“How to not suck at Social Media” Book Review

 

Malcom McCutcheon in “How to not suck at Social Media” gives advice to business owners about getting started successfully on various social media sites.   The book is directed towards individuals who have little or no experience with social media and are seeking assistance in setting up accounts for their businesses.  McCutcheon begins by laying out four essential goals meant to guide readers throughout their attempt to establish themselves on SNSs.  They include: 1) To not suck, 2) To engage with your current and prospective customers, 3) To build your “tribe,” and 4) To network, damnit!  The book discusses the importance of treating your follows like friends, building a “tribe” of loyal acquaintances in which you take a genuine interest in, and avoiding the “hard-sell” approach at all costs.  McCutcheon explains how to create accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and Yelp, and describes key strategies in coming across professionally on these platforms.  His messages, for the most part, are clear and concise, keeping in mind that the intended audience is business owners who are late to the social media game.

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I was quick to deem this book unhelpful and extremely basic, until I acknowledged the stance the author took in his disclaimer, which our group noted during our discussion.  McCutcheon states that he is not a social media “guru” and does not consider himself an expert in this field.  He claims that his book is a representation of his opinion on how to succeed using social media based on his experience, and is understanding of any conflicting ideas.  That being said, there are quite a few concepts we have studied throughout the course of the semester that would greatly enhance the opinions expressed in “How to not suck.”

McCutcheon often refers to a specific kind of relationship between the owner of an online account and their followers, one that is based around friendly interactions and a sense of loyalty between the two parties involved.  In terms of business, online followers could very possibly translate their “likes” into real world interactions or purposes.  This can be better described through Nancy Baym’s concept of “social capital” in “Personal Connections in the Digital Age,” and the establishment of “weak” and “strong” ties as explained by Caroline Haythornthwaite in “Social Networks and Internet Connectivity Effects.”  Social capital, which Baym defines as the “resources people attain because of their network of relationships,” would explain the rise of sales once stronger online relationships are built (82).  As we discussed in our blogging group, the description of how a strong tie (characterized by a high level of intimacy and a high motivation to share resources) is created from a weak tie (a relationship between unlike individuals who contact each other casually), would help in McCutcheon’s explanation of how to create this strong relationship and genuinely care for followers.  Using these terms as gages of closeness between the business and their online customers, or “friends” (as he would like readers to consider them), he could have clearly displayed how one should view their followers.

McCutcheon emphasizes that the extra interest you showcase towards your online connections will greatly benefit your business in the long run.  He should have proven the existence of this social capital with real world examples, perhaps demonstrating how a company experienced an increase in sales of a certain product once they were highlighted on Facebook or Twitter.  He makes strong claims about how one should express themselves and their company on social media, but as Julie also acknowledged in her notes, he doesn’t necessarily back any of these ideas up with examples.  How are new users expected to believe in his guide if they have never seen these tips played out in real life?  The absence of concrete examples severely weakened his claims.

Throughout the entirety of “How to not suck,McCutcheon is essentially teaching new users how to properly brand themselves online; however, he never actually discusses what “branding” via social media is.  Our group agreed that the lack of emphasis placed on the solid concept of self-branding, as well as the implications of being inauthentic online, left readers unsure of how to accurately showcase their company.  Sarah Banet-Weiser’sBranding The Post-Feminist Self,” offers the insight on self-branding that McCutcheon should have included, as she takes note of the flexibility of online spaces and how that, combined with “engaged online consumer interactivity,” contributes to a successful marketing strategy (15).  With this in mind, McCutcheon could have expanded upon the idea that we are essentially required to self-brand on SNSs, and could have made a clearer distinction between one’s personal account (and therefore brand) and one’s business account.

The distinction he attempted to make, as Stiz noted collectively, was very confusing since he contradicted his own statements quite a bit.  McCutcheon writes, “Another mantra from this guide has to do with the intentional separation of you, the person, from you, the business owner or blogger. You are not the same person.”  Here, readers clearly understand that they should not blend their own personal style or flair into their business’s posts.  Yet, just a few pages later, he writes, “It’s also more than okay for your individual personality to show up in your updates.”  This seems to directly contradict what he had just previously recommended.  After reading, I was left wondering if a complete separation between the two was a more professional route to take, yet Banet-Weiser’s piece assisted in my understanding that it is almost impossible for this separation to occur.

McCutcheon does thoroughly explain how to start from scratch when it comes to signing up for SNSs, and explains the basics of how and when to post updates on multiple platforms, yet his general claims seem to overlook the issue of authenticity (or lack there of) that presents itself online.  He writes that networking online is much easier than in real life, and small talk seems more genuine via social media.  I couldn’t disagree more with these statements, especially after reading Zizi Papacharissi’s piece, “Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter.”  Papacharissi describes how we express our identity online through performances, which we often sculpt according to our current audience.  She writes that there is always an inauthentic aspect to our expressed identities, especially on Twitter, where we display a combination of both private and public performances.  McCutcheon should have explained this, or at least briefly noted, that online portrayals of one’s business are never completely genuine or real.  As a result, this public “small talk” is far from authentic.

In terms of conveying a coherent presence across multiple SNSs, McCutcheon uses the same idea that expressing one’s self is simple.  Kevin brings up the idea that businesses often view themselves as micro-celebrities, and in that case, there are challenges to be made to McCutcheon’s view on self-presentation.  Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd, in “To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter,” state that “Micro-celebrity can be understood as a mindset and set of practices in which audience is viewed as a fan base” (140).  This means, if users are to establish themselves consistently across various sites, as McCutcheon attempts to portray, they must demonstrate “expressive coherence,” which is explained in Hugo Liu’s  “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances.”  Liu acknowledges that although one’s presence is essentially a performance, this act must be properly maintained on all SNSs.  “How to not suck” could have included this idea with tips on how to express oneself seamlessly over multiple sites.

McCutcheon covers the basics of obtaining an account on the most popular social media sites, as well as appropriately tends to the needs of his desired audience.  Even though there were important concepts missing that would have significantly strengthened his arguments, he most likely helped quite a few business owners who were seeking basic assistance in getting started on social media.

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