Thoughts On: How to not suck at social media

It has been most interesting to experience the development of social media for the past decade or so. Now nearing the end of 2013, we only see a rise in use and development of features as well as booming sites, apps all trying to serve a purpose: to provide a platform for social community and a portal to engage in various exchange. With Twitter having gone public this past month, debuting its worth at $24 billion, everyone has become increasingly interested in this medium.

Malcom McCutcheon, in his book How to Not Suck At Social Media: A Beginner’s Guide For Businesses And Bloggers, goes through step-by-step, teaching readers how to configure social media for business use. He primarily highlights four goals when using social media: to not suck, to engage with customers, to build a tribe and to network. Following up to those goals are three main key tactics for better execution of the goals, including the need to separate personal from the business, an interesting though debatable point. The very elementary elements in the book have received slightly negative feedback from my digital native peers such as TaraChelsea and Courtney, some claiming it to be too “basic” or common-sense.

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Taking a step back in another perspective, perhaps this book wasn’t exactly meant for younger audiences.

Nevertheless, McCutcheon does bring up some valuable points of discussion. Unlike many rather conventional marketers, McCutcheon understands the need to not spam its audience across social media as well as maintaining a consistent personality across mediums. In one of his tactics, he notes to separate the personal, “you” from the business/blogger. McCutcheon warns: “don’t heavily promote your business to current social network…Don’t heavily promote your personal life to followers of your business blog”. In theory, this makes a lot of sense. Sometimes, it can be tricky to involve the personal with the business, especially if you don’t want your clients to know about last Friday night. After a bit more thinking and engaging in a Twitter conversation with my classmate Kevin S and professor Laura PS, the topic of how micro-celebrities, who use this exact tactic to earn a living, came up. Kevin suggested that for micro-celebrities, “ personal identities are usually what helps them get recognition”.  Another peer, Rebecca S has cleverly brought proof from scholars Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd to back up this shared opinion. In their essay “To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter”, they emphasize that “micro-celebrity can be understood as a mindset and a set of practices in which audience is viewed as a fan base” (140).

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Perez Hilton, for example, is not exactly famous for the traditional reasons. He built a name for himself by creating a celebrity gossip blog. What really gave him the kick, heightening both his popularity and career were the frequent feuds and interactions he would have on social media with celebrities, driving his site more traffic. Recently, even CNN posted an article about his Twitter feud with mega pop star Lady Gaga. Neither McCutcheon or Kevin is necessarily wrong or right about this need to distinguish, it really depends on the type of business you take on and the context its in. If you are a personality, a brand, for example, then the two accounts can and could be linked to show greater authenticity. Reality TV stars, TV personalities, celebrities, bloggers often are the ones who would go through such a case, making little distinction between professional and personal.

McCutcheon also discusses the need to network as one of four primary goals for using social media. This is a concept that is much more relatable for younger and experienced scholars alike. Caroline Haythornthwaite, in “Social Networks and Internet Connectivity Effects” discusses media multiplexity, by means that “indicators of a stronger tie- greater communication, maintenance of more relationships and of relations that include emotional and social support-” are tied with more means of communication (130). As McCutcheon “introduces” a few of the most popular platforms around, he is really supporting this form of media multiplexity. Social media thus allows us to lower the “cost” of networking, by the means of reducing the time needed to network face-to-face but instead offering a quick one-liner on LinkedIn or liking one’s Facebook status.  While such quick interactions on social media might not exactly do the same job, I have to say, it’s pretty convenient.

In addition to networking, the two other main goals that McCutcheon discusses are the needs to engage in current and perspective customers as well as to build a tribe. Nicole Ellison, Jessica Vitak, Rebecca Gray and Cliff Lampe deliberate over these concepts in their article “Cultivating Social Resources on Social Network Sites: Facebook Relationship Maintenance Behaviors and Their Role in Social Capital”. One of the bigger aims of building such a large network is to have co-directional influences, in that one can assert influence over a large group of people while others can have influence over one as well. Social Capital “describes the ability of individuals or groups to access resources embedded in their social network” (4). It can often provide a source of opportunity for up and coming businesses as well as to construct strong symbiotic communities. Especially with all the tracking services going around the web, who knows what kind of opportunities will be presented to your new business at the click of a button.

While the basis for McCutcheon’s social media guide is sufficient, it serves as a manual for configuration and elementary uses rather than for business marketing. I had previously mentioned to my peers in class that McCutcheon’s lacks to provide concrete examples to back up each of his suggestions. From a business person’s perspective, which is presumable a large chunk of his audience (as suggested on the cover), there needs to be case studies of successes and failures of integration for a better picture as to why social media would be useful. With all the famous celebrities, such as Youtube sensation then turned international singer Justin Bieber to digital businesses like Refinery29 that have bloomed from social media, these instances should not be troublesome to find. Furthermore, to expound on my peer Joey T’s idea of the need to explain more in regards to content on social media pages, it would have been useful to help categorize which forms of social media would fit what kind of business. The fashion industry, for example, heavily uses Tumblr, even hiring a special fashion director on the Tumblr team to keep tracks of fashion editors contributors and create events such as Tumblr x New York Fashion Week. These examples could be act as the added content for the social media feed and really prove to be more insightful for the reader than a manual about registering certain types of account.

Malcom McCutcheon brings up a few good notes in terms of the fundamental goals of social media such as it serving as a platform for networking, sharing and absorbing social resources efficiently. He could, however, improve the content by dedicating more to ideas and case studies that prove his case and really help persuade the reader. In this way, he would also attract younger audiences that may be looking to use social media, a platform they are already very familiar with, to brand and network for a business.



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