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Who Is Gary Vaynerchuk and What Is <i>The Thank You Economy</i>?

With, Gary exhorts businesses and brands to dive wholeheartedly into social media, or to die.
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If you don't already know who Gary Vaynerchuk is, at some point you will. Such is the trajectory of a kid who was born in Belarus, grew up in New Jersey, and who has just written his second bestselling business book, The Thank You Economy, currently #2 on the New York Times list.

Vaynerchuk is a whirlwind of perpetual energy and relentless output. What might come as a surprise -- especially considering that he writes books about business -- is that Gary Vee, as he is called by a legion of fans, is considered to be the second most influential wine expert in the country. Only Robert Parker, of numerical grading fame, seemingly has more clout. For now.

The 35-year-old Vaynerchuk went into his dad's retail wine business and used his natural born salesmanship, together with a heavy dose of internet savvy, to help transform it from a $4 million operation to one with sales in excess of $50 million. He proved to the naysayers who declared that wine couldn't be sold over the web that they were wrong. He also took to "social media" very early on by producing daily videocasts about wine from his warehouse. Not exactly Hollywood production values, they're raw, single camera, unfiltered, unedited rants from someone who is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about his bailiwick. Although his critics might disagree, they're genius. By sucking out the pomposity and pretense of the genre and bringing street cred to the grapes, Vaynerchuk is changing the way people view wine.

It wasn't long before Gary started to show up on broadcast television to do his thing there. The Today Show. Conan O'Brien. Ellen DeGeneres. By then, he had also become one of the very early adopters -- masters, actually -- of Twitter. The "social media sommelier" might not have as many followers as Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber or Charlie Sheen, but the 860,000 that Vaynerchuk does have are more than Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Paula Deen. Combined. By creating his own personal brand, Gary has become a well-compensated keynote speaker at events across the country and has also started his own media company, Vaynermedia.

Moving into book writing upon signing a multi-book deal with Harper Collins, his first effort, Crush It, delivers a motivational message about pursuing passion and converting it into commerce. With The Thank You Economy, Gary exhorts businesses and brands to dive wholeheartedly into social media, or to die. His thesis is that we've entered into a new era of business in which the power of social media enables an unprecedented level of customer interaction, service, and ultimately, competitive advantage.

Critics might find fault with the book's lack of quantitative analysis, but it's damn near impossible to argue with his logic. Just look around at your own experience and think about all the ways in which social media has influenced what you do, what you think, to whom you connect and what you buy. Nor does one need statistics to prove that consumers have more power than ever before, that we're much more skeptical of marketing messages, and that customers have more choices, greater expectations and more demands. What businesses need is to figure out how to best communicate with them in this vastly changing cultural and media landscape. The Thank You Economy outlines how to.

Besides, The Thank You Economy isn't intended to be an academic exercise. Rather, what you get is a firsthand look inside the mind of a guy who has assiduously practiced precisely what he preaches. That is, using the technological tools now ubiquitously available to create a real one-to-one dialogue with customers and clients. Just as he brought wine selling to the internet, he's now using the internet to interact with his customers as if they were actually in the store. It is the definition of virtual customer service.

Companies will find a thousand excuses not to engage, but Vaynerchuk uses real-life case histories to illustrate those that have, and won, and those that haven't, and are losing. Just last week, one of the biggest advertisers in the country, Chrysler, fired its "social media agency" over an inappropriate Twitter comment they had accidentally posted on Chrysler's behalf. Having read this book, I imagine Vaynerchuk would have handled it completely differently, seizing instead on the opportunity Chrysler had to express itself genuinely in a way that could have created a more meaningful connection to its many consumers.

It is self-evident that the world of communication has fundamentally changed and Vaynerchuk again seems to be out in front of it. That makes The Thank You Economy highly recommended reading for almost anyone in business today.