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

“How to NOT Suck at Social Media,” written by Malcom McCutcheon, is a brief e-book meant to guide business owners in using social media as a means of enhancing their business practices. Before diving into the contents of the book, knowing a bit about the author allows for a better understanding of his purpose. McCutcheon, as self-described in his author bio, has been working as a digital marketing consultant and creative director since 1996. He is present on multiple social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. “How to NOT Suck at Social Media” was published quite recently, in October 2013.

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screenshot of e-book by author

The book is broken down into a few short sections: goals, setup, strategy, and key tactics. First, he lists the four ultimate goals that new social media users should keep in mind:

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screenshot of e-book by author

The book then  moves on to cover eight different social networking platforms “where you absolutely have to be present,” according to McCutcheon. He briefly describes the function of each and then explains why they are so significant. This is followed by sections on “Strategy” and key tactics.

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screenshot of e-book by author

In the conclusion, he congratulates the reader “on not sucking at social media!” and offers a resource guide that includes links and resources related to social media.

At first glance, this book seems promising. To be honest, Stiz was sold pretty quickly on choosing it. The title is enticing, the length is short and sweet – as a guide book should be, and the publication date is recent and therefore should provide insight that is fairly updated. Unfortunately, most of us (if not all) were far from impressed after finishing the book. Had we done a little bit of preliminary research, we would have realized that the author himself is not as competent in achieving social media success as his book seems to claim. As Stiz discussed, his Twitter account only is followed by a total of 183 followers. We also overlooked the fact that his target audience certainly does not include students like ourselves who are already relatively knowledgeable in social media networking. In the introduction, it is clearly stated that “this guide is written for business owners that are new to using social media as an entity rather than as a person.” So, it can be assumed that this book is geared towards a less technologically savvy crowd and it should be expected that any other audience might find the book less useful. Having acknowledged this, it is most fair to critique the book keeping in mind the author’s intended audience (Stiz suspects this group to be older, perhaps above 50).

The progression of McCutcheon’s book is easy to follow and well organized for the older audience. However, the first major fault with his book is actually in the title itself, which is also listed as the first goal – “to NOT suck.”  To not suck at something does not necessarily equate to actually being good at it. To not suck does not imply that success is achieved. If we apply this to the author’s Twitter account – perhaps having 183 followers could be considered not “sucky,” but it also does not signify success. A quick fix to this would be a change in tone that is more positive or encouraging. (For example: How to be THE BEST at Social Media! – Corny, sure, but still optimistic.) Fortunately, the other three goals are indeed great goals for new users to have, especially those using for business purposes.

The “setup” portion of his book is arguably unnecessary. He basically condenses all of the instructions that could be found on individual SNS Help Center and FAQ pages to save readers the time of having to search the information independently. Along with instructions on how to set up accounts, he offers basic advice like choosing a name that is “memorable, recognizable, easy to verbalize, and tied somehow to your business or what you do.” At best, the section offers convenience, but nothing extraordinary.

If there is one section of the book that stands out from the rest, it is the portion where he explains key tactics of social media use. It is here where he finally gives the valuable tips that late social media adopters might not grasp on their own. Some might say what is listed is common sense, but his advice can easily be enhanced by concepts that have been discussed in class this semester.

In particular, the first tactic McCutcheon states -“separate you, the person from you, the business/blogger”- relates closely with the concept of context collapse mentioned in Nancy Baym‘s book Personal Connections in the Digital Age. McCutcheon essentially advises users to not intermix the content of personal and professional accounts so that the audiences of each are not exposed to information that they should not want to or need to know. By separating the accounts, one can avoid context collapse and reach the intended audiences of each. He goes on to say that it is still useful to share a bit of the personal self in the professional setting, because “people that you engage with will love seeing you as a real person.” He also emphasizes establishing a presence on multiple accounts and maintaining a consistency throughout all. This discussion would be better supported by Caroline Haythornthwaite‘s concept of strong & latent ties, which she mentions in her article “Social Networks and Interconnectivity Effects.” She insists that creating and maintaining stronger ties goes “hand in hand with the use of more means of communication,” or in her words, media multiplexity. In context with McCutcheon’s advice, the ties businesses create with their customers can be strengthened just by connecting via more social network sites. In response, fellow classmate Rebecca Suss brings up an interesting point that debates the genuineness of these ties. She offers Don Slater‘s idea of relationship inauthenticity from his article “Social Relationships and Identity Online and Offline” as rebuttal to McCutcheon’s statement that “small-talk seems more genuine and interesting on Facebook.” This can also be applied to the question of whether the ties businesses make with their customers online are actually legitimate ties that translate into economic or tangible value. For example, just because a person follows a clothing brand on Twitter, does it necessarily mean he is buying and wearing their clothing? Perhaps McCutcheon does not have an answer to that question, but his overall  stance is that even the most basic form of social media use can benefit a business. He approaches social media from what Baym would call a social constructionist standpoint. Another fellow classmate, Jasmine Yook sums up excellently why Stiz collectively agrees on this: his entire purpose in writing the book is to teach others to “wield the power of social media to elevate their social capital” for business purposes.

Throughout the book, McCutcheon laces his advice with excessive personal anecdotes, crass comments, and dull humor probably meant to make him seem more relatable, but ultimately all of it degrades the quality of his content. That is not to say all of his writing is poor. In fact, he concludes the book with a sound piece of advice: “Unlike the occasional freak viral video, building your online presence isn’t usually overnight success story. Be patient and be consistent and you’ll eventually build a sphere of influence to be proud of.” This is both realistic and optimistic, as well as motivational. Though the book certainly has its faults here and there, it overall works as a decent elementary guide for those who are new to the social media scene and are interested in establishing an online presence to aid their business practices – a population that grows every day in this constantly changing digital age.

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