Posts Tagged book review

Engage! Business + Brands + Social Media

Brian Solis’ Engage! is a great study of the current social media landscape. For those who are sold on the importance of businesses engaging on social media platforms, it takes things a step further by looking at the tenets of the business world, like customer relationship management, social media policies and standards, and vendor relationship management. Solis approaches social media keeping sociology, anthropology, and ethnography in mind.

Similarly to Groundswell, Solis emphasizes the importance of a strategic approach to social media: just joining in order to establish a presence is not just elementary, but a recipe for disaster. He emphasizes that social media is used not just to reach out to customers, and not just to reach out to potential customers: focusing on Social Relationship Management (SRM) is what it boils down to. Just like in Groundswell, Solis celebrates the end of traditional media as the gatekeepers to communicating with the public.

One thing that Solis’ book excels at is the organization of social media– both visuals and lists help to explains sometimes complicated theories. There are many useful lists and outlines in the book– a collection of four P’s and four C’s as adaptations of the marketing mix, a list of social search tools, and an outline for corporate social media policies, to name a few.

Anyone who has dabbled with social media strategy has seen the Conversation Prism, but I had never thought about who to attribute it to. I enjoyed actually reading an explanation of it, because my previous encounters with the prism were more of a demonstration of the complicated nature of social media.

Solis’ Conversation Prism helps to map “the conversation” by cataloging social networks within certain categories (i.e., social bookmarking, blog platforms, and forums). The epicenter of the prism is the organization, which must listen, strategize, and execute social media tactics. The second circle is the workforce, which represents the fragmented nature/reality of social media within very large organizations, where different departments (i.e., customer service, marketing, and PR) will require varied involvement in an organization’s social media activities. The third circle is the actual conversation: where the interaction and engagement actually takes place.
Conversation Prism

What I learned from the Conversation Prism is emphasized throughout the book: various factions within a large organization will want to participate in social media activities, and they all have legitimate reasons to do so. Without a central “hub” or group to facilitate that participation, fragmented communications will become a reality, only diluting the potential power of social media rather than harnessing it. One thing that really spoke to me in the book that helps to address this challenge was Solis’ example of Intel Insiders, their social media board of external advisors that serve as a sounding board and a guiding force. This is definitely something that Mad River Glen and other organizations should consider when developing social media plans. Cognitive diversity is pronounced across social media platforms, and people outside of the company with varying experiences and expertise can serve as a mini focus-group and produce a wealth of ideas.

Here’s a quick look at the Intel Insiders program:

Beyond the social media board of advisors, there are several important lessons for Mad River Glen in Engage! For example, rather than segmenting the What’s New page of their website by social media platform, they could use a tool like FriendFeed to develop a lifestream, which would integrate updates and provide more of a realtime look at what’s going on across different platforms. In several places throughout the book, Solis mentions transitioning the online relationship to real life. For Mad River Glen, this would be a breeze– anyone who is engaging with them on social media is likely to be a skier. Using could help facilitate this.

Overall, I found Engage! to be similar to social media itself in that it was disorganized and a bit overwhelming. At times, it felt like I was reading a series of diary/blog posts rather than a sequential book. At the same time, underneath the somewhat confusing and overwhelming surface of the book, Solis shared some fantastic insight and demonstrated his clear knowledge of the social media realm. Despite some shortcomings, I think the book is an essential read for any social media pioneer within a large or small company– from defining ROI to establishing a conversation index, Solis’ expertise is worth sharing.


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Read This: 9781422125007

According to Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, the groundswell is: “A social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.”

Through research, case studies, and personal experiences, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research explore the past, present, and future potential of the groundswell and its implications for the corporate world.  While groundswell technologies like Facebook and YouTube are changing the way that consumers interact every day, the authors insist that this must change the way that companies think, listen to, and interact with them as well.

Their thinking is, if customers are already talking about your company online, why not harness that for the good of the company?  In fact, their principle for mastering the groundswell is, concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.” As new social platforms launch frequently (like Quora), it’s not about mastering them all or even establishing a presence on them all, it’s about determining which will be best to foster relationships with new and existing consumers.

Written in 2008, a few things make this book noticeably “old.”  Twitter is listed as an up-and-coming tool that should be on everyone’s radar- clearly they were right about that one.  The book states that one in four online American adults visit social networking sites at least monthly, but I would guess that the number is higher now.

The book directs readers to its account, but it hasn’t been updated regularly since July 2008.   Though some of the statistics have changed, and the tools have evolved, the book is more about the overarching concept of embracing the groundswell, which is even more important to companies today than in 2008 when the book was written.

I think one great recent example of a company embracing the power of the groundswell is Old Spice.  Their Old Spice Guy videos gained an immense following on social media– so much so that traditional media noticed, and that sales spiked noticeably.

One valuable tool to note is the Social Technographics Profile, which allows organizations to examine the online behaviors/trends of their target audiences.  This model divides Internet users into several categories: creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators, and inactives.  I would classify myself as a joiner and a spectator: I read many blogs regularly, but rarely make my presence known by commenting or contributing, which makes me a spectator.  I also join a variety of social media and social networking sites, which makes me a joiner.

Something that has probably changed since the book was written is that use of something like Twitter encourages almost all of its users to be creators: sure, there are some who join simply to read Kim Kardashian’s tweets, but I would guess that more than 18% of Twitter users are considered creators, though 18% is the estimate provided for online creators in the U.S.

It’s safe to say that the amount of people suffering from groundswell approach-avoidance syndrome have only increased since the book was written in 2008.  Just about everyone can agree that social media cannot be avoided, and through the case studies in this book and documented thoroughly on the web, the business case is strong.  What’s not so simple is remembering that going full steam ahead and establishing social media presences on every platform you can find is not the best approach- in fact, it’s an awful one.  Actually stepping back to analyze the goals, establish a strategy, and determine appropriate tactics is a true challenge in a world where technology is evolving rapidly (thanks to the groundswell!).

The POST method described in the book is a great way to ensure that social media efforts are grounded and well thought out.  By establishing a foundation focused on People, Objectives, Strategy and Technology, the emphasis truly lies in the relationships, which harps back to the major principle for mastering the groundswell.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Groundswell.  The numerous case studies give explicit examples of the challenges, successes, and failures that embracing the groundswell promises.  I would definitely recommend it to others at any level within a changing company– especially a large company– as a basis for changing the way they think about audience interaction and the foundations of communication.

By the way, the title is a reference to this post on Digg’s blog.  Read Groundswell (the ISBN number is in the title) if you’re curious to find out more about it..

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