Understanding the social media revolution

January 27, 2010

Book Review

Inbound Marketing
Get Found using Google, Social Media, and Blogs
By Brian Halligan and Dharmeesh Shah
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
$24.95, 215 pages

The Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing
By Eric Groves
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
$24.95, 202 pages

The digital handshake
Seven proven strategies to grow your business using social media
By Paul Chaney
John Wiley & Sons
$24.95, 224 pages

Social Media at Work
How Networking Tools Propel Organizational Performance
By Arthur L. Jue, Jackie Alclade Marr, Mary Ellen Kassotakis
Jossey-Bass
$29.95 , 210 pages

Reviewed by Maclean Kay
BC Bureau Chief
Troy Media

One easy gauge of an event or person’s significance is the amount of books published on the subject. Social Media is no different. In 2009, literally hundreds of titles were published, everything from how-to guides (for Dummies and beyond), histories, to Nostradamus-like prognostications on the future of new media.

Four titles recently published by John Wiley & Sons are among the more notable recent releases. As the foreword for Inbound Marketing begins, we’re living a revolution. The communications revolution is every bit as significant as the print and agricultural revolutions – even if we lack historical perspective.

Identifying the new rules

As with any revolution, however, it’s not just that the old rules simply no longer apply: It is more about identifying the processes and causes that shape the new rules. Inbound Inbound-MarketingMarketing, by Brian Halligan and Dharmeesh Shah, attempts to guide small business owners on the treacherous journey of differentiating between Google from Twitter and Facebook, all the way to efficient manipulation of each of them as marketing tools. It’s one thing to know what Search Engine Optimization (SEO) means, but without knowing how to actually boost your search engine results, it’s essentially useless information.

Halligan and Shah come at new media from a business perspective, but they’re hardly stuffy Wall Street types. They met as graduate students at MIT’s business school and their book reads like a very useful college textbook – that is, useful, compartmentalized, and wry.

First, each chapter ends with to-do items, a kind of pop quiz to test your understanding. They’re often general (“visit www.barackobama.com and look around”) and even funny (“keep reading this book.”)

Indeed, Inbound Marketing benefits greatly from its tone and sense of whimsy. Comic book-style illustrations depict many of the main concepts and points with clarity and humour. The authors don’t treat themselves or the subject matter too gravely, a trap that befalls far too many books on business techniques.

By contrast, Eric Groves’ Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing suffers from an initial credibility gap. Constant Contact successfully sells tools for email and event marketing and online surveys to thousands of small businesses. It’s only natural to assume its guide to email marketing will be biased. Indeed, the author is one of the company’s senior vice presidents. To be fair, the book never tries to be a Trojan Horse, or present itself as completely dispassionate – but it doesn’t feel like a neutral analysis, either.

Constant-ContactThat said, Groves steers away from an explicit advertisement of his and Constant Contact’s services. The first few chapters serve as an introduction to email in general, from etiquette to monetization. From there, it turns into a how-to guide. The information is useful, and the advice insightful – but one still gets the impression of reading a Constant Contact instruction manual. The illustrations tend to be screenshots of Constant Contact’s email tools.

That’s not to say the information in Constant Contact isn’t useful – far from it. Constant Contact’s email marketing tools aren’t successful by accident. For example, the chapter Making Money: The Economics of Email explains the underlying value propositions of email marketing better than most, and Groves does his level best to make the how-to chapters applicable and useful even for non-customers.

Social Media at Work takes a different tack. In contrast to the previous two books, this is a wide-angle lens panorama, as authors Arthur Jue, Jackie Marr and Mary Ellen Kassotakis examine the big picture. Specifically, the book looks at several social media “trailblazers” and attempts to quantify their successes – and naturally, how they did so. There is some specific advice, but Social Media is clearly aiming at being more of a general read.

Social-Networking-at-WorkJue, Marr and Kassotakis know of what they speak. The trio have impressive resumes. Jue has worked with the London Business School, Harvard, and Oxford, and is Chair of Business Leadership for the International Leadership Association. Kassotakis is on the International Leadership Association’s Business Committee’s Executive Board. Marr teaches at the University of San Francisco, and has worked for several Fortune 500 companies.

Above all, the authors are interested in two things: events that mark significant change, and companies (or individuals) that are having success with new tools and techniques. Like many others, they point to the 2008 US Presidential Election as a turning point in social media – the Democrats weren’t just better at using it than the Republicans, but so vastly superior it could fairly be said to have been a decisive factor.

While Social Media at Work isn’t the first book to muse on applying those lessons to business, it does offer more in-depth and compelling case studies than most. The book reads best when it puts a face (and name) to the lessons. For example, the book notes with approval British Telecom’s creation of “BTPedia” – a company-exclusive internal collaboration tool. This has been popular and successful, and has led to several more innovations.

The story is more readable by following one of its creators, Richard Dennison, as he serves in his capacity as BT Group’s senior manager of social media. It’s one thing to state a new company program is popular and useful – quite another to actually see how and why it’s useful.

Digital-HandshakeBy contrast, The Digital Handshake is like a three-part degree program. Readers are like students taking an introductory history class, a lab, and finally an internship or field study program. Part One examines and explains the shift away from traditional advertising -all the things in Mad Men that seem so quaint now – and the reasons the old attitudes, techniques and tools are suddenly obsolete. If you’re already versed in social media and just want a new and interesting take on social media marketing, this first section is easily skipped.

That’s not to say it’s not worthwhile – far from it. Author Paul Chaney has an appealingly concise yet personable writing style and, even if you’ve read similar analyses, Chaney’s history of old-model advertising is interesting and entertaining. But the book is designed so that readers who wish to skip the 101-level course and head straight to the advanced-level labs may easily do so.

Getting to the nitty gritty

Part Two is quite different. The book’s subtitle, Seven Proven Strategies to Grow Your Business serves as the de facto and de jure title here, gets straight to the nitty gritty. Business blogging, social networks, online niche communities, microblogging (essentially Twitter), online video, podcasting, and social media news releases are all explained, dissected, and analysed for consumption and comprehension. Chaney explains the various tools for each, the etiquette (where applicable), and how they’re most often used.

Part Three, the field study portion, tries to put all the information and techniques learned in part two to good use, building a social media marketing plan of action. Helpfully, Chaney thinks ahead and includes ways to measure effectiveness, which most authors ignore or gloss over.

Of all four books, if one could only choose one, Chaney’s probably covers the most bases.

Channels: The Calgary Beacon, January 28, 2010

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One Response to "Understanding the social media revolution"

  1. pchaney   January 29, 2010 at 2:13 am

    Thank you for listing my book in your article. I love the way you analogize it as well. And to say, of all these titles, if only one could be picked, you'd choose mine…well, that truly makes my day!

    Paul Chaney