Communicate Like Ethan

An entrepreneur’s guide to approach, strategize, and use social media to tell the story of your business.  

I believe in abundance in business. The principles, strategies, and ideas I share in the following pages are my gift to you. I have learned that sharing freely yields far greater returns than repackaging and profiting from what the universe has generously provided to me. I am excited for you to benefit from the principles of communication in marketing that I have distilled in this brief volume.

As I have been building my business for almost six years, I am continually surprised that most business owners and their staffs do not seem to truly understand how vitally important communication is in growing and initiating and exploding a successful, thriving business. In the pages that follow, I will demonstrate that becoming a skilled practitioner of communication in your business is unparalleled in yielding your finest success—in meeting and exceeding the goals of your organization.

For me, there are two facets of communication that deserve the most fixated focus—communication with the customer and communication with the employee. From my point of view, these two facets of communication are equal in the “most important” spot. I am still seasoning and refining in my ability to communicate optimally with my employees, whether it be in offering praise and positive feedback, or providing tactful criticism or re-direction. Of course, customers and employees are not the only spaces where connecting as frequently and clearly as possible is crucial (communication with vendors, investors, and other less visible players may be explored in future projects). But for the present discussion, I will concentrate on communication as it pertains to the customer. 

Communication directly with customers

Communicating effectively with my customers is a skill I have adapted and am continually strengthening. I have been fortunate to identify a few game-changing strategies and principles so that communication has become a steadily evolving strength for me, particularly in terms of social media and personalized contact.

My ability to communicate effectively and positively with my customer is my ability to sell to them. Until I have created awareness about the value I have to offer (as well as that I exist), prospective customers can’t purchase from me or download my offering or follow me.

An obvious metric for successful communication is in number of followers as well as the level of reciprocal engagement on social media platforms, most notably, Instagram, for mine and most businesses whose marketing happens primarily via social media. In sections that follow, I will discuss the specific strategies and methods I have developed for my Instagram stories and posts, as well as the other platforms that I use in marketing and promoting the Thirst brand.

Depth versus width

I have learned that a crucial consideration regarding my relationships with my customers is depth over width.Depth refers to how rooted and loyal my customers are, and width is about quantity of customers. Your depth develops as you are gathering your inner circle—many of whom become ambassadors for your brand. 

I have learned that depth is far more important than width to the success of my company. Recently I spoke with somebody who follows me on every platform and whose absolute loyalty has led him to invest a significant amount of money into some of Thirst’s ventures. He watches everything I put out, even though on some of my platforms I have relatively few subscribers or followers. My relationship with him is an example of one of depth because of his evident loyalty.

My team and I don’t use less-than-straightforward tactics in generating width (i.e., following and unfollowing Instagram community and hosting giveaways), because this type of followership is not sustainable. We prefer to come by our followers and customers by allowing them to know us and choosing to stick with us if and when they become fond of us, hence, their width. 

Everything we are trying to do as a business is accomplished through communicating with the Thirst community. Consider one of America’s favorite brands—one of the giants like Chick-fil-A or Nike. These companies have incredible width (immense following). And, of course, we are all free to follow the examples we observe in their tactics. I’m convinced that combining modern marketing practices of frequently posting spontaneous, uncurated content with the big companies’ tried, tested, and true marketing strategies would blow up sales and extend the depth of your customers. In other words, it would yield loyal, rooted followers. What if those big shots at big-brand companies allowed us to see them on camera, going through their days and getting to know them for their authentic selves? What if they went live and allowed their huge communities access to ask them questions and then provided real-time answers on the spot? Imagine the value of such generous engagement! This is how I try to engage, and I’m committed to doing it permanently, no matter how much my company grows, either personally or through one of my trusted and knowledgeable team members.

In following sections, I will demonstrate how I implement some of these principles in my growing company, Thirst, and we will look at specific strategies for using social media platforms for successful marketing.

What I’d like to do going forward is to outline how we can bring value to the conversation when communicating with customers. How do you actually not write a commercial, but just talk to your customers without being “spammy”? I’ll share what I know about each of the different communication platforms and how to participate and dialogue in Facebook groups, how to engage on Instagram without being spammy, how to be visible within an algorithm that includes an infinite number of people, what goes into an effective Instagram story, etc.

One of my strengths as a business owner is my ability to develop enduring relationships as I communicate with my customers, and this is what I want to share with you.

For me, content is about depth, and distribution is about width. When our content lands on receptive, sincerely interested consumers, our depth is strengthened. Anyone can manipulate how many people see their Instagram posts (width), but this doesn’t always translate into a long-term business-consumer relationship.

No agendas or commercials—only informative or entertaining content!

An important principle that I have learned in no uncertain terms, and which I teach and train consistently and repeatedly is that customers are deterred by a sales pitch and can definitely sense when the agenda is to sell rather than to have a happy connection and/or be provided with value or entertainment. I am determined that we will not use “sales-speak” or sound like a commercial. I want Thirst representatives to come from a place of complete gratitude and humility for the privilege of associating with any existing or prospective customers. 

I have found that authentic sharing that is as personalized as possible is perceived as generosity and as providing value and information to my audience. Social media content and engagement that conveys like a commercial is perceived as self-serving—like you are executing tactics to take the customers’ money out of their pockets for your own objectives rather than trying to achieve mutual value and benefit.

At any given time, if you look at Thirst’s profile to see our stories, you won’t see any kind of sales pitch or spammy postings. Instead, you might see something entertaining or informative such as “Did you know that our menu includes such and such?” Or “This is a way to avoid a long line…” Or “Here is a special that we are running right now.” Otherwise, our content might feature our team members out in the community doing service, or a tempting picture of a featured treat…or an image of the “drink of the week” complete with its ingredients. In other words, information.

Consider a picture of a taco posted by Taco Bell with the caption, “Yum! Can you just smell the tacos? Come get some!” This is an ad. However, if the caption said something like “Did you know that our tacos are made with 100% lean ground beef with all hand-prepared market fresh ingredients every day?” (yeah, right!) This is informative and not an ad—it provides information to the prospective customer. Consumers want this kind of posting because it is of benefit to them. 

Just Post. Don’t Overthink 

Now that we have established the importance of communication in business and that, in fact, marketing IScommunication, let’s triple down on a few of the finer points. To begin with, let’s examine how conversation brings value to customers. I want to share with you what has worked well for me and what I plan to implement going forward.

But first, I need to ask something of you. I would like to challenge you, for the sake of your own ultimate credibility and success, to undergo a mindset shift as far as the scope of grandiosity of your content. For your own good as well as that of your organization, would you be willing to stop trying to create something legendary that hasn’t been created before—something that is so original and amazing that your customers will be blown away?

I can’t reiterate enough that when you’re developing content, you must convince yourself to believe (or pretend or whatever works)that you are talking to a friend and that showboating would be out of place in the conversation because you have no ulterior motive. If you are funny and have a lot of enthusiasm, it is OK to use your natural conversational tendencies. As you likely know, great content is born out of authenticity, a.k.a., you just doing your life or a day in the life of your business. Snapshots of the moments of your day shared with your audience brings an intimacy to others’ connections with you. Chances are, like me, you don’t work for an elite, high-dollar ad agency, so you shouldn’t try to produce what they do. Your most attractive and compelling content features you—organic, imperfect, YOU!  If you try to produce a Super Bowl commercial level of content, you are most likely overshooting and severely compromising genuineness. Your ideal content features you talking about what you do and how you do it and how you feel about it. Valuable credibility is gained in putting out this kind of material. The best way to hack the algorithm is to flip the camera around and tell your story! No one else can do your story and your snapshots the way that you can. And your only mission is to inform or entertain when it comes to talking on social media. Are you informing your customer or are you entertaining them? If you are doing something besides that on social media, do yourself the favor of stopping and instead creating something that is informative or entertaining—otherwise you are missing an opportunity to bring value to your customers. If you ever find yourself saying something like, “Today is Thursday—a great day to come buy a mattress!” or “Whoa! It is so hot outside! Wouldn’t a cold drink be good right now?” Posting yourself saying anything like these self-serving ads does not bring value. On the other hand, if you are informing or entertaining, you are giving people something they want to see. And, by the way, social media platforms want you to provide content that people are attracted to so that they will engage and provide clues about what they can sell to your community. I suspect that the majority of people who engage on social media don’t really understand how the algorithm works and what their role is in it. Social media platforms are businesses, too, so they want users to post content that is interesting to others in the community so that they can sell ad space to other businesses.  

COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES I USE

A few successful communication strategies I have used are text messaging, direct email, Instagram stories, Facebook groups, and timely responses to as many DMs (direct messages) and reviews (favorable as well as critical feedback) wherein I convey respect, accountability, and appreciation. I will address each of these methods in ensuing sections. I want to share with you specifically how I communicate with my customers and the Thirst community. In the sections that follow I will be breaking down the different communication channels, and how I use them. If I don’t cover a particular platform, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use them or they’re not effective, rather, it is just that I don’t use them currently, so I don’t want to advise on them. (I prefer to stay in my lane.) I will address how to be a practitioner of each method as well as a distributor of the content you create.

Text messaging or email blasting

A few crucial strategies that have been effective for me in creating meaningful relationships with my community members are to develop a text platform and an email list so that I can text customers and prospective customers on their personal cell phones and/or computers (with their authorization, of course) in much the same way as I would a friend or family member. Of course, most customers will realize that they are receiving the same greeting, announcement, or offer others are receiving at the same time, but receiving a text or email to your personal cell phone feels personal. In fact, knowledge that you are receiving the same message that other Thirst customers are receiving may create a feeling of belonging to a lively community of folks with at least one common interest. 

Direct, one-on-one engagement

Face-to-face, personalized engagement yields loyalty of customers. For example, I am usually entrenched in or en route to tackling an item on an endless list of tasks and errands. Often this lands me into situations where I am passing through a dining room or walking through the parking lot of one of my locations. The task I am pursuing is undoubtedly a strong priority, but if there are guests in my dining room or drive-through line, the most important thing on my list becomes engaging with guests to the degree that I reasonably can, sometimes in full dialogue, or sometimes a passing compliment or thank you. Any form of exchange, even if it is as simple as a smile and eye contact acknowledging my guests’ presence and patronage, is always the most important mission. Because I want my employees to convey a gold standard of customer appreciation, I model thankfulness and humility (and even love) to my customers as often as such opportunities arise. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that each individual who patronizes Thirst has the promised “happy experience” that is vital and foundational to Thirst’s unique brand and mission—whether in the drive-through, a Thirst dining room, at Thirst Underground, visiting the “Wetzel’s Pretzels Powered by Thirst” food truck, at a Jazz game or Vivint event, attending one of our fundraising or charitable giving projects or community outreach events, or wherever and whenever or with whomever we have the privilege to connect! The value of sincere, uncontrived customer engagement cannot be overstated.

My customers literally become my friends as they come to know I care about and remember them; they become excited (sometimes even fanatical) about loyalty to Thirst and may then pass along their excitement to people they care about so that their good experiences can be shared by their friends and loved ones.

Collaborating with other businesses and participating in community outreach 

One unique thing that Thirst has done almost from its beginning which has differentiated Thirst from other specialty soda and treats businesses was that we reached out to other businesses in our community and invited them to allow us to feature them as our “weekend feature.” We found that our community appreciated being able to enjoy the offerings of other businesses when they are driving through thirst on the weekends. And we forged some great relationships and made lasting friendships with others who were similarly trying to establish themselves in the community. We have noticed that other businesses have followed suit with this practice, engaging and collaborating to feature other businesses’ products as well as their own. We are excited for them to have discovered the fun and success of this sort of endeavor.

As influencers have taken note of Thirst and its rapid and dynamic growth, we have developed important friendships with many of these local, high-profile friends. We have hosted influencer events, and we offer deep discounts to our influencer connections, because they have shouted out for us and complimented us and brought much business our way.

We have hosted several dedicated fundraisers for friends in the community who might be terminally ill or on particularly hard times, otherwise. We have partnered with Huntsman cancer research as well as with the University of Utah Sigma Chi chapter in our fundraising efforts.

We are often surprising local school faculties and staffs (and sometimes even students) by dropping by unannounced with drinks and/or treats. We can often be found at middle or high schools on their career days or as guest speakers, usually with tons of swag to share.

One of our favorite community involved traditions is in our “Light the World” campaign that we launch every Christmas season. For the 24 days leading up to Christmas Day, we do acts of community service, and the culminating event is providing Christmas presents to four or five or more down-on-their-luck families in our community. Profiles of the families are gathered, and community members shop for specific listed gifts or contribute funds to the effort, and Santa and an elf or two deliver generous Christmas bounty to the families early Christmas morning. We love this tradition, because all Thirst staff, as well as many community members, get very involved in the richness of the Christmas spirit of the project.

My favorite—Instagram stories!

This is my favorite communication channel! If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I post ALL THE TIME! Why? Because it is a rapid way to communicate exactly what I’m doing in the moment. As a matter of fact, I would love to be able to post more communication with my customers than I already do. Having adequate time for creating content is my vulnerability, and that’s why I love Instagram stories that I can quickly post as often as I want. Again—the more I can communicate in a valuable way, the more solid and quality my relationships are with my customers, and therefore, the greater my opportunity to sell to them. 

Instagram stories are my favorite communication medium because of how quickly and easily they create documentation throughout my day, and this is appealing to my community. Instead of thoroughly prepared, rehearsed, and curated content, customers prefer to see the authenticity of sporadic and spontaneous posts, and using Instagram stories is the perfect channel for this. Instagram stories are intended for just that—stories—and we know how powerful stories are. I’m always reminding colleagues and my team (and myself) to use Instagram stories as often as it occurs to them. It is so easy and authentic to flip the camera around and narrate even the simplest things you do—from opening up shop, to participating in a collab, to unpackaging new items that you’re gonna sell, to peeking in on your team as they’re having a meeting and discussing plans and operations and how things are going, including when a manager or team member is shining in their performance or giving a meeting presentation. Also, glimpses of fun interactions between staff and guests, footage of children and pets, and any other snapshot of your day that you think would be interesting and reflect your brand. 

Save the curated, refined stuff for your Instagram feed, and I will discuss the feed a little later. Your best used of Instagram stories is in raw, impromptu content in 15-50 stories per day (and don’t overthink or overcomplicate them). And, by the way, make sure you tag every person in your stories. This is an important strategy because it allows the story to be shared, and shareability creates a broader and more dynamic community. The same is true for hashtags.

Another way to increase the value and effectiveness of Instagram stories is to link something in the stories, which creates the opportunity to swipe up to land where you’d like them to be. For example, I might insert a link that would land somebody on my catering page for information and scheduling. Swipe-ups can take your viewer to your inquiry page or your Shopify page. Don’t miss sales opportunities by not employing the tools of Instagram stories!

Lastly, your collection of Instagram stories constructs an accurate documentation for you of how your business developed and progressed. You will learn from and enjoy looking back at what your day today was a year ago or even last week. Also, if people want to know what your organization is truly about, your Instagram story is a perfect source. Because ideally there are no sales pitches and only impromptu content, who you truly are will come through clearly. Current stories become almost like your résumé or your personal brand personified. It lends credibility and reality to your organization for viewers. People value knowing that kind of truth about you.

By the way, it is best practice not to ever be even a little bit fake in your stories, because when you forget to stay in that mode or you slip out of character, you lose credibility on the spot because your viewer is confused about which persona is really yours.

Make sure your Instagram stories are showing you and your team members putting in the work, behind-the-scenes material, your employees engaging with customers, and any other reflections of your brand. 

Use those Instagram stories!

Facebook groups

Facebook groups are one of my favorite places to communicate with customers and potential customers, because the groups are exclusive. You have to approach them in an extremely value-based way—otherwise, you’ll just get kicked out. Facebook groups are based on extremely exclusive niche interests and include only participants who share that specific common interest. There is no space for spam or imposing marketing in Facebook groups, because they are exclusive to the interest-sharing comrades who provide value to one another and mutually respect each other based solely on their shared interest. To impose blatant marketing tactics within Facebook groups is inappropriate and a sure way to be expelled from that community by its members who respect each other. Group members don’t want to be sold to. They are involved because they are looking for value in the form of expertise, information, and experience sharing.

The first step is to discover Facebook groups that share your passion or focus in some way. Start by going to facebook.com, and search under groups in your area for existing Facebook groups that pertain to your interest.

For example, somebody who is a vendor of mountain bike helmets may search for Facebook groups consisting of avid mountain bikers and all things that pertain to mountain biking, including trails, gear, events, bike outfitting discussions, etc.

Once you have joined the group, establish yourself as a credible member by posting within the Facebook group something like a video of yourself or one of your team members participating in something relevant to the shared focus of the group. Alternatively, I might introduce myself by saying something like, “Hey, mountain bikers of Salt Lake City! My name is Ethan, and I am a Salt Lake City mountain bike rider, and I’m anxious to learn from others and share with members of your group…” It is important to immediately establish an intent to bring and find value within the context of the group. 

In terms of Thirst, I look for Facebook groups within a particular geographic area. For instance, we recently opened a store in West Jordan, so I might approach a West Jordan Facebook group as well as groups in nearby areas and introduce myself as a new business owner in the area who is excited to be a part of the community, announce upcoming events (such as a grand opening), and then maybe invite group members to drop a comment and receive a coupon for a free pretzel bites cup. In doing this, I have provided information—that I am here, and value—that I want to give them something. And, of course, I will dialogue with any commenters or responders. I will make it clear that my aim is to provide value and share within the community, and I will not compromise my welcome within a group by blasting cut-and-pasted videos or spammy posts.

Next, I would participate in the conversations in valuable and relevant ways. I might make recommendations when people ask for them. I would engage with every bit of dialogue that I can bring some measure of value to. Continually remind yourself that these are people with genuine interests and questions and needs. Know that you are engaging with individual humans, and not bots. Respect the unspoken parameters of the group and respect the people who participate. Respond in helpful ways to comments that have nothing to do with your private interest. Become the go to source for advantageous information. Dare to almost forget your own agenda while you are establishing yourself as a legitimate member of the group. Bring value in every way you can. Value value value! Only after you have gained the leverage of having established yourself as a valuable member and contributor of a Facebook group should you present a simple, non-spammy, unimposing ask. This is exactly how I have hacked Facebook groups with significant effectiveness. Again—I identify Facebook groups that meet my criteria demographically and geographically and relevantly; I introduce myself with a brief video or written post about who I am and the shared interest that connects me to the community; I provide useful and relevant engagement within these groups, responding to direct messages, and commenting valuably with recommendations, information, and feedback, always resisting coming across as tactical; and then just asking or inviting group members to consider my offering and thereby bring me value. No matter what, I maintain a respect for the group and the human beings that make it up, and I continue to bring them value consistently. 

Respond gratefully and quickly and honestly and humbly and accountably to direct messages!

Lastly—and this is a big one—listen and respond to direct messages or feedback in a timely and courteous manner! When your customers engage with your social media content with questions or comments or even complaints, you need to listen closely and genuinely and pay attention to what they say and respond with graciousness and accountability and humility to every single reaction, tagging each person you’re addressing. Each DM or customer comment that you receive deserves a prompt and informative reply from you. 

If your company messes up, own it and apologize and make it right. If you are complimented, thank your correspondent with humility for their patronage and loyalty and the privilege to serve them. If you have received unsolicited criticism for the way you two things, be grateful for the shared perspective. Defensiveness or retaliation or indignation never have a place in your responses to your community. Always—100% of the time—turn opportunities to respond to direct messages or feedback into positivity and appreciation. For maximum credibility, professionalism, and trustworthiness, communicate 

with emotional intelligence and candor.

What kind of business has the audacity to not provide responses to comments, compliments, complaints, etc.? Consumers who patronize your business deserve your interest, attention and to be listened to, because, after all, customers are the reason you have the opportunity to be in business at all. And what a pleasant surprise for someone when, come to find out, you have been really listening!

I hope you have found some benefit in a few of the ideas and principles I have outlined in this small volume. I want to thank you for trusting me and spending your time engaging with me in this way, and I hope it has been valuable for you. I hope that your business thrives as you try to communicate effectively with your community. 

Best wishes to you!

Warmly, 

Ethan from Thirst

From Ethan:

My name is Ethan Cisneros. I am an entrepreneur, creator, and leader. I have been leading amongst my peers since I was little and owning businesses since my first lawn mowing business at the age of 11. At 16, I started a shaved ice business near my high school. About six years ago I started my current venture, Thirst. A snack and drink drive thru experience with four locations, 150+ team members, and plans for exponential growth. My amazing and talented mother helped me ghost write this “quick read” from video content that I released. It complies my mindset and strategy around how to communicate with customers, why we should communicate a certain way, and how it can make game-changing impacts on a business. 

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