Vail Valley man goes on Web quest
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Local snowboarder and Web strategist Rich Staats made it into the Groupon corporate office in Chicago and leg-wrestled an executive – and thumb-wrestled another.
Sounds a bit far out, but the event was the result of a perfectly executed plan to travel around the United States and meet big-wigs at major companies strictly by using social media to get through the door.
Staats created a website, in30days.net, to document the experience.
“Social media is narrowing the gap between online and offline worlds, but for it to be truly remarkable, it must be able to influence offline experiences as well,” wrote Staats on his website.
He said other than the creation of the site, there really hasn’t been too much advance planning other than some loosely stated goals.
“It’s an experiment to see if online influence can create offline engagement,” Staats said.
Staats is the founder of ridethebeav.com and secretstache.com. He’s a Web-savvy guy who is mostly self-taught, and he’s fascinated by the potential of social media.
So when he saw Jetblue’s advertisement for a plane ticket to anywhere in the continental United States with practically unlimited travel for 30 days, Staats knew it was time to start the experiment. He also has friends in just about every city he’s planning to hit that he knows from the valley.
“We have all these connections online, but how real are they?” Staats said. “I’m a Web professional, and there are all these people who have helped me – my mentors – but I’ve never met them.”
Staats has about 300 Twitter followers, about twice the amount of the average person. It’s not a huge number of followers, but if everyone re-posts his Tweets, or “re-Tweets,” and those people re-Tweet and so on, Staats estimates his Tweets could be read by as many as 30,000 people.
He’s using that power of communication to try to influence big brands, like Groupon, to meet him.
The Groupon project started about two to three days before Staats actually made it into the company’s offices. Staats started Tweeting messages asking Groupon if they wanted to wrestle.
The company’s main Twitter account sent a reply back saying that Groupon’s chief executive officer would take Staats down.
Groupon, by the way, is breaking records as the fastest growing company ever.
So they set it up and Staats came in on a day the company just happened to have a training class of about 100 new employees.
Staats arm wrestled the marketing manager, thumb wrestled a public relations woman and leg wrestled another employee as everyone gathered around to watch.
The point of the wrestling, Staats said, is to get that human connection. Some brand leaders have preferred a standard handshake, which is fine with Staats, too.
“It’s so we connect in a physical way,” Staats said.
While some companies have turned Staats’ offers down, getting into Groupon was a major success for his experiment. Groupon, which promotes daily online coupons for various businesses in just about every major U.S. city, is a company that exists because of its Web presence.
“They’re doing for their customers what I did to get into their board room,” Staats said.
Staats would have been surprised if a company as dependent on an online presence as Groupon would have turned him down.
“My ultimate goal is to see who doesn’t let me in but claims to be big into social media and customer service,” Staats said.
He plans to visit Starbucks in Seattle, JetBlue Airways in New York and WordPress and Pandora in San Francisco. He’s already successfully completed meetings with DIY Themes in Austin, Texas, and Forrst in New York, as well as Chicago-based Groupon.
The overall experiment is geared around the idea of bridging the online and offline communities, he said. The fact that social media sites like Twitter and Facebook have created online identities for people that travel across the Internet, Staats believes there’s now a big reason to get offline again.
“I think companies are saying it’s time for us to get offline, and time to re-establish real relationships,” Staats said.
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