How to Not Suck at Social Media Book Review

In the past decade, social media has transformed into an integral part of everyone’s lives. Whether you are just a student looking to make friends, a fan looking to receive updates about their idol, or a celebrity looking to reach out to fans, social media has been domesticated, as Nancy Baym puts it. While its initial purpose was to communicate online as to increase one’s social circle, it has expanded to building networks in general, both social and professional.

Malcom McCutcheon’s “How to Not Suck at Social Media: A Beginner’s Guide for Business” is an e-book that revolves around social media’s role for businesses. It aims to teach its readers, who as stiz agrees are older individuals that lack adequate experience with social media, how to utilize social media to promote and develop his or her brand in the most effective way. In doing so, he emphasizes four goals for how to use social media: to not suck, to engage with customers, to build a tribe, and to network. He then delves into multiple social media platforms and their purpose, while scratching the surface of what their individual advantages and disadvantages are and what makes them unique. Lastly, he lists out strategies he believes will help businesses gain the most out of social media.

While I applaud the way he structured the book into clear categories (goals, step-by-steps, and tactics), I agree with my stiz group members that the content was rather disappointing and not insightful. We believe that McCutcheon’s “imagined audience”, a term that Marwick and Boyd coined in “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience”, is someone who simply has not stepped into the realm of social interactivity on the Internet. Because of this, he relays just basic information and general goals. With no real depth, the book comes off as more of a manual, as Kevin describes it. He should have considered all prospective readers such as the “nightmare readers” that Marwick and Boyd  speak of.  Stiz also believe that the author takes on a social constructionist standpoint, one of the four discourses that Baym explains in “Personal Connection in the Digital Age”. His entire book is about how users can use social media to conform to their needs, especially when it comes to their businesses and brands. It is about how we can use it to our advantage, not how it shapes the way we behave. However, as Chelsea agrees, the idea of domestication also presents itself in that the author encourages business owners to incorporate social media into their business routines.

In giving us his thoughts about social media and its potential benefits, McCutcheon touches on some critical ideas but fails to develop them. For one, as Allegra, Joey, Chelsea, Kevin, Rebecca, and Jasmine agree, a discussion about social ties would have been beneficial. He speaks about how “social media is all about building relationships” but doesn’t go in depth about the advantages of different types of social ties. For instance, when he suggests that business owners should take a genuine interest in followers, he should have furthered that by showing that creating that fake intimacy, which Marwick and Boyd  speak about in “To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter”, will lead to more potential of customers remaining loyal and converting them into stronger ties. He also states that customers include anyone that is interested and speaks about how even customers that express little interest are meaningful to a business. Baym and Caroline Haythornthwaite’s concept of weak ties could have advanced this. Even though they are weak ties, those ties are easier to gain and maintain as Baym says, and add to the company’s social capital, a concept that Ellison, Vitak, Gray & Lampe speak of in “Cultivating Social Resources on Social Networks”.

As they point out, investing and maintaining in any relationship can lead to gaining even more social capital in the future. Through “bridging”, the company can gain even more weak ties from their already existing weak ties. Also, “grooming”, which is similar to the author’s idea of showing genuine interest, is a critical part of maintaining ties. In his section about building a tribe where he parallels those connections within the tribe as measurements of success on social media, McCutcheon could have linked to Haythornthwaite’s concept of media multiplicity in “Social Networks and Internet Connectivity Effects” and how that would be a good measurement of how strong the ties within a company’s tribe are. As Rebecca agrees, exploring more on the importance of social ties maintained across multiple platforms would have been more insightful. For example, he could have brought in the topic of latent ties and how already existing weak ties from multiple social media platforms would spur more social interaction that can convert them into weak ties.

Another concept that I along with AllegraJoeyChelsea, Courtney, and Jasmine would have liked McCutcheon to link is self-branding. The author mentions so many tactics such as never use hard-sell, show genuine interest, bring value that benefits followers to social media posts, and find the balance in the amount of posts, but does not speak about why these tactics are important.  For example in suggesting the avoidance of controversial topics including religion and politics, he should have explained that those types of opinionated posts directly reflect the company’s image. As he puts it, “reputation in social media can be easy to destroy, and very hard to repair”. For that reason, there are certain types of posts that should be disregarded so that they won’t be aligned with the company’s beliefs. Also, Sarah Banet-Weiser’s mention of social network sites impact on self-branding in “Branding the Post-Feminist Self: Girl’s Video Production” is relevant. She believes that the feedback mechanisms of social media are tools of disciplines. For companies to receive positive feedback, they must monitor themselves and practice “impression management”, as termed by Erving Goffman.

McCutcheon also delves into performativity and context collapse. He advises business owners to avoid promoting business on personal networks and personal on business networks. As Zizi Papacharissi says in “Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter”, performers adapt to different audiences. McCutcheon’s talk of separation of personal and business plays into that very concept. To succeed in upholding the brand’s image, business owners must avoid context collapse. As Marwick and Boyd  propose, posts should be directed to the “lowest common denominator”. This way they will be more neutral and consequently will appeal to the largest group.

Overall, I believe that McCutcheon‘s book covers the basics of how to enter the realm of social media and gives a few basic pointers on what to avoid and what to do. Although many concepts that would have advanced the book were missing, I feel like for his ideal reader, this book would be beneficial and would serve its purpose as a starter’s guide.

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