Marketers promote, entertain, celebrate, and explain. In other words, they talk. But Dave Kerpen, cofounder and chairman of Likeable Media and founder and CEO of its sibling company, Likeable Local, believes that a different skill is needed in a media landscape increasingly driven by social media – listening.  And by listening, Kerpen means more than just using social media channels to respond to consumer questions and complaints.  He sees listening via social media as a means to tell stories and engender authentic conversations with and among consumers and to promote conversations that strengthen and reward brand loyalty.

In a lot of ways, it’s the next step in the evolution of branding. Branding started with the idea that companies and products had actual identities and that consumers would affiliate with brands that enhanced or fit well with their own identities.  And – without invoking John Roberts and suggesting corporations are people – the next step seems to be making brands part of the consumer’s social circle, or at the very least, using the social circle to validate the brand.

Kerpen first made a splash in all media – not just social – when he and his then soon-to-be wife raised over $100,000 selling sponsorship rights to their wedding, which was hosted at the Brooklyn Cyclones ballpark. They then leveraged their notoriety to launch Likeable Media, a social media and word-of-mouth marketing company that is one of the fastest-growing privately held businesses in the United States.  Kerpen also authored two New York Times Best Sellers: Likeable Social Media and Likeable Business, and was also named the #1 LinkedIn Influencer of All Time last summer when his article, “11 Simple Concepts for Becoming a Better Leader” garnered 1.8 million views and 21,000 likes. The first concept on his list – listening.

The Way I See It

  • As much as things still keep changing – and will likely continue to keep changing – I see a growing maturation in the use of social media. Whether marketers are arriving at it through Dave Kerpen’s advice or their own observation, more and more brands are realizing the central nature of listening and storytelling to the way social media works.
  • I see consumers heavily relying on participation as a means of measuring trust. They want brands they can engage with and relate to. And they want that engagement validated by their own social networks.

The Way the Industry Sees It

I sat down with Dave Kerpen, cofounder and chairman of Likeable Media and founder and CEO of Likeable Local, to discuss listening, social media, and his most recent book, Likeable Leadership.


Two of the strongest themes in your writing and speaking are listening and storytelling. How are those two skills related?

I always say, “Listen first and never stop listening.” Listening is the single most important communication skill, and sometimes it’s harder than you think. Often when we think we’re listening, we’re just waiting to talk. Try shutting up and really listening to everyone: your customers, your fans, your employees, your husband or wife, your children, etc. You might be surprised at the valuable insight and stories you’ll hear when you do. The next step, of course, is to share those stories. No one remembers facts or statistics, but everyone remembers a great story. Practicing listening and storytelling will make you a better communicator and, ultimately, more likeable, and more successful.

What did you learn as you were “listening” to the stories you collected for the new book? Did anything surprise you?

I am constantly surprised by how much I learn when I just shut up and listen. People’s lives and stories are so fascinating to me, and there are always lessons to be learned. Last year, I wrote an article about my interaction with an older man on a flight to Boston. I chatted with him, asked him a few of questions, and listened … a lot. I had met Frank Lautenberg, the late United States Senator, who taught me, in just forty-five minutes, one of the most important lessons of my life: Career Highlights Won’t be on Your Tombstone. With a few questions and a lot of listening, you can literally change your life.

Who do you listen to? When you want to make sure you’re keeping abreast of things or just looking for information, what sources do you turn to? Who’s telling the best stories?

Everyone has a story that can be shared, and the best way to learn is by listening to these stories. So I literally will talk to anyone and everyone I encounter. I remember a great experience I had sharing lunch with a janitor at the Atlanta airport.  He gave me valuable information about the local college sports rivalries that came in really handy on a pitch meeting the next day. Most of the time, I turn to social media. I’m an active Twitter user and LinkedIn user, and both networks provide me with a constant flow of valuable information, news, and stories from industry professionals and thought leaders.

Which brands do you think are using social media most effectively? Who has made you step back and say, “wow”?

Esurance and Pure Barre definitely know how to effectively use social media. This year Esurance paid half the amount for a Super Bowl ad to air a commercial after the game, and still had more of an impact than any of the actual Super Bowl ads running! In total, Esurance had one billion impressions…WOW. The first minute after the game, over 200,000 Esurance Tweets were sent out, all with the hashtag #EsuranceSave30. The company had over ten times as many Tweets as Budweiser, the second most talked about brand during the Super Bowl, which paid for two ads and spend over three times as much money. Pure Barre, a Likeable Media client, has built a strong, passionate Facebook community and has activated those fans through engaging content. The 30-day #PureChallenge asked the brand’s social community to participate in a series of different challenges revealed daily across Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Requests included “Show us your Pure Barre inspiration.” and “What’s your post-class reaction face?” Each day, a winner was chosen and received a Pure Barre bkr bottle. Those who completed twenty challenges or more were guaranteed to receive a Studio Series DVD.

How has the way in which smart marketers “listen” changed recently due to social media?

Listening is everything in social media. Social networks have given us more access to more data and conversations than ever before, and now all we need to do as brands is listen, and figure out how to leverage what we’ve heard to our advantage. If we listen to what people are saying on Twitter or Facebook, we can grasp exactly what they want and need. Then deliver it to them.

Are there things you still see brands consistently getting wrong about social media? What should they have figured out by now?

Brands that lack engagement are consistently getting it wrong. If you aren’t engaging with your fans and actively trying to understand them, then how can you effectively target and reach the right people for your business? Listen to what they’re talking about, what they’re asking for, and then use your brand voice to optimize reaching the appropriate audience. Lack of authenticity and insight can also affect your connection with the social world. Finally, go where your customers are. If your audience is not on Facebook or Twitter, perhaps you should consider LinkedIn or Instagram or Pinterest.

What is the coolest object in your office?

The coolest object in my office is perhaps our Mets picnic table.  Not only are they my favorite team – the table is represented in the middle of the office, and in bright orange – but it’s also a place where Likeable Local team members gather. Never a dull moment there. The framed picture of me holding Justin Timberlake’s hand is a close second though.