If your organization aspires to learn to listen to online conversations, use what you learn there to develop segmentation strategies, put these insights to work by building communities around shared enthusiasm and conversations, allow members to become evangelists for your brand or cause, and - as an added benefit - transform the culture of your own organization... then read on. Paul Gillin's Secrets of Social Media Marketing is the book for social marketers, public relations and public affairs staff, public information officers and especially senior managers who are teetering on the edge of chaos - whether to jump into this new world of blogs, podcasts, social networks and virtual worlds and embrace it. Or - wait for the frenzy to pass and things return to the old normal. As I have been writing about here for several years, and Paul goes to great lengths to also address, the sins of the new media are now clear: fear and inaction. Paul's book is the best example and guidebook I have seen for how to learn to thrive on the chaos. After reading it, the principles underlying much of what is happening in the social media space and how to begin navigating in it will be much clearer to you.
Paul's intent with this book is to provide a guide for the new business function in the public, private and nonprofit sectors - the Chief Conversation Officer. In the first chapters he takes on the common obstacles to adoption of social media marketing (for example, People will go negative, The ROI is unclear, and It is just a fad) and gives us good advice and stories to tell to rebut them all. A major point he makes, and that I agree with wholeheartedly, is that your focus needs to be on aligning social media marketing with business objectives and not become simply tactic-driven (e.g., Shouldn't we put this up on YouTube or something?).
I have been involved in social media for a few years now, and the information in this book, especially the first 3 or 4 chapters is comprehensive, dense and maybe a bit overwhelming for first time users. Take your time here because the rest of the book continues expanding on how to tap in and effectively utilize blogs, podcasts, social network sites, social bookmarking sites, virtual worlds, mobile blogging and recommendation sites through both his personal experiences and stories of successful corporate work. One noticeable oversight to me was that almost no space was given to discussing sites aimed at youth and teen audiences other than MySpace (see my Whyville flu vaccine post and today's post at 360blog on age distinctions in social media where this chart appeared). Another oversight from my POV is that there were no examples of social media marketing from either public or nonprofit agencies. However, his brief explanation of search engine optimization strategies, while admittedly elementary, I am sure will be an eye-opener for many.
He spends a lot of time with blogs and podcasts for the reasons that these offer organizations the most control over message and conversation. They make a good entry point for the fearful inactives. His sections on contacting, engaging and working with online influentials and online communities offer a lot of practical wisdom and insights, and he identifies both 'how to' methods and vendor services to accomplish the same ends. I found myself keeping a pad and pen nearby as new sites and stories got my creative neurons firing. The marvel to me in all this was that for a world that changes incessantly, Paul's references and examples were as recent as a few months ago. It is a book that if you buy it now (and read it now) will get you pretty close to NOW. Which is saying something in itself.
He faithfully attends to metrics for success, such as they currently exist. The point he makes about what qualifies as success is that we need to frame that discussion appropriately: Were we able to learn something about our customers we have not known before? Did we gain useful experience with a new form of two-way communication with priority audiences? Do we learn something from our users that we did not know before? These may be as important, or even more so, than the usual analytics that tell us how many hits or downloads we had, what was our reach, what is our search engine rank, how many return visitors did we have and how long did they stay on the site?
Paul closes with the observation: Online communities will fundamentally change the way in which organizations interact with their constituents. That may be old news for regular readers of this blog, but if you need an 'old normal' media channel to unwind what social media marketing is, and the essence of that truth, for yourself, co-workers or senior managers, then this should be your next stop.
[Ed Note: This review is based on a prepublication copy of the book.]