How to NOT Suck on Social Media Book Reveiw

“How to Not Suck at Social Media — a Beginner’s Guide for Business” is a brief introduction to basic social media conduct, tactics, and principles of usage, intended for business owners who just start to establish their social media presence. The author is Malcom McCutcheon, the owner of a digital marketing consultancy called Bossa Nova Interactive. As self-explanatory as the title is, the book does very little help to savvy users. It only prevents novice users from being entirely ignorant of social media norms, meaning “NOT to suck”, rather than teaching them to be successful marketers in online realm.

The book starts by pointing out a basic principle of social media practice: considering social media as social network rather than marketing channels for hard sell. After discussing few common mistakes that marketers new to social media sites might make, such as acting robotic and impersonal, this book guide then sets goals for new social media marketers, including “not to suck’, engage current and prospective customers, build the “tribe”, and to network. However, Malcom barely scratches the surface of code of conduct on social media. Instead, he dedicates the majority of the book to giving instructions on how to set up accounts step by step on major social media platforms, such as Facebook, twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc. Then the book briefly summarizes some social media tactics that it touches upon during previous discussion, for example separating business from personal account, show interest in followers, and bring value to followers. These points are  potentially valuable and helpful for new comers in social media world. However the author goes back to address the technicality behind managing multiple social media by introducing RSS feed services.

Though the book put much emphasis on rudimentary technical instructions, it does offer some fundamental premises that could guide marketers’ practices on social media. One recurring principle is to ask marketers to not sell but network and build relationship with audience on social media. Malcom describes direct selling on Social media to be “impersonal,…spammy,…sleazy, and…lazy…”(117) He does have a point, because social media sites are places where users work on social ties, as Haythornthwaite puts it in “Social Networks and Internet Connectivity Effects”. In the process of turning latent ties offline to weak ties or enhance weak ties to be strong ties, there are certain social norms that extend from offline to online world. Ellison and Boyd would agree that in a place for networking with the co-presence of acquaintances, friends, family, etc, the appearance of a direct sales person clearly brings the issue of context collapse from “Sociality through Social Network Sites” .

Though social media platforms technically afford marketers to deliver spams, post coupons, or send sales information, the book without a doubt encourages business owners to take off markers’ hat and start networking. The intentional choice of using social media for building a social “tribe” instead of selling the long-term benefit of marketers exemplifies the concept of social construction among four social discourses of new media from Nancy Baym‘s Personal Connections in the Digital Age”, upon which our blogging group reached consensus. Also, by stopping direct selling and building up relationship, marketers in offline world get to reconstruct their identity in the online world and leave their sellers’ identity behind temporarily. They are able to deliberately present themselves as a source of relevant news or a friend with shared interest to their customers/audience online. Such behavior echoes with Don Slater’s concept of  “disembodiment”  from “Social Relationships and Identity Online and Offline” where one’s offline presence could become irrelevant to one’s online presence.

The value of networking, as Malcom argues, is that it would ultimately lead to a boost on the bottom line if a marketer could successfully engage his/her current or prospective customer and build a “tribe”. However, it takes an indirect approach. I find it quite valuable when the book suggests marketers to “show interest in followers”(604) and in the meanwhile “bring value to followers”(616), though it fails to give solid example and discuss them further in details. These approaches are not only useful to those who sell products but are also widely adopted by successful public relations practitioners. However, it is interesting to notice that the actual tactics that Malcom listed, such as “looking out for others, engaging them in discussions they find interesting, ‘liking’ their stuff, re-tweeting their tweets, commenting on their posts” actually resemble the celebrity practice for engaging fans on social media that Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd discussed in their research paper “To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter”. “Famous people mention fans to perform connection and availability, give back  to loyal fans, and manage their popularity” (145, Marwick&Boyd). Likewise, when a brand publicly acknowledges customers’ interest and opinion and bring related news and resource back to them, they foster a reciprocal relationship and then maintain their bonds.

Last but not least, Erving Goffman’s idea on how people create their identity by managing both front stage” and “back stage” comes into play when Malcom advices marketers to disclose their personal identity once in a while. To show a little bit of personal interest and personal life, Malcom’s argument goes along with Goffman’s idea that showing the “back stage” once in a while would show more authenticity. For small business, they would therefore more likely to appear as a real person communicating rather than a robot posting automatically.

Even as a book for beginners, this book may seem a little too rudimentary.  The author dedicates the majority of pages telling people how to set up accounts, almost like rewriting the help center page of various social media sites. I agree that this book offers some valuable points that marketers new to social media should bear in mind as guidance of their practice, I feel very disappointed that the author only scratches the surface. I remember Jasmine mentioned in her book review notes that she thinks the credibility of the author is doubtable, because judging by the “tribes” that he built for his business, his social media tactics only help him earn very narrow followership. As I counted, Malcom has only 248 followers on his own twitter account @Malcommc, 182 on his business twitter account @thatsbossa, and 285 on Facbook account. These numbers are even lower than those of an average user of our age. In addition, the author integrated information about the social media presence of himself and his business into every chapter of the book, and the analysis is heavily dependent on his personal examples. These facts all make this book more like a self-promotion or direct selling, even though he strongly discourages such behaviors in his book. The discrepancy of what he is doing  and what he argues deduces his credibility. However, overall, a business owner who’re barely exposed to social media may still benefit from this book so that he/she at least wouldn’t fail to even start their presence on social media.

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