Friday, May 18, 2012

EXCLUSIVE!: @ChicagoCabbie reveals new Twitter account, prepares to further shake city's social scene

Chicago's social media scene is being shaken up by taxi driver Rashid Temuri. Rashid has seen his business increase with countless repeat customers thanks to his embrace of Twitter, FourSquare, Google Latitude, and more. He generously spent an hour with me last night to discuss his story and social philosophies, as well as reveal his new Twitter account. You heard it here first!

How do you come up with new ideas to give your customers value?

I began by packing an iPad and iPhone. I had wifi in my car for my use, and is limited to iPads and iPhones only. It’s a device that is not made anymore; it was locked for iPad and iPhones. When I got the wifi, I thought that it was something I could share it with my customers. That’s something that people find very attractive, that they don’t need to use their own bandwidth.

I also have a Ford Escape hybrid car. My hybrid is one way of letting people know that I am different and have a save-the-trees mentality. People call folks like me a tree hugger, but why not be open about it? Hybrids are good for business, and being environmentally friendly is something I truly believe in as well. For the record, I’m looking to buy a hybrid for my personal use in the next 6-8 months.

As far as multimedia goes, for my personal use I have Hulu and Netflix accounts. They are available for my customers if they want to use them. I also have XM radio in my cab.

These are the little things that really differentiate my business, even if people do not use them so much. What is important for me is to use all the resources I can to promote my business while enjoying the technology. I use my @chicagocabbie Twitter account to mention my location, talk to my customers, give weather and traffic reports, and talk about whatever is on my mind, like jokes.

I still don’t know how much I made today. I noticed that the more I focus on doing my job and providing a service, the less I have to worry about money. If cab drivers are directly connected to the customers and give them what they want, the cabbies will be fine.

What are you up to next that you haven’t revealed anywhere else yet?

I can reveal that the second account I will be running on Twitter will be @hailodriverschi, a driver’s phone and smartphone app. It’s not open to the public, because it is only for the cabbies using the Hailo app so that they can better communicate. Although it is not that active now, I will be running it soon.

If anyone wants to follow @hailochicago, I won’t be running it, but it’s going to be a pretty big thing. You’ll be able to use Hailo to get a cab from anywhere in just two taps on your iPhone or Android. You can pay with cash or card, with no charges above the meter. 

I think Hailo is the best thing for cab drivers and customers.

One thing that you do is allow your location to be tracked using FourSquare. Are you ever concerned about you or your family’s safety?

I have had people ask me about allowing myself to be tracked. Tracking is a little complicated.

First of all, I’m a public figure. It’s not my private life that I’m tweeting about, for example, my daughters’ names. I’m very strict about keeping out my personal life from Twitter. My wife is on twitter but I hardly talk about her, because it has nothing to do with my profession. I track my location using my iPad, but I don’t carry it around with me. The iPad stays in the car.

I do think that it is ok to use FourSquare to check in to restaurants and movies, but I don’t give other details about what I’m doing. If you have a question about the restaurant you can ask me, or a movie that I’ve checked in on. It’s still part of my business, because it’s about what I personally like, and my business has a strong personal brand. Of course, there is a fine line with sharing, so I always try to think carefully about what I’m about to do.

How did you come up with the idea that social media could help your business? Did a friend tell you or were you inspired by someone? Did you have a role model?

I was a cab driver for 15 years. I didn’t have any problems communicating with my customers because I was raised in the US.

I never wanted to be a “chatty cabbie”, a cabbie that never shuts up with customers. But I did discover that a lot of people wanted to talk and tell how their day was or hear how my day was.

What I started learning from talking to customers was that a lot of people didn’t know much about the cab industry. They were also very unsatisfied with the taxi industry.

Believe it or not, there are still people who think that cabbies pay a cut out of what you make to the head cab office. That is a 30 or 40 year old model. Today, we pay a weekly lease rate and the owner doesn’t care if I work as long as I make the lease. Our goal as taxi drivers is to meet the cost of the lease in 2-3 days, and then we try to earn in addition to that.

I decided to use social media to communicate with customers. My wife works for a technology company that is very savvy in how it uses social media. In the beginning I was all about using Facebook. But my wife pointed me towards using Twitter. Up to this point I used to tell people that “I use FB and will respond more quickly with that then with phone calls.”

With encouragement from my wife, I opened a Twitter account. At first using Twitter was very difficult, like for most people, but very soon I discovered it might be the most powerful social network.

When I opened my @chicagocabbie account in 2011, I just wanted to communicate with people. I just looked at Twitter as a doorway to talk to people and get the consumer’s point of view. I was very lucky, because I ran into some very good social media people who are well known, like Leyla Arson (@leyla_a), and as soon as they found out about me they thought that what I was doing was unique. I just kept going and now I have nearly 4,500 Twitter followers.

Twitter is the best tool to find out anything about literally anything as soon as possible. It gets to twitter before anywhere else. The first thing you get from twitter is the info. The second thing is staying connected to celebrities, or movies or politicians. For most people, it is difficult to believe that the celeb on twitter is real. Of course they don’t respond to tweets 95% of the time, but when they do it’s, like, WOW.

I thought all the attention I got for using social media was funny, because honestly until today I don’t think that what I do is all that amazing.

My new social media pals never gave any structured lessons. Of course there were little tips they dropped here and there, but I mostly learned by just hanging out with people, for example at Social Media Club ( Social Media Club’s Chicago chapter meets once or twice a month. Before I used to go to learn. now I mostly attend to meet friends.

The most popular question I still get at Social Media Club is “Are you really a cab driver?” And of course I just smile and say, “Yes, I am.”

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