My 2011 resolutions are to read as many marketing & PR books as physically possible and to spend less money. So far, January has been good: I’ve consumed three books from my local public library: Socialnomics by Eric Qualman; The Whuffie Factor by Tara Hunt; and Twitterville by Shel Israel.
I set out to blog individually about each book, but that fell by the wayside when, after renewing the books twice, I realized time wasn’t on my side. I’m glad it ended up that way: it just so happens each book was published in 2009. The books overlap quite a bit in real-world examples, which is good and allows for an intense crash course.
For instance, each author discusses the Obama campaign’s use of social media during his run for president in 2008. In fact, Qualman goes so far as to say this: “Before social media, Obama would not have even won his own party’s nomination, let alone become the 44th president of the United States” (78).
That’s powerful stuff.
A little disappointed with Socialnomics
Yet, like a few other things in Qualman’s book, I have to disagree. Qualman is clearly an avid social media user and a great promoter, as evidenced by his 40,000+ Twitter following. He has an optimistic outlook on social media’s current and future impact. However, and this is only my opinion, he might be a little too optimistic. A few examples:
“One of the key maxims of this book is that wasting time on Facebook and social media actually makes you more productive” (4). I don’t think this statement should be a blanket declaration for all demographics. In fact, I think a select, very small demographic takes advantage of how much efficiency social media can offer. I do think that a lot of people waste time on social media; Qualman should instead write a how-to book on making the most of your social media time. Which leads to…
Because of social media, “People are actually living their own lives rather than watching others” (44): Like my sentiment above, I don’t think this can be applied in a general sense. If everyone is out living their own lives instead of watching others, then social media wouldn’t exist; there’d be no audience. People aren’t out living their lives more, they’re just able to talk more about what they do. It’s akin to the vocal minority phenomenon.
Here’s an example of the author’s over-optimistic approach to the future of social media: “Social media allows for an inexpensive and relevant second, third and four-hundredth medical opinion especially in underdeveloped regions of the world” (101): Do underdeveloped regions of the world even have access to the Internet? And if so, would they be on social media? Perhaps this is the demographic that’s out actually living their lives (i.e., managing survival) instead of watching others.
And finally, I have to agree on one of several points in “Armchair Sociologist & Perpetual Contrarian” Justin Kownacki’s blog piece about Qualman’s book: the book contains so many typos and a lack of fact checking that I almost put it down and walked away. It was as if a first draft accidentally got published instead of the stellar book the jacket says it is. Qualman says in the “About this book” page: “So, while this work will not win any Grammar Girl awards, I hope you find it informative, educational, and entertaining.” Fine, but it seems that the editors left that sentence in so that they wouldn’t have to, well, edit.
It feels a little weird blogging such negativity, because that’s not my style. And really, for me, it’s more about the lack of good editing that gives my reading experience a dark cloud. I blame it more on the publisher, Wiley* (a very good and reputable publisher, by the way, so this is surprising) than I do Qualman. However, despite it all, I’m glad I didn’t put it down. It was part of my social media triumvirate, and I like books that force me to question myself or the author.
Onward and upward: a triumvirate of knowledge
All three books look at the importance of an individual’s and a company’s “social capital,” what Hunt terms “wuffie.” We’re judged by how we engage with and respond to fans and critics of our brands and products. And whether companies want to have presences on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., really doesn’t matter: audiences are there, and companies must be, too.
Regardless of what platform they’re on, customers who use social media to connect with a brand or company want two main things when engaging: courtesy and timeliness. Immediate action is a hallmark of Facebook and especially Twitter. Leave a customer who has a question, complaint or even a praise hanging, and you just might lose them.
This reading has seeped into my every day, non-social media life, too, and I love it. This weekend someone bought me the most amazing chocolate bar I’d ever had the pleasure of meeting. I didn’t look at the package when I started eating it, so I was curious to find out exactly what it was. It was Vosges Haut-Chocolat’s Creole Bar with chicory coffee and cocoa nibs. It was amazing. And as I studied the package, I couldn’t shake it that I’d heard of Vosges. Then it hit me: I’d read about Katrina Markoff and her company in Hunt’s Wuffie!
Small potatoes, maybe, but here’s the point: Hunt’s book had piqued my interest in Markoff’s Vosges Haut-Chocolat, which was created in her home kitchen in San Francisco in 1998. I like knowing the background of the company, and I especially like knowing of its commitment to fair trade and the environment. Second, I like that the company is progressive in a social media sense. And third, it’s a damn good product. Remember, at the core of it all, when consumers strip away social media profiles, packaging and social responsibility, the product they find on which all of this is based must be great and valuable.
After reading these books, in order to build my own social capital, I tweeted each author to thank them for their books. Whuffie author @missrogue responded the next day, and we had a lovely conversation. I mentioned to @shelisrael that I had made Twitterville my Bible for my rededication to Twitter; he almost immediately responded that while he was glad I liked the book, it might not be a good idea to make it my Bible. Good point. Which is why I’m so pleased these three books fell into my lap at the same time. I tweeted @equalman of Socialnomics about five days ago, and I haven’t heard from him. Does this do anything to his social capital?
All three books are due tomorrow, so back to the library they must go. But all three are ones that I’ll venture to purchase and add to my marketing library.
*Wiley, I’ll proofread for free if it means I can read cutting-edge books before they hit shelves.