Friday, February 20, 2009

Experts in the Industry: Melanie Notkin (25 of 45)

I became friends with Melanie Notkin, founder of, quite accidentally. One night, I was driving home from work and peeked at Twitter (as I was stopped at a light of course). Melanie was closing in on one of her early milestones (I think it was 200 followers) and was asking for help getting there. As a result, I couldn't resist throwing out a quick plug for her and asked friends @dough and @scottmonty to do the same.

Melanie of course hit her milestone and hasn't looked back since. Now she owns her own business -- -- and has surpassed me in Twitter followers. We've also had the chance to catch up a few times in person for lunch in the city and for drinks at Brian Solis and Stephanie Agresta's Web 2.0 Tech Set event last fall.

So let's see how this savvy, cool and funny entrepreneur answered the five questions from the Experts in the Industry: 45 Interviews in 45 Days series:

In one sentence, please describe what you do and why you’re good at it.
My career motto has always been: “I’m passionate about building something spectacular from nothing at all,” and I’d like to think the launch of the Savvy Auntie brand reflects that. 
How did you get into the world of online community, social media or social marketing?
 I had worked in digital marketing and communications for blue ribbon companies including NYT, AMEX and L’OrĂ©al since 1999, but all along I was also reading books and magazines  -and in more recent years blogs - on emerging technologies and how smart people and fast companies were leveraging them for business and market growth.  In June of 2007, after 15 years of testing the waters, I jumped right in.

If you had $10 million to invest in one company and one company only based on their use of “social,” which company would it be and why?
Google.  Beyond their own current capacity with YouTube, Google Android, Gmail, etc, Google is also perfectly positioned to acquire some of the companies that do ‘social’ best, like Twitter and Skype.  With all this combined, Google could create new, profound and valuable ways for an individual or group to open a conversation with one person, a group of people we know, a group of people we’ve never met, or Oprah’s audience.  Oh, and they’ll actually make money doing it.

And that’s just on the consumer level. Google is also primed for the enterprise, but that’s not my area of expertise.  (Yes, I am aware that Google has its own native ‘Skype-‘type application, but by virtue of its limitation to those on Gmail and UI, I doubt anyone in Oprah’s audience is using it. (PS: I watch Oprah.) )
Which business leader, politician or public figure do you most respect?
That’s a tough one because I have learned so much from so many, from near and from far. So I am going to go with my new favorite – Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. Why is Tony brilliant? Because he’s got a natural curiosity about people which causes him to constantly be inspired by the people he meets. And he meets a lot of people – and engages as many of them as he can. He invites them to Zappos HQ and has dinner with them when he’s in town. (I know from experience). Leaders who are not curious about other people lose touch with their mass consumer base, don’t learn new tricks, and don’t hire the most diverse talent (squandering opportunities for innovation). No wonder Zappos was just named one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Tony’s innate curiosity is the primary reason why I respect him. His authenticity, transparency and humility as a leader are together a close second.

Community is not about ‘toothpaste’ or ‘widgets’ or whatever the end-game is. Rather, it’s about the people who are curious about other people who like toothpaste and widgets that’s key.

I didn’t develop a ‘nieces and nephews’ community. I built a community for the women who love them. I called it “Savvy Auntie” so that they could become savvy by learning from each other. After all, they have more than nieces and nephews in common. Their PANK profile - (Professional Aunts No Kids) – offers them a number of commonalities, e.g.: careers; travel; perhaps pets; and all too often, familial challenges. 

Back to your example - if I were a person who was curious about other people who liked dental hygiene, then a toothpaste community might be right for me.  Then again, if Colgate gave me $1mm, I’d build it and join it right now.  

Freeform – here’s where you can riff on anyone or anything – good or bad. Or just share a pearl of wisdom.
I launched in July of 2008, just a few weeks before the fall of Lehman Brothers and the end of the economy as we knew it. But I also launched just at the right time to develop zero-cost community support for my company on Twitter and Facebook so that even in times of trouble, I can still be successful.  For example, through Twitter, I found beta testers, members, advertisers, members of the online and offline press, and advisors. Like you @aaronstrout.  Yep, I can honestly say that Social Media is my life saver….

Oh wait! I think I just thought of a sponsorship idea… gotta run… gotta see if anyone on Twitter knows someone at Wrigley… see ya…. (Follow me at


  1. Pretty cool article. I'm inspired by reading it! Thanks guys :)

  2. By the way, I am following both of you :)