Farewell to Oprah – the Original Social Network

As I watch the jaw-dropping send-off of Oprah, I am struck by the outpouring of support and thanks this one celebrity has inspired after 25 years in business. How many people, celebrities included, can be credited with personally inspiring millions to be better people, to serve the underdog, and most importantly, to recognize that they are not alone?

Over the past two decades, unfortunately I was not able to tune in to her show since I was always working full time. However, in the past few years because of our personal video recorder, I have been able to watch the show on and off. While expecting inane chatter, instead I was personally inspired by the people, the topics, and the raw emotion evoked by her show. In truth, her surprise spectacular send-off this week made me wistful that I had not spent more time watching. However, it did make me think in particular about two important business lessons from her success.


Stay true to your brand

For 25 years Oprah has known exactly what she stands for. Her viewers watched knowing exactly what they would see. The format never wavered and neither did the content. As a result, the loyalty to the Oprah brand is astounding.

On her closing show yesterday Oprah said, “From day one…[the show was about] …everyday people. You are not alone.” She says she didn’t have a vision initially – that she just wanted to do a good job and do no harm. “I started this as a job,” she said. “Then something shifted for me. Something in me that connected with each of you in a way that allowed me to see myself in you and you in me.”

The lesson for business – even deep technology companies like those we serve? Know thyself! Establish a strong brand position and drive your company so that you are deliberately creating a consistent, appealing, and differentiating experience for your customers. Articulate your brand position so that your entire organization understands what you stand for. And don’t compromise. Make the hard decisions that will keep your brand position intact and create the reputation and following that you deserve.


Stay true to your audience. Social networks are not solely on-line.

I would argue that Oprah’s fan base is a great example of one of the first social networks. And it’s a great reminder that you don’t have to be an expert in social media to harness the power of your own social network – whether you are a technology company or a consumer company. “From Day One, you took me in and spread the word to your friends,” said Oprah. And her show took off like a rocket ship.

What exactly is a social network? At the highest level, a social network is any community of people who share common interests and engage together to discuss those interests, share information, and trust each other for advice and insight. For Oprah, this grew to be millions of viewers, who cared passionately about becoming better people and creating a better world.

For your company, it’s your employees, your media contacts, your shareholders, your customers and your partners. Their interests differ but yet are common among groups. How are you serving their needs when it comes to interacting with your brand? Whether it’s online or offline, we should think about our “target audiences” as communities of social networks. What are they talking about? What do they think about your brand? How can you harness the collective power of their potential good will towards your company to create something great?

I used to joke about the day when I would retire and could watch Oprah while eating bon bons on the couch. Unfortunately, I have missed the opportunity to learn from her show and her guests day-to-day. However her business lessons will live on. So long, Oprah!