Earlier this week, the social Web experienced a grasshopper invasion of the chocolate-covered variety. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to get the inside scoop from two key members of the team behind the very clever campaign that generated massive attention in the blogosphere, its own twitterstorm, and quite a bit of coverage on news networks. Grasshopper “gets” social media – from the inside out.

The real grasshoppers
The first grasshopper I met was Jonathan Kay – Ambassador of Buzz. Yes, that’s actually his title. Less than two months on the job, Jonathan was – in my opinion – expertly engaging folks like me who were covering the campaign. After a brief twitter exchange, we e-mailed, coordinated a time to talk, and I submitted some questions for David Hauser, Grasshopper’s co-founder and Chief Technology Officer.

What struck me about both my conversation with Jonathan and David’s written responses toevery single one of my questions was their authenticity and focus. It is clear that this team takes social media seriously and invests the time and resources to make their efforts successful. In my opinion, that’s the only way to approach this channel. Doing social media halfway is like doing the high dive halfway … you’ll probably fall flat on your face.

Vision and support
Although their product is a technology-driven virtual phone solution, Grasshopper has set their sights on much bigger goals. They aim to make “Grasshopper” synonymous with “entrepreneur” and build their business and reputation on service rather than on a specific product. In the tradition of companies like Zappos, they are trying to create an experience.

In addition to successfully launching two kick ass social campaigns (in 2008, then GotVmail released a series of 40 videos featuring not-quite-sane Gary Busey giving business advice), the team at Grasshopper appears to be willing and able to provide the back end support. In addition to blogger outreach, Jonathan Kay took point on engaging with the public on twitter via a supplemental account – @GrasshopperBuzz. David often tweets himself and also maintains an eclectically interesting business blog at MINDdrift.

So, what makes a grasshopper hop?
Having peered inside the minds of the real grasshoppers, it’s easy to see why their campaigns work. They understand the three keys to social media success:

1. They know their audience. Co-founders David Hauser and Siamak Taghaddos attended Babson College together and were constantly launching small businesses. The idea for the virtual phone service was born of their own need as budding entrepreneurs. Today, the company is careful to stay connected to their roots. As David explains, “We are constantly listening to our customers and the market place as a whole. We are entrepreneurs and see our pain points as a growing organization.” In addition to broad listening, Grasshopper highlights “cool customers” on their site where visitors are invited to share their own stories.
2. They keep it real. I was intrigued to learn via a DM from Jonathan that the chocolate-covered grasshopper campaign was conceived and executed completely in-house. When I inquired about why they chose to handle it this way, David responded, “As a result of doing these things internally they are authentic and lead to success. An outside agency has to come up with many ideas for many clients, they do not live the culture, come to work every day, and feel what is happening.” David’s insights on the topic of social engagement mirror this DIY philosophy, “We are committed to an open and authentic conversation in the social web and this came directly from how we have always run customer service.”
3. They have fun. Entrepreneurs are an odd bunch. We do things many other people consider crazy. We speak our minds. We take risks and have fun doing it. Both Jonathan and David spoke about the fun they have creating and executing these campaigns. When I asked David what we can expect to see next, he answered, “We will continue to listen to our customers, the entrepreneurial community and always have fun. Why start and run a company if you are not having fun?” The sense of play embodied by the Grasshopper campaigns has wide appeal. Unbalanced, raving actors and bug eating antics are perfect fodder for the social Web.

Living to hop another day
I will be interested to see where Grasshopper goes as the buzz dies down. As I said in Tuesday’s post, whether or not they generate immediate new business is not really the question at hand. They have, I think, succeeded in creating general awareness and getting people interested in their story. Carefully nurtured, those two accomplishments will certainly lead to long-term benefits for the company.

I say, “You are wise, young grasshopper, very wise. Hop on.”