on YouTube, which features company-posted videos demonstrating items like their proximity-meter t-shirts and fake-blood-filled, realistically gummy heart for Valentine’s Day.

They are successful because they unabashedly have the same interests as their customers, and they are incredibly consistent across all outposts. Here’s what they’re doing right:

Engage, Don’t Sell

ThinkGeek has separated their Twitter messaging into TWO feeds – one designed to sell stuff (which is hilariously called @thinkgeekspam and posts updates about products and promotions) and one which posts all sorts of geek trivia and responses to fan questions and comments, called @thinkgeek.

According to Jamie Grove, the company’s Director of Evil Schemes and Nefarious Plans (i.e. Marketing), ThinkGeek is “all about serving our community. Our social media activities live in our customer retention sphere, not customer acquisition – because the minute it’s in customer acquisition, it changes the nature of the conversation.”

Speak Your Customers’ Language(s)

ThinkGeek’s product descriptions are peppered with arcane references to geek culture, “inside jokes” that their customers not only understand, but appreciate. They have a navigation element on their site titled “OMGWTFUN”, and they recently sent an email with the subject line “ThinkGeek less than threes you.”

But the best example I’ve seen is on their Facebook page, where one fan posted an update on their wall — in BINARY CODE. ThinkGeek responded in binary, which spawned a number of additional comments and discussion, again in binary. If this isn’t speaking your customers’ language, I don’t know what is.

Be Human

ThinkGeek’s blog recently featured a post about their newest employee Guillaume, who is French – and “largely ignorant of our favorite American movie and television memes.” So, ThinkGeek launched “Operation Guillaume” – a full-scale effort to “convert” their newest employee to red, white and blue geekness.

For Part 1 of “Operation Guillaume”, the company launched an online poll of their fans to identify the highest-priority “geek” movies. Guillaume will watch the top movies and post reviews to the ThinkGeek blog – thereby connecting this employee with the company’s fans in a perpetual feedback loop.

Allow Your Customers to Express Themselves

The company also devotes a lot of website real estate (and effort) to encouraging their fans to share their enthusiasm for everything geek. Every product features customer “action shots” showing the product in use. (According to Jamie, ThinkGeek was one of the first companies to incorporate customer product photos into their online presence.) They have an ongoing “Techie Haiku” contest in which fans can win $50 (one of my favorites: “TPS reports./Didn’t make a coversheet./See you here Sunday.”)

They’re currently running a video contest for owners of ThinkGeek’s Electronic Guitar Shirt (which really plays) in which customers can upload rock videos of themselves playing the shirt for a chance to win a $500 gift certificate. They’re running another contest for owners to send in pictures of their own creations on the Lego-like Brick Construction Shirt. Engagement with their products is half the fun, and the folks at ThinkGeek encourage and cherish every fan’s own experience.

Integrate Marketing and Customer Service

After Christmas I had to return an electronic item from ThinkGeek that had stopped working. William, the Customer Service representative I chatted with saw my mailing address and mentioned the Noah’s Flood-type deluge the weather channels were predicting for us in Arizona that weekend. Jokingly, he asked if I was aware that ThinkGeek also sells arks.

That got a chuckle out of me. But what really surprised me was when I posted a Tweet about the great customer service I’d received from William, and got a reply back from @thinkgeek that the accolades had been passed along, and that William had offered to fly out to assemble my ark and bring my replacement item with him.

WOW! Within moments of my customer support conversation, the ThinkGeek Twitter feed was connected to my conversation with William. According to Jamie, the company’s employees “live on instant messaging, so customer feedback is shared all the time.”

ThinkGeek’s engagement with their customers is an organic result of their shared enthusiasm for all things geek. But the opportunity is there for any companies whose employees believe in and love what they provide.

What can you do to connect with customers who share your passion?

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    A great post, Susan. And it gets to something a lot of retailers struggle with — how do I make remarkable content when I'm just reselling someone else's stuff. Obviously, ThinkGeek has personality. They wrap every product with personality, plus they seek out some pretty strange stuff that you just can't get anywhere else.

    And while not every retailer is quite as niche as ThinkGeek, *every* retailer can and should add their own spin on the products they sell. That's the price of admission. Be remarkable.

    After that, then they can look to ThinkGeek as a shining example of how to connect with customers in the real-time world we've all suddenly found us in.

  2. says

    Great post and examples of a company finding unique ways to reach and engage with customers. I love the distinction between customer acquisition and customer retention. Although social media can be used effectively for both, I think it's incredibly important to know what your motives are and then consistently speak in those terms.

  3. lisa feder says

    Thank you for this awesome post. Excellent reminder about sharing passion. It's like the lemonade stand video that Seth Godin posted awhile back… ENGAGE with your customers.
    We can learn a lot about customers by truly engaging with them.

  4. susanbaier says

    Thanks, Evo! I think you make a great point about the additional challenges when you aren't creating your own “content” — but instead, selling a selection of items made by somebody else. The basic premise holds — you've chosen those items for a reason, because they speak to who your audience is. You just have to explain that reasoning, literally or not. ThinkGeek's done a great job of knowing and defining their audience for all to see, so their selection makes sense.

  5. susanbaier says

    Thanks, Jack — I really like your use of the word “motives”. That's what's missing for so many retailers — their “motive” that ensures no disconnect between WHAT they're selling, and WHO they're selling it to. “Motive” is a great word for the WHY.

  6. susanbaier says

    Hi Lisa, thanks for the nice comments! You're exactly right — I loved that post from Seth Godin and that's exactly what we're talking about. There's a difference between “Fans” and “FANS”, and we know which one's better, don't we? :-)

  7. says


    Love it. Great story. Well written. I've never purchased anything from ThinkGeek. Heck, now that I think about it, I don't think I've ever even visited *any* of their online channels. However, they've won me over on the personal side. About 10 months ago, I connected with Jen Frazier (ThinkGeek's founder) on Twitter – Jen is the real deal. A real human! Go figure.

    Yet another way to humanize the brand, right?

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

  8. susanbaier says

    Glad you enjoyed the post, DJ! I'm not at all surprised in what you found re: Jen — literally every single person I've ever had contact with at ThinkGeek has been wonderful. And I feel a special blush of pride that I'm responsible for introducing one more potential Fanatical Fan to the ThinkGeek brand. Have fun!

  9. kahuna7 says

    WOW, Jay, Susan is awesome! Great guest post. I especially love the call to integrate Marketing and Customer Service. If you create great marketing, communications, and pr but do not helpfully engage with your clients, you actually do yourself a disservice. Christianity has a saying from scripture that faith without works is dead. Similar idea.

  10. says

    I thought this was a great post! Been giving a lot of thought about spliting tweet streams as per the comments in the Engage section of the post. I think this also speaks to the point about using the right language with customers. Some customers don't need nor want to hear everything. Thanks for this. Peter

  11. susanbaier says

    I'm flattered — thanks for the comments! Love the saying about faith vs. works — you're right, it applies beautifully.

  12. susanbaier says

    Hi Peter! Thanks for the comment. I was really surprised to learn about their @thinkgeekspam Twitter feed — until then I'd been following their regular feed. I LOVE this idea — it lets folks get the info they're interested in. You could actually take it further and use different feeds for different audience segments, based on why they buy your product, which would be GREAT!

  13. says

    This quote from Jamie Grove jumped out: “…because the minute it’s in customer acquisition, it changes the nature of the conversation.” That's what separates the wheat from the chaff (notice the nature metaphor) when it comes to great marketing solutions. Enjoyed the post!

  14. susanbaier says

    Hi Karen! Yes, I thought that was a great insight as well. It's fascinating to me that they go as far as to divide their Twitter activity between one “selling” account and one “sales-free” engagement account (although honestly there can't help but be some gray area). I think there are many companies not even thinking about the difference between the two.

  15. Anonymous says

    Thanks Susan,
    I really enjoy your post and always appreciate good customer service! It’s so important for to know you’re facts and your customer while using social networking. If you don’t know what you’re talking about or who you’re talking to, there is no point is networking. The opportunity social networking provides in incredible. Where else can you reach such a huge audience in minutes, never mind keep them constantly updated with relevant information? I work for a small advertising agency that has seen huge results from SEO/SEM and social media. It takes a lot of hard work and effort to learn about a client, their target market, location and goals, but pays off in the end. By doing the research, you meet the needs of both the client and customer.

  16. says

    Oh hey, look at that – you're talking about me! Thanks for the compliments DJ, and thanks so much for the great article Susan!

    I have to also add that when you love the company and especially the community as much as we do, doing the right thing just comes naturally. Since we are all also a part of the geek community ourselves, it made it a lot easier. We didn't have to strategize much to get where we are today – we just did what we thought would be awesome for our customers.

    I love the way that just works out so nicely. :)

  17. susanbaier says

    … which brings up a nice point about ensuring that your employees are fanatically enthused about what your company does. Without that passion internally, there's no chance of generating the spark between brand and audience. Thanks for your note, Jen — and for a site that continues to delight (at least at my house!) :-)

  18. says

    Great in-depth analysis! I really appreciate case studies on companies who are really getting social media right. I will have to research them more now. What a genius marketing team they've got over there.

  19. says

    This post is so relevant right now because it addresses a core issue for so many of us who want to engage in social media and have to weigh it with other efforts that more directly affect the bottom line. As Evo said in his post, personality is a key factor when it comes to social media. ThinkGeek has shown that having a personality online can and does affect their awareness efforts…and it's definitely working.

  20. susanbaier says

    Thanks for the comment — and believe it or not, I know some people who think that bloody gushing gummy heart is the bee's knees (as my grandma used to say). It takes all kinds!

  21. susanbaier says

    Hi John, thanks for the comment. What's interesting to me is that this all seems to have evolved very organically for them, out of their love for technology and geekness — obviously smart people who just let their love for their work (and their customers) show!

  22. susanbaier says

    ThinkGeek clearly does it for the love of doing it — which is what makes it so genuine — which is what makes it work so well. Sigh — which it was as easy for the rest of us as it seems to be for them! Thanks for the comment, Kalyn — glad you enjoyed the post.

  23. Cheryl Howard says

    I'm hoping that social media will some day help established retailers break out of a grueling standard practice for customer service reps: cram as many calls as possible into an arbitrary time period and call it measuring productivity. Twitter would interfere with their time requirements but a 60 second call isn't engaging.

  24. says

    Smart companies know their customers and know how to communicate with them. Period. Now with the way social media is being integrated within traditional marketing and customer services, you can do something with all this know how about the customer.

  25. susanbaier says

    You make a really interesting point, Cheryl. In fact I was thinking this morning about how with website engagement we measure how LONG we can keep someone engaged, and with typical customer service it's about how FAST we can get them off the phone. Seems backwards if you're trying to build loyalty.

  26. davidcarroll says


    This is really a great post. You have very simply explained exactly what a company needs to do run a great social media operation. The key is to find a person with the passion and understanding to do it and let them go for it. Superb information here.

  27. says

    “What can you do to connect with customers who share your passion?”

    Wow! By reading your post about ThinkGeek, I suddenly understand what customer service really is. I think, ThinkGeek had made a lot of great things with regards to their customers, and I believe that, it is the real essence of marketing, eh. Love this post.


    Cathy |

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