Book review: Social Media Explained

Social Media Explained – Untangling the World’s Most Misunderstood Business Trend” is the latest book authored by American business consultant, speaker and educator, Mark W. Schaefer, who also runs the extremely helpful blog {grow}.

Having read other books and work authored by Mark, I was expecting this book to do just what “it says on the tin”. And, indeed, the book, which is aimed at business executives, considers how social media helps organisations understand the market, connect with customers and stand apart from competition. Moreover, the book does so in a very clear and engaging style, which is why I am adding it to my course syllabus.

But that is not all.

This book is also very relevant for those of us using social media as individuals, rather than representing an institution, and who are unsure how to derive value from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogging and so on. And this is why.


SM Explained book

Social Media Explained – for businesses executives
The book is organised in 3 sections. In the first section, the author outlines the key changes in the business context and why these require organisations to engage with social media. For instance, as more of us turn to the social web for product discovery and education, and as we increasingly resist blunt sales approaches, so organisations need to populate the web with helpful content that answers potential customers’ questions and drives them to the company’s website. In addition to identifying the challenges, Schaefer discusses how organisations can address them – for the example discussed (i.e., product discovery), the book discusses how organisations can identify and answer customers’ questions, and disseminate the content in ways that will get it noticed by customers at key stages of their journey.

In section two, Schaefer addresses common questions raised by those grappling with social media. The questions considered range from “Do I need Social Media?” to “How do I handle negative comments?”, and the if-I-got-a-coin-everytime-somebody-asks-me-this-question-I-would-be-a-millionaire issue of “What’s the ROI of Social Media?”. The questions are discussed very pragmatically and, I think, the answers provided will help you face the most sceptic of CEOs or CFOs.

In the third and final section, the author provides a brief overview of the main social media platforms, with emphasis on ‘brief’. This section tells us what platforms are out there, their relative advantages and disadvantages, and the uses for business. This is not a detailed ‘how to guide’, however and any one expecting that will be disappointed (though, Schaefer has also authored guides on Twitter and Blogging which you may find very helpful).

The book is written in a really accessible style, with minimum jargon. It has plenty of examples and case studies from various countries and a variety of business scenarios. And it is very reasonably priced. Overall, this is a great resource.


Social Media Explained – for the rest of us
All this advice is very nice and good, but what do you do with it if, like me, you are active on social media as an individual, as opposed to representing an institution? Is this book still relevant for you?

Well, we may not have a clearly defined competitor. But, with the average millennial spending 5.4 hours a day with content created by their peers, we certainly need to do a good job with our posts, pictures and videos to get attention from our followers and connections.

Likewise, we may not have a profit and loss statement to complete but, when we are ‘doing’ social media alongside our jobs and/or family commitments we surely need to make very difficult decisions about how we use our time, technical resources and, indeed, money.

And while we may not have a CEO or group of shareholders to report to, many of us will have faced scepticism and impatience from relatives, colleagues or employers – Tell me again why you are (wasting that time) doing that social media thing?!

We may not have a product to trade, but we are putting our ideas and experiences out there for others to scrutinise.

We may not have a market with well-defined segments, but we are under no illusion that there are different groups of people connected with us online – e.g. relatives, former class mates, current colleagues, people that we never met but that share an hobby or other interest with us, and so on. We connect with each group on different platforms, at varying frequencies. And each group will value different content.

And, instead of money, the value that we get from pouring our hearts and souls into this, could take the form of attention from a targeted audience (e.g., a potential employer or literary agent), or social contact with and advice from other individuals in similar circumstances (e.g., living with a chronic disease, moving to a foreign country or raising a large family). It could also take the form of feedback or input that helps us to develop an idea (e.g., for a book), or simply be a repository for content (e.g., a collection of personal memories or of examples for teaching).

Once we make these adjustments to the basic business terminology, the lessons from this book are just as relevant for individuals struggling to use social media effectively, as they are for business executives considering a social media strategy for their organisations.

Instead of… Think…
Industry competitors Competition for attention
Profit and loss statement Your limited time, technical resources and money
CEO or group of shareholders Sceptic and impatient relatives, colleagues or employers
Product Ideas and experiences
Market segments Different groups of people with whom you connect online
Sales and profit Attention, social contact, feedback, input, or content repository

This book is a great addition to my library. I read it twice already, I have been recommending it far and wide to business connections and students, and I foresee that I will be referring to this little book over and over, again, in my work and as a user of social media.


Have you read this book? What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Book review: Social Media Explained

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