Book Review: “How to Not Suck at Social Media”

The title of Malcom McCutcheon’s book, How to Not Suck at Social Media: A Beginner’s Guide for Businesses, speaks for itself; it really is a beginner’s guide. However, it is not too helpful in the “how not to suck” department. My blog group came to an overwhelming consensus that this book is meant for an older audience, perhaps 50-60 year olds, and narrates in a very simple-minded way that is not conducive at all to actually using social media successfully. While it does describe different social media platforms and how to set up accounts on them, McCutecheon goes no further in emphasizing to businesses how to actually use these platforms in a way that will successfully and efficiently improve business. This is the downfall of the book, and as one of my colleagues states in his notes on the book, the book is past its prime. Had it been written at the advent of social media, it would have been more attractive to a broader audience since at that point nobody really knew how to use social media at all. McCutcheon titles his book as a guide for businesses, but just reading the book, it could have been for anyone who needed advice on starting up on any specific platform; hardly useful for a businessman who really wants to know how to gain more customers from social media.

McCutcheon’s book begins with four goals for not sucking at social media. The first is, simply, to not suck. As my classmate Chelsea W. points out in her notes, this goal is rather fruitless since not sucking is not equated with actually succeeding or using social media efficiently. It’s playing not to lose, instead of playing to win. The other goals are to engage with current and prospective customers, to build your ‘tribe,’ and “to network, dammit!” (McCutcheon). After stating these goals, he continues on into detailed descriptions of how to set up accounts on several social media platforms, including but not limited to, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Some platforms he names that are more conducive to businesses and not personal use are Buffer, Hootsuite, and RSS Feeds. Although this listing of platforms does not make for an interesting or even necessarily useful read, the main issue I had with this book is the lack of depth when discussing social ties with customers, of which developing and successfully maintaining is the very prize of efficient social media use. In goal number two, McCutcheon states that when it comes to customers, “the general rule of thumb is to treat the person on the social media channel as you would when you meet a new person in real life.” He wants you to be friendly, but not to take it too far since you really do not know who you are dealing with on the other end of the connection. This is a valid observation certainly, but McCutcheon offers no advice on how to utilize these weak ties with customers in order to increase business.

McCutcheon could have strengthened his argument by elaborating on the complications that arise from initiating and maintaining ties with people, or has he would say, building one’s ‘tribe.’ One of these complications could have been brought up in his section, “Separate you, the person from you, the business/blogger.” He commences by mentioning that you should keep your personal and business selves separated, but then contradicts himself in the very next paragraph stating, “that’s not to say you shouldn’t share a little bit about you as a person.” McCutcheon seems to be asking the reader to walk a fine line between what you can portray on your social media and what you cannot, which is a good example of the concept of authenticity discussed by Don Slater in his work, “Social Relationships and Identity Online and Offline.” As my classmate Rebecca mentions in her thoughts on the book, how users present themselves online may differ greatly from whom they are in the offline world, businesses included. What does this mean for a business that is trying to use social media? It means that when you are trying to have a broad audience in order to gain maximum business, it is inevitable that you present some ideas that may not be authentic to your individual self offline. Gaining business is all about appealing to the highest number of people, and McCutcheon should have included some notes on why it is important to separate personal from business online, instead of just stating that you should.

Not only could the author have elaborated on why not to mix personal with business image, he could also have gone into more depth on why it is important to show just a bit of yourself. He mentions this in his section about Instagram, stating that using this platform lets followers see a little of the person behind the posts, which “helps to solidify the relationships you’re building online.” I would agree with him and with Rebecca in this case, because according to Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd, this helps to create intimacy with people who are your customers. McCutcheon fails to elaborate on why this is important to growing your business and using social media to do so. This analysis could have helped his book make the leap from instruction manual to educational training.

Overall, McCutcheon’s book was not necessarily bad, but not so useful for two reasons. For one, it is not helpful for the younger generation, since we all already know how to use social media on the basic level he describes. Secondly, it does not prove very useful to business owners who are starting out on social media, or even trying to expand their use, because it does not elaborate on the effects of social media use or even what to do once you have successfully created an account. As an instruction manual, it works, but cannot be taken seriously by those who need to know more.

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