Ramon De Leon's Domino's Pizza store is a modern legend - not just in the social space but for the city of Chicago's actual inhabitants. Ordinary people come in just to say hi. They tweet when they drive by. They get excited about meeting THE #RamonWOW (@ramon_deleon) in person.
It's not hard to see why. He's enthusiastic about what he's doing, which catches like crazy. He's also a keen observer of people: how their habits are changing and what motivates them. And he acts quickly to profit from that knowledge: giving shout-outs to his Foursquare mayors, shining the limelight back at anybody who even momentarily casts it onto him. He's a human retroreflector, perpetually ricocheting warmth back at you.
What's more, Ramon records everything: what he sees on the street, cool signage, food. (We had dinner later in the week and he photographed all the entrées.) His own talk at Marketing 2.0 Paris was online an hour after he stepped offstage. I managed to catch him in the process of uploading.
"Sometimes I get so excited about my presentations, I wish I could watch them myself!" he exclaimed. He was wearing his Domino's chef gear. He had the voice and the eyes of a boy on his way to his first Star Wars.
I looked at his card, which sports links to where you can find him on all the socnets, including logos, of which Vimeo - perched right by his photo - was the most obvious.
"Are you putting it on Vimeo right now?" I asked.
"No!" He looked shocked. "I'm putting it on Viddler."
"Vimeo is for scripted things, like skits. We have lots of those. YouTube is for, you know, whatever. Impromptu. Viddler is where I put interviews and presentations, stuff like that."
"You update all three?" ...And my brain was going, In addition to Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, whatever-else...?!
He started laughing. Something you learn quickly about Ramon: any untouched medium, any person left unnoticed, is what he calls a missed opportunity. You can get a sense of this watching the talk itself: he seizes all chances, instinctively and with gusto.
I'd caught him in a lull between enthusiastic congratulations for his presentation, which didn't just wake the room but enlivened it. It was like everybody was seized by the fire of God: they were animated, excited again. For a collective moment, fear, ruminations about ROI, the impassive faces of clients and bosses peering over Klout scores, were forgotten.
I told him I thought this moment was important, particularly for the European market, because there is so much fear associated with springing yourself into social media. (The French market in particular is deeply risk-averse.) When you're thinking about legal liability or worried about being humiliated, you forget your instinct for being a person, trying to do right by another person, will generally lead you right. The issue is trying to figure out how to scale that person-to-person philosophy - which Ramon somehow managed to do.
"I wasn't too sure about it when I started," Ramon admitted. "I remember going, 'Facebook? What can I do on here, will this really help?'"
"Is that where you started, on Facebook?" I asked.
He said yes. And once he familiarised himself with the tools, he understood: these are just more means to give people the same good feeling, the same sense of contact, that you'd want to give if they were standing right in front of you. And the people who criticise him or his store? He seeks them out, operating on the philosophy that when somebody goes out of their way to complain, they're still reaching out, and to show you're listening - that you care - is the last thing they expect. It makes all the difference.
"But how have you gone about scaling your activity?" I pursued. "Do you train your employees, do you..."
Education is important, Ramon emphasised. He pushes his employees to be as open, as present and as experimental as he is in social. He remains accessible, he actively guides.
And he doesn't just believe in educating people about these tools; he tries to figure out what they personally want, what their talents are, where they want to go. When you get a person to the point where they believe their dreams are possible, that opportunities are visible all around, they become more buoyant. They see opportunity everywhere. All this makes them better communicators; and because they're all openly following his lead, they inspire others to do the same, creating a trickle-down of what Ramon started.
"I try to still give some of my time to educating students," he said, but a shrug of his shoulders suggested there's not as much time as he would like. Now that he's exploded in Chicago, on Twitter and everywhere else, responding to updates is on its own a full-time job. Then there are his globetrotting talks ... and, around all that, the business of running Domino's.
"Do you think Domino's watches what you do and tries to scale it?"
"They watch everything I do," he said, leaving no room for questions. As an example, he told me he was the first to post a simple apology video online when something went awry at his store; Domino's replicated the idea with USA President Pat Doyle when footage was circulated of two Domino's employees abusing ingredients prior to serving.
They've chosen a good model, because Ramon is constantly experimenting, playing with things, appropriating technology for unintended purposes. A man approached him to offer him a business card; Ramon took a photo with his well-worn Sony Cybershot and laughingly explained that sometimes he loses cards, so he likes to photograph them too, just in case.
Asked how he started, Ramon reflected that he'd decided early on he wasn't going to follow through with university. "I was selling pizzas at Domino's at the time, so I told my manager that I wanted to advance to management," he said simply. (For those of you curious about what went on between the lines, and how he went from student to blossoming legend, the full story is here.)
In whole the impression I got was what enterprises of a certain size often forget: our survival relies on the service we provide to others, and so much of their perception of the value of that service is tied to how they feel about us personally. Being consistently good to people, in person and wherever they traverse the digital space, is a quality that is contagious and simple to teach.
All of that to say: regardless of how sexy your job is or isn't, if you love what you're doing and take care of the people you come into contact with, that attitude is scalable. It lifts you and the company with it: certainly the employees who look up to you, but ideally upper management as well.
While our conversation winded down, the session that followed Ramon finished, and David Armano (@armano) - another icon in the social mediasphere - meandered out to give him props.
"After seeing you onstage, I always ask myself if I'm too mellow," Armano admitted, laughing.
Ramon laughed too. "No, it's like with musicians, you know? They jam, and one goes up after the other one, and the first guy goes, 'Oh man! I love that song!' And the next guy comes up and the other two are like, 'Damn! I love that song!' It's like that!"
Next thing I know, they're sharing an air guitar moment like they're the only two guys in the room - as if they've already shared a thousand moments like that.