The Zen of Social Media Marketing Book Review- Final

I was initially excited to read The Zen of Social Media Marketing: An Easier Way to build Credibility, Generate Buzz and Increase Revenue by Shama Hyder Kabani, as I thought I would gain some valuable insight about the world of marketing, but I was incredibly disappointed. While reading it, I thought it must have been published back in 2006 or so when SNS such as Twitter first came out, but when I realized that it was published in 2012, I was insulted. I paid $10 for common sense. Though her book does seem to target an audience with limited to no experience with social media or with the Internet in general, I still feel as though she treats her audience like children. She uses her own success stories as examples following almost every point she makes, which gives her supposedly naïve audience the misleading idea that the method she uses is the only way for a business to be successful in the social media realm. She never states that the same social media tactics, when applied to different companies, will yield different results.

There is a give and take relationship between the audience and the company on SNS, and the technology is just the medium in which a company’s messages are filtered. This relationship between the consumer and the producer gives way to new social practices online through SNS that are constantly evolving. Judith Donath makes a valid and crucial point in her piece “Sociable Media” that in any communications field, knowing the identity of those with whom you communicate is essential for understanding and evaluating an interaction. Kabani takes a more traditional and mostly technologically deterministic approach when it comes to marketing through social media, but as we have discussed and witnessed in class, SNS have dramatically changed the landscape of the field. Marketing and advertising online has become a two way street; it has become “a conversation rather instead of a broadcast” between the brand and its consumers (CSMT Class, Week 13). In order for a business that is run by an “older” executive set in his antiquated ways to succeed, he must understand that he can no longer call the shots. Kabani does hint at this new brand to consumer relationship from time to time, but I wish she had dedicated one entire chapter to how online marketing has changed the field as a whole. Though it may be obvious to college students reading this book, a clear distinction between traditional marketing and online marketing may serve her audience well.

In her book, Kabani runs through very basic information that anyone could figure out after spending no more than an hour on a social media site. She begins by going through “online marketing basics” and merely states the obvious goals of marketing: to attract people, convert them into consumers and to transform their networks into consumers as well (Kabani 316). She continues on to explain what social media is and dedicates a chapter to each of the big SNS (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Google+). In these chapters, she again explains the basic functions such as creating Facebook groups, and gives useless advice such as using your first name as a twitter handle. They are interlaced with obvious “Aha! Zen Moments” where she teaches readers online etiquette (such as being respectful and honest) and tells them that a company can opt to use blogs too. In the following chapter, she claims that videos are the “next frontier” as if YouTube is an up-and-coming platform in 2012. She advises readers on what type of equipment to get and how long a video should be, but fails to divulge what makes a successful video, well, successful (Kabani 1,953). Lana Swartz, on the other hand, makes it clear that a video has to have both spreadability and drillability for the video producer to garner and sustain a loyal and mass following. Kabani’s book may have been worth the read if she had conducted some research and included some substantive, scholarly material in her writing rather than just fluff from her own experience with SNS and random, uncited statistics.

Kabani does conclude with good, but general instruction when she tells the reader to “be human” (Kabani 2,342). As consumers, we like to see the real, personable side of brands so we can better relate to them. A consistent authenticity taste performance, as written about by Hugo Liu, allows consumers who identify with the company to become loyal followers (Liu 263). However, being human is not a good method for all companies. For instance, a high end, luxury brand wouldn’t want to try to “be human” because it needs to seem unattainable and target a very specific, niche audience. This is only one of many nuances that a reader would not learn from reading this social media 101 book. Lucas Partridge made a good point that Kabani doesn’t give a good sense of the culture behind each platform, which is essential to know because not all platforms are right for all companies. To understand your audience, you must become a part of their community rather than just impose yourself upon them through every social media platform possible. You must be socialized into a medium, as Nancy Baym writes in her work, Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Working with a cookie cutter social media marketing tactic wouldn’t work because that would give one the mindset that he will conquer the social media sphere before he even enters and understands it.

This book basically shows that you should not write a book about social media because the realm just changes too quickly and that what you write will be outdated before you even publish it. No one can predict what is going to be the hot new platform next year or even in the next few months at the rate that SNS are being created.

Image http://30.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m0tuctTTqv1r4sxhvo1_1280.png

I would like to leave this critique on a positive note, as I did appreciate that Kabani included a “Social Marketing Case Studies: Regular Folks, Great Stories” chapter at the end, giving real life success stories beyond her own (Kabani 2,466). It demonstrates to her audience that creating a social media campaign is a lot more tangible and less daunting and laborious, as her whole tutorial of a book may have made it seem.

The Zen of Social Marketing rough

The Zen of Social Marketing: An Easier Way to build Credibility, Generate Buzz and Increase Revenue by Shama Hyder Kabani was laughable. I thought it was published back in 2006 or so when SNS such as Twitter first came out, but I found it was published in 2012, I was insulted. I paid $10 for stuff I already knew, not by learning about it in class or from working in the communications field, but from common sense. Yes, perhaps she is catering to an older audience who have limited to no experience with the internet, but even then I feel like she basically treats her audience like children. She uses her own successes as examples after each point she makes, which gives her audience the sense that this is the only way to be successful on SNS. The same social media tactic when applied to different companies will yield different results.

She goes through:

  • Marketing basics
  • The importance of having a website
  • What social media is
  • What FB, Google+, Twitter, and Linkedin are and basic functions such as adding friends and picking a twitter name
  • She talks about videos as the “next frontier” like it was something new and fantastical
  • Online etiquette- don’t be rude or annoying

I believe she views new technology through a social construction lens. There is a give and take relationship between the audience and the company, and the technology is just the medium in which a company’s messages are filtered. This relationship between the consumer and the producer gives way to new social practices online through SNS. Lucas made a good point about how Kabani doesn’t give a good sense of culture behind each platform, which is crucial to know because not all platforms are right for a company.

She does give good advice when she tells a company to “be human” (but doesn’t go on beyond a sentence or two about it) in her conclusion. These days, we like to see the authentic side of companies so we can better relate to them (authenticity taste performance- Liu). But again, this is still dependent on the company. A high end, luxury brand wouldn’t necessarily try to “be human” because it needs to seem unattainable and target a very specific audience (prestige taste performance).

Kabani also writes about the importance of credibility, yet her credibility can certainly be questioned—as Lucas pointed out, her stats are never cited. This book basically shows that you shouldn’t write a book about social media because the realm just changes way too quickly and that what you write will be outdated before you even publish it.

Celebrities Do It, So Why Can’t We?

The blending of children’s and adult’s media has created a world in which 10 year olds and 25 year olds can interact and have interests in common. It has sped up the growing up process and slowed down the growing old one. We talk a lot about the “influencers” in the media world today at the PR/marketing firm that I intern at. Most of our clients are spirit and beer companies, so we try to find talent that caters to “partiers” or whatever you would call them, but I realized that most of them are musicians or actors that my little sister (age 13) also likes and look up to.

In the article, “Are Celebrity Nude Photo Scandals Contributing to Young Women Sexting?,” Hollie McKay writes about the prevalence of female celebrities sexting scandals and how it is a dangerous influence for teenage girls. “’Young girls emulate and imitate their idols as a way to connect and feel closer to them, and thus copying bad celebrity behavior becomes another way for young girls to bond with their idols, while also creating their own identity and attracting more attention’” (McKay). She goes on to warn teenagers about the dangers of sexting by stating examples of tragic sexting-gone-wrong incidences that traditional media sources love to report. Girls are depicted, as always, the stupid ones who are victimized and boys are depicted as criminals and distributors of child pornography.

Even though McKay speaks of sexting in a negative way, I think she  is right to suggest that celebrities’ “bad” actions may influence young girls negatively, instead of immediately assuming that kids who sext are sneaky and “rotten,” as media discourse usually does. In Amy Hasinoff’s article “Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online,” she says that “it is important to recognize the cultural and structural restrictions that shape girls’ sexuality, it is equally important to recognize that sexting, like more celebrated forms of media production, could be one way that girls negotiate, respond, and speak back to sexual representations of youth and femininity in mass media—by producing their own.” So when girls see all the attention that celebrity sexting garners, they think that that behavior is condoned, attractive, and even empowering. It is easy for young girls to rationalize sending sexts when they see boys their age ogling over leaked celebrity sexts. Hasinoff says “rather than dismiss teenage girls’ sexual media production practices as a symptom of their victimization by a sexist culture… it is vital to examine sexting and online sexuality as a form of media production and self-expression.” We should not have the right to say what is appropriate or inappropriate in someone else’s private life just because we are over the age of 18. I think that adults taking preventative measures that are condescending does nothing but upset the teenage girls that they are primarily targeting. It plants a “what do you know” mindset in the teenager’s mind and they completely disregard the message. When teenagers sext, they do think of the consequences before they send the sext. Lecturing them otherwise is mostly useless. In the article, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study” written by Kimberly Mitchell and colleagues, it is said that society and especially adults are “easily alarmed about changing youth mores,” so they want to take measures that prevent children from behaving in a way that makes them uncomfortable, when sexting may be becoming normalized in their children’s generation. Perhaps the only way to really stop teenage sexting is for the media to stop glorifying female sexuality.

Hasinoff continues to say that the “internet and cell phones permit instant communication that is removed from traditional social contexts and consequences, these technologies make girls more likely to make inappropriate sexual decision. Practice leads to earlier sex, more sexual activity, and teenage pregnancy.” I think that her reasoning is a little too technologically deterministic. Yes, technology may remove communication from traditional social contexts, but it may not necessarily promote real, physical sexual activity. Girls are constantly fed sexual images from magazines, television shows and films, so it is only natural for them to think that presenting themselves in a sexual way is appropriate. Yet, they are also always warned about the dangers and consequences of teenage sexuality. So, as Rebekah Willet says in her article, ‘‘’As soon as you get on Bebo you just go mad’’: young consumers and the discursive construction of teenagers online“, “on the one hand, the child is positioned as a not-yet competent, not-yet complete social actor who is at risk; and on the other hand, the child is constructed as empowered.” With such conflicting and confusing messages, the teenager has all the power to choose what they believe on their own. Since we are constantly forced to consume hypersexualized images in mainstream media, we should understand why children and teenagers behave “inappropriately.” I listen to some of the same mainstream music that my younger sister (age 13) and that the girls who I babysit (age 10) listen to, so why should I expect them to interpret and act on the messages they hear differently than any other adult or I do?

Barely Scraping the Surface

Jennifer Mattern’s article, “Is Social Media Killing Personal Relationships?,” gives us a quick general overview of her opinion on how social media affects relationships. She gives both good and bad ways in which social network sites (SNS) have affected her own, personal relationships based on mere observation and usage. She suggests that closer relationships are maintained through more personal and private conduits, while more casual relationships are dealt with through social media.

I see many flaws in Mattern’s article. First of all, she uses her own personal experience, which I guess can technically be considered “participant observation,” but she leaves out the observation part and uses her “best guess” about how other people use social media. Her guess is that most people use SNS the same way as she does. Already off to a wrong start! However, I do understand that her article isn’t research-based and she is merely putting her opinion out there, but I think any opinion needs some valid evidence and not only assumptions. I will give her this though—she did a good job of surveying her readers about their thoughts and experiences, though her audience may be a little biased towards her opinions since they all are from the same or similar network.

I believe Mattern’s article could have been made stronger and a lot more though-provoking if she had reached out and fished for people who had stories about more successful and fulfilling online relationships than offline ones. A good source would be people who have gotten married after meeting on SNS or dating websites, or even just articles about online-turned-offline relationships. Any sort of general probing outside of her own experience and thoughts would have led her to make stronger arguments for either side of her topic.

Moreover, Mattern states that her deeper relationships were generally maintained through email, the phone, personal contact and snail mail, which brings up the issue of privatized vs. publicized relationships that I wish she would have explored a little more. In comparison, the film, Life 2.0, does a great job of showing a variety of accounts of the differences between online and offline relationships. Even though the film did try to show Second Life members as “weirdos” who do not really have a great grasp on reality, it does capture all of the personas that a member possesses—the person behind the computer screen, on the computer screen and away from the computer screen (interacting in the real world). Perhaps people online act differently than they would offline, hence creating deeper or shallower relationships online. Perhaps people create whole new identities online, rendering any relationship they are involved in “fake” or not genuine and unable to be transferred to the real world. Mattern takes a very technologically deterministic view of social media (Nancy Baym). She says that “social media makes it easy to get to the point and move on. And it makes it easy to provide so much “fluff” information that information overload results and you just don’t care enough to want to know more mundane things about a person’s life. So you don’t reach deeper when communicating.” In the cases we saw in Life 2.0, it seems to be the complete opposite when we’re shown how invested people become in their online relationships, even to the point where they become part of each others’ realities. Sometimes the comfort of hiding behind a screen and anonymity allows a person to open up and “reach deeper when communicating.” Mattern seems to neglect all the different types of users there are out there, and though Life 2.0 is biased and exploits the negative aspects of becoming a heavy SNS user, the film shows us three very different accounts of users and their relationship to both the online and offline worlds.

Though Mattern’s piece is meant to focus on personal relationships, she completely disregards the one thing that links two individuals together—community. In Baym’s book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, she says that communities are based upon shared practices, space, resources, identities and support, and the interpersonal relationships within them. In conjunction, Danah Boyd writes in her article that “the architetcture of unmediated social spaces, these sites introduce an environment that is quite unlike that with which we are accustomed.” Mattern should have taken another view and seen how communities online and offline differed and maybe seen how that might have some effect on personal relationships because the two worlds are very different social playgrounds. I understand that her article had no intent on being a research piece, but if I were to rewrite an article with a more compelling argument, I would look into many different aspects of personal relationships.

Beer vs. boyd & Ellison vs. me

Beer’s response to boyd and Ellison’s article was composed of three arguments. First, he says that using “social network sites” was too broad of a term for all sites that boyd and Ellison consider to be SNS. He warns that using too broad of a term is too safe and would only make studying social media more difficult, as different platforms have different elements that make them distinct. Beer suggests that using more narrow terms would allow us to “work towards a more descriptive analysis” (Beer 518). Secondly, Beer criticizes boyd and Ellison for separating online and offline friends. He argues that they are inseparable because “young people grow up and are informed by the connections they make on SNS” (Beer 520). Lastly, Beer points out that many of boyd and Ellison’s questions may be answered by simply making social media a part of their every day lives. He continues to say that the concept of capitalism cannot be disregarded. He says that it has “sunk into the background as a sort of analytic given with no or little explanatory sociological purchase,” but capitalism has all the influence on a consumer’s actions as a consumer’s actions in social media has on capitalism (Beer 524).

Though sometimes unnecessarily lengthy, Beer’s article offers a reasonable critique of boyd and Ellison’s piece. I agree that we shouldn’t describe every social media site as an SNS, but I don’t think what we coin social media sites really matter. We all have an implicit understanding of what a social network site entails and have in common—members that form a network. From that simplistic core defining factor, we can branch off and study more specific elements that differentiate each site from one another. Frankly, I think he makes too big of a deal about the name boyd and Ellison chose. Additionally, boyd and Ellison were right to make the distinction between social network and social networking sites, because networking does imply individual instigation.

When it comes to online and offline friends, I fall somewhere in the middle of Beer’s and b&E’s arguments. It’s hard to generalize that all online relationships are like or unlike offline relationships. Online and offline relationships depend on circumstance. They can often resemble real, offline relationships, but  they often do not. For instance, I have plenty of friends on Facebook who I’ve only met once or talked to a couple of times. However, I am much more comfortable just randomly chatting with them on FB than I would be doing so in real life. Facebook is able to mediate these undeveloped real-life relationships because it enables us to feel comfortable with creating a new relationship in an old, familiar space. These relationships, however, don’t necessarily transfer to your offline life because they are sporadic and almost always intrinsically meaningless. Perhaps we need to develop genres for different types of relationships (real life close friends, real life acquaintances, strictly online friends, friends of friends, etc.) and study social media on a genre-by-genre basis to understand online and offline interactions more accurately.

I absolutely agree with Beer when he argues that we need to participate in social media to really understand it. Pure observation does no good because you won’t be able to grasp why someone would “like” or “retweet” something if you haven’t had that impulse to do so yourself. Considering capitalism in social media studies is also crucial because we are a highly consumer-driven society, and we, as “netizens,” have become marketable products. The information that we inadvertently “sell” to social media data analyzers is in turn fed back to us, which we spit back out again to those marketers, making it a cyclical process revved by our capitalistic mindsets.

Beyond Beer’s criticisms, I think that boyd and Ellison should examine the types of users that SNS draw in and what their reasoning for joining is, as that may speak to the cultural need the site is fulfilling. Facebook may drive people to its site because it keeps members connected with almost everyone they know or may have met. Twitter promotes people who like to share their entire lives with others to do so and has also become a medium in which we can get news that we couldn’t have possibly gotten in any other way before. LinkedIn allows you to actually network and stay connected with useful contacts that can help in developing your career. All of these sites help mediate your relationship with people who you know or know of in the real world. But what about the “other” types of social networks such as Second Life, which is quite literally an online world, different from ours, in which you can be whomever or whatever you want?

What kind of social purpose do those type of sites fulfill? Can those sites be considered SNS because they do form very large networks of people? Or does SNS need to resemble some sort of relation to the real world and real social circumstances? While Beer believes b&E’s argument is perhaps too broad, I believe it may be too narrow and should extend to include all types of social media, mainstream or not.