Brian Solis is one of the world's foremost experts on "social media". His book, Engage, is intended to be a "complete guide for brands and businesses to build, cultivate, and measure success in the New Web". And indeed it is.
This book is worth its price and more just for the extensive statistics, best practices from leading brands (e.g. the Home Depot channel on YouTube; the Best Buy "Twelpforce"on Twitter; the Intel social media guidelines), and its up-to-date inventory of new media that are available. But beyond these Solis also makes numerous useful observations:
- "The previous hierarchy of messaging has collapsed. Now in order to appeal to customers, clients, or potential stakeholders, we must approach them from top-down, bottom-up, and side-to-side... We must sanction and amplify the experts and emissaries" (p. 10)
- "Specifically we are looking to uncover: material social networks; people linked through common interests that are germane to our business, industry and marketplace; keywords commonly used by community members; patterns for discovering and sharing information; influence of outside networks and also the effects of existing networks on external communities; influential voices, tiered, and how they form distinct and overlapping connections; the personalities of networks and the specific communities; the nature of threads, memes, and associated sentiment; the language of inhabitants; the prevailing culture and our potential place within it; the tools people use to communicate in and around each network." (p. 14)
- "Go where your customers are, and not where they aren't. Give them something to read. Give them something to share. Give them reasons to respond." (p. 44)
- "Wikipedia entries regarding your company and market are highly influential to visitors who visit those pages. The Google page-rank function is incredibly strong in Wikipedia, and in most cases the leading result for any search in Google will direct you to the corresponding page in Wikipedia." (p. 47)
- "World of Warcraft, a popular MMOG, is rife with branded content. In many cases, companies pay for prominent placement within the networks as they can psychologically connect with users at a peer level. There's a general sentiment that the sponsoring brand is part of the community because it supports the community." (p. 49)
- "Top 10 ways to monetize real-time conversations: 10. Lead generation; 9. Coupons; 8. Analytics/ analyzing the data; 7. Enterprise CRM; 6. Payments; 5. Commerce; 4. User-authentication/ verifying accounts; 3. Syndication of new ads; 2. Advertising/ context and display ads; 1. Acquiring followers." (p. 85)
- Social Media Optimization (SMO) through titles, descriptions, tags, content distribution, links and "liking" (pp. 107-112)
- "Adding to the list of attributes that are fundamental drivers for creating effective online presences and corresponding communities, we should also include those seeking: 1. Recognition; 2. Affinity/ association; 3. Purpose; 4. Insight; 5. Entertainment; 6. Rewards; 7. Empowerment; 8. Resolution; 9. Access; 10. Exclusive content." (p. 126)
- "Top 10 Guidelines for Social Media participation: 1. Be transparent and state where you work; 2. Never represent yourself in a false way; 3. Post meaningful, respectful comments; 4. Use common sense and common courtesy; 5. Stick to your area of expertise; 6. When disagreeing, keep it polite; 7. Be diplomatic when writing about the competition; 8. Never comment on legal matters; 9. Never participate in social media in crisis situations - refer to PR or legal affairs; 10. Protect confidential information." (pp. 196-198)
- A detailed process for "Establishing a Conversation Index": Step 1. Listening; Step 2. Documentation; Step 3. Presentation; Step 4. Observation (pp. 220-227)
- A summary of Forrester's "Social Technographics Ladder" to segment social media participants (pp. 255-258)
- An outline for a Social Media Plan (pp. 277-280)
- And "The New Media Scorecard" to measure ROI (pp. 321-345)
Despite its wealth of useful information, there are a few annoying rhetorical excesses and even spelling errors in this book, for example "It is the dawn of a democratized information economy"; "the interactive Web served as a great equalizer"; "genuine participation is a new blueprint for unmarketing"; "affect" where it should be "effect"; and the hyped "Foreword by Ashton Kutcher" which consists of a grand total of one page full of clichés. Any 10-year-old girls or 60-year-old cougars who bought the book for Ashton are in for a disappointment.
It is not surprising that a book about "social media" would hype social media, but a few comments on terminology might be appropriate.
First, Facebook did not invent human sociability. ALL media are "social media", whether a caveman's pictographs, newspapers, e-mails or Facebook: they are each media through which messages - intended and unintended - are communicated from senders to - intended or unintended - receivers, who in turn may or may not "engage".
Second, calling Facebook "the New Web" is like calling a garden "The New Nature". It is trivially true, in the sense that chronologically Facebook was invented after the Web; but it is not a "New Web", but rather a limited, domesticated corner of it.
And finally, a recent study by Nielsen and Facebook has suggested that an "earned" impression on a social media site may increase intrusion, comprehension and purchase intent (Understanding the Value of a Social Media Impression, April 2010). Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that, according to Keller Fay, Word-of-Mouth online represents only about 10% of WOM - 90% is offline.
So despite its relevance, "social media" marketing is but one important component of a more comprehensive WOM marketing strategy. That having been said, for social media marketing, Solis' book is a great place to start.