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.

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“Beer”-goggles: confused

As I turned the pages of boyd and Ellison’s piece on “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, as a relative new-comer to the subject, I found myself nodding as I came to understand my own engagement with social media through a scholarly lens. I found their definitions particularly helpful in classifying the different social media in which I’ve grown particularly savvy. However, upon reading Beer’s article in response to the previous, I was admittedly perplexed. Let me explain my confusion further.

Beer’s article entitled “Social Network(ing) Sites…revisiting the story so far: A response to danah boyd and Nicole Ellison” was not, as he makes clear, an effort to “re-write the history that they develop in (their) article” (517), but a reconsideration of their proposed historical, and future, analyis of social media.

In his first section, he allocates his analytic efforts to “revisiting” boyd and Ellison’s proposed definitions and differentiations between social network sites and social networking sites, calling into question boyd and Ellison’s necessitating of the distinction between the two. For boyd and Ellison, networking is suggestive of a certain discourse that exists between strangers, further suggesting that social networking sites seek to initiate conversation and relationships between those who do not know each other, as opposed to network sites, which function to reaffirm, strengthen, or reinforce relationships already established in the physical world, be it the strongest or weakest of latent ties. By using the term social network sites (SNS), and further, rejecting the –ing and thus all that is implied by the word ending, the authors carefully construct the subject of their argument by refusing sites characterized by the formation of new ties between strangers.

Beer takes issue with how they frame their argumentation. He deems SNS too broad a category; boyd and Ellison are, according to Beer’s understanding of their definitions, specific in what kinds of discourse are not included in SNS, but fail to make clear the kinds of discussion that is. For Beer, this limits the definition of SNS to the three points they introduce at the very start of their piece, that which allows users to: 1. construct public/semi-public profiles; 2. articulate networks; 3. view others’ networks and allow others to view theirs’. In using this definition as a rubric by which to classify social media, Beer thinks this particular definition “stands in for too many things” (519). According to his critique, SNS is being used here as an ‘umbrella’ term to encompass all “user-generated content”, which itself fails to recognize the “networking” functions and capabilities that user-generated sites like Youtube, whose technological allowances enable such ties to manifest, maintain, although it would arguably fall under boyd and Ellison’s category of an SNS.

I personally think that over time, SNS developers have become increasingly aware of the attractive nature of interactive features of technology, and so, have responded to demand for these capabilities by introducing these features to their sites, thus affording their users the kinds of ties that boyd and Ellison’s definition of SNS would not permit. Therefore, I think that boyd and Ellison’s refusal of the term networking is no longer applicable, in that these ties are nowadays seemingly inevitable.

Beer also takes issue with the way boyd and Ellison differentiate between online ‘Friends’ and physical world ‘friends’. This is the point of my confusion. As Beer delineates his argument, that “we cannot think of friendship on SNS as entirely different and disconnected from our actual friends and notions of friendship” (520), I felt as though he was echoing arguments that I’d just previously read in the contested authors’ piece. In other words, I don’t think boyd and Ellison made such a black and white distinction between online and offline friendships as Beer suggests. On the contrary, on page 211, the authors state that “what makes social network sites unique is not that they allow individuals to meet strangers, but rather that they enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks.” They continue, “these meetings are frequently between “latent ties” who share some offline connection. … They are primarily communicating with people who are already a part of their extended social network.” In Beer’s piece, he understands boyd and Ellison’s “contention here (to be) that ‘ “Friends” on SNSs are not the same as “friends” in the everyday sense” (520). Ultimately, my understanding of this rationalization was not that they were entirely diverging or contrasting arguments, but indeed parallels of one another.

Perhaps I misunderstood Beer’s main argument. I thought his complication, or his suggestion of a further complication of boyd and Ellison’s inquiry to include capitalism and the economic ramifications of the sites was interesting, and indubitably provocative. However, I think that his argument surrounding boyd and Ellison’s differentiation (or lack thereof) between ‘friends’ and ‘Friends’ could have been make more clear. What do you guys think?