“How to Not Suck at Social Media” — Malcolm McCutcheon [REVIEW]

Screen Shot of Book's Cover Page

Screen Shot of Book’s Cover Page

In Malcolm McCutcheon’s book “How Not to Suck at Social Media,” the short and rudimentary guide to starting up one’s social media accounts for one’s small businesses or even one’s self brand was quite deceiving from the glance of its the bold title of the book.

The premise of the book followed similar narratives of a guide or a “how to” book one would find in a bookstore. Though the author initially establishes his “goals” in the beginning of the book, the rest of the following chapters were dedicated to directions on how to set up accounts on various social media platforms from Facebook to Yelp. Simply put, this book is a very basic book for novice social media users to introduce them to various platforms and basic practices online. However at one point, McCutcheon elaborates on his “Key Tactics” where he makes some valid points that may not be obvious for a first time user, for example showing interest in your followers, sharing and allowing your personality to come through in your posts, and “posting frequently but not overdoing it”. I found these parts quite interesting, but soon after, it returned to directions for setting up RSS Feeds.

While reading this book, it got me wondering about the credibility and the reliability of the authors that were listed in our suggested readings for our class’s book review.  What makes a person credible enough to write a book with such authority when the author himself or herself did not have a strong following online. This was true with my author Malcolm McCutcheon’s various profiles as his Twitter accounts had just 182 followers on his personal account (@MalclmMc) and 248 followers on his professional account (@thatsbossa), on G+ 133, and Facebook 285. From this observation I was not able to completely trust and rely on his advice in this book.

This reminded me of Rebekah Willett’s article, “As Soon as You Get on Bebo You Just Go Mad: Young consumers and the discursive construction of teenagers online.” It recalled a momentary snippet I read about how teenagers who were interviewed about Bebo, a social media platform similar to Facebook, felt a “feeling of mastery and autonomy” over.

Interestingly, the line that I recalled from the reading about teens struck a chord with me as I was pondering about the self-certification and mastery of social media that most people online tend to think they own. I believe this sense of credibility comes with the nature of the territory of social media since everyone is so engrained with and participates in online culture. Hence the total emersion with these platforms perhaps gives one authority to instruct others to direct how to set up their profiles as well.  Perhaps it is because social media is in its early stage of “domestication,” one of the four major social discourses for new technologies that Nancy Baym mentions in her book “Personal Connections in the Digital Age” that is stirring up people’s compulsion to get online.

Because social media marketing and the concept self-branding is in its beginning stages of domestication into society, many people tend to want to be the first or the ground-breaking person to master this obvious phenomena that society has embraced. I think that this book is a prime example of such effects of domestication of social media. It is much like the teens that were using Bebo in Willett’s study, where they felt that they had mastered the platform to the point where it contributed to the user’s sense of control and confidence levels. My critique is not just directed at the author of the book I chose to review, but to all those “self help” articles and the “tell all” books of mastering social media that are out there.

However with this thought, I was inclined to question how I was determining whether or not this author was indeed the master of the given platforms. It wasn’t due to the rate of success in engagement and clicks that most big brands look towards when setting goal metrics, but rather his followership. Though McCutcheon’s followership was not very high across most of his major platforms (FB, Twitter & G+), his book is an ideal start for a user who is a newcomer online. Perhaps we, as a blogging group, were not the ideal readers for McCutcheon’s book, as Joey Truty mentions in his critique that “it would’ve been extremely successful if released at the upstart of social media, instead of in the deep of the social media craze.” Rather it would have been more helpful for someone who is in the older generation, who are living in non urban areas where there is no propulsion or obligation to be connection online could find helpful when venturing the online space of social media, which at first can be quite daunting.

Alternatively from the social media theory perspective, it seemed that this book was more a instructional book on how to get started with social media across multiple platforms and obtain content to share via signing up for RSS feeds. McCutcheon empowers the user to go online and shape their social presence via these platforms and wielding these platforms to the will of the user. This harked at Baym’s other social discourse of new technologies called, Social Constructionist of Technology. Because the book was attempting to teach people to harness the power of social to elevate their social capital of their business or self brand. The blogging group unanimously concurred during our discussion that it did not seem like it would fit any other discourses because it did not mention any means of the user attempting to make changes to the social platforms but rather how they can use the technology to boost their social standing.

With that in mind, it seemed natural that Judith Donath’s idea of “social ties” in her article Sociable Media was included in the critique. Surely, with the advent of setting up a platform, one is to make connections that are beyond the boundaries of one’s personal social circles. Just by setting up one’s account and tweeting/posting a message is a means to broadcast to a larger audience than ever before as McCutcheon also notes that one’s posts are to be “selective shares, something that has a broad appeal and that most people can relate to” (632). With that comes self-branding that Sarah Banet-Weiser mentions in “Branding the post-feminist self: Girls’ video production and YouTube” as one extends one’s social ties, one grows their social network that inevitably results to controlling and appropriating the demeanor in which one presents oneself to those ties and potentially the world.

Last but not least, the concept of Tiziana Terranova’s free labor from her article, “Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy,” comes into play as McCutcheon’s book is clearly directed for users who have never been online before to start consuming and proliferating content for various brands that they subscribe to via the RSS feeds recommended by the author. We can assume that those reading are those who have not had a social media persona, hence we can also safely assume that these users were not participating or at least at the rapid pace that social media allows one to partake in in free labor. Free labor by Terranova’s definition is work where one is a pawn to corporations that enable one to share cultural content through “sharing” on these social media accounts. This labor is all voluntarily done and is uncompensated. Unfortunately, the author without even realizing it is enabling these new users to join the millions of users in this free labor that Terranova mentions.

Given these critiques of social and cultural implications from a book where at first glance seemed like a “How To” guide, is astounding that these shifts are happening right before our eyes. Whether it is the domestication of social media to the free labor nuances behind every share button or call to action is quite frightening to think about when regarding the future of my generation. However, in the end, the book itself was not quite for me or for anyone in my blogging groups, but I found that it could be quite useful to the right target audience that’s out there ready to enter the hectic world of social media.

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