Geeky reader Myrna in Minneapolis wrote in to ask, “Do you have any recommendations on the latest books on social media/networking?”
There are a lot of books out there on the business applications of social media, but here are a few of my favorites (in the order I think you should read them):
The Cluetrain Manifesto
The Cluetrain Manifesto is such an old standard that it’s almost a cliche to recommend it, but I’m going to anyway. Mainly because, while many people will name-check this book to prove their cred — not many have actually read it. You don’t even have to buy it (though I think it’s worth the money if you like old-fashioned books like I do); you can read the whole thing online for free.
Check this quote from the book’s homepage, “A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.”
Those words were written in 1999. Those of us who were building sites back then thought of the web as being social, but no one had invented the words “social media” yet. (Everyone was too busy hyping and over-valuing e-commerce.) Thankfully, though, the dot-bomb era left us with miles of fiber to connect us. And now the tools, hardware and connection speeds have evolved to the point where a huge number of us are connecting with each other and companies are being forced to pay attention. What previously was the realm of dorks is now home to millions, and what these guys were saying then is now truer than ever.
They laid the groundwork for today’s thinking with phrases like “markets are conversations” and “hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.” If you think you have any groundbreaking ideas about social media, these guys probably already thought it up first. Read it and weep.
(Seriously, read even just the first page of cluetrain.com and you’ll probably fall out of your chair.)
Here Comes Everybody
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations is my favorite social media book because Clay Shirky covers, in a fast and entertaining read, the cultural and personal changes that are happening without worrying about the tactics of how to apply it for business (which is exactly the right place to start). This book is essential for shifting into what I call the “social media mindset.” There are still a large number of people who mistake social media as being about broadcasting everything we’re doing. Oversharing. Lifestreaming. But when you think about social networks as utilities that connect people, you begin to see that it’s about the human desire to connect and to be recognized and appreciated. It’s about making what was invisible, visible.
Every wiki and community site has a resident expert. That person has always existed, but now they are visible. That’s powerful. I can now influence what someone I don’t know may buy on Amazon because I shared my experience and opinion. Every day, people I don’t know influence what I buy on Amazon, iTunes, and countless other sites with their opinions.
We’ve always talked to our friends and acquaintances about companies and products and events, but now those conversations are visible. It gives us, as consumers and citizens, a new kind of power to communicate and organize. It gives companies the ability to listen and, if they’re smart, to respond. It gives both sides the ability to collaborate to create better products and services.
Importantly, this book will also help you understand a critical element to maintaining social media sanity. The idea that “they’re not talking to you.” In a nutshell, Shirky makes the point that just because all of this content is visible, doesn’t mean that it is directed at us. As humans, this is difficult to adjust to because we are accustomed to receiving messages that are meant for us: mail is addressed to us, TV and print ads are targeted to people like us. Now we’re bombarded with, or can stumble across, all kinds of messages that are not meant for us.
Think about any movie or book where the main character gains the ability to listen to people’s thoughts. There is first euphoria at thie ability to hear all this information, directly followed by borderline insanity at an inablity to silence all the “voices,” and usually culminates with some nice middle ground where the character figures out how to not listen to everyone all the time but rather to pick and choose when and what to listen to to get the most benefit. Most of us (and most companies) are currently in the insanity portion of this cycle. Shirky’s book will help move you toward your happy place.
Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies is the reigning standard “social media for business” book, and for good reason. While best-suited for large companies with bigger budgets, companies of any size can benefit from the general knowledge. Lots of good content in here, including the brilliant social technographics profiles.
Too often, people look at social media as an amorphous blob; technographics profiles help one understand how one’s audiences may be likely to interact socially (are they more likely to read a blog? rate products? join a network?). Understanding how your audiences want to participate will help you focus on appropriate social channels and maximize participation (and return on investment).
Friends with Benefits: A Social Media Marketing Handbook is a new, but great-so-far (I’m not quite done with it!), guide to the world of social media and how to get started. Very tactical and hands-on (which is why I think it’s good to read Here Comes Everybody first, so you really have a grasp of the “So what?” before diving into the “How can I do it?”).
Fantastic for smaller companies who want a more DIY approach (where Groundswell will suggest large software providers or agencies, Darren Barefoot and Julie Szabo will tell you how to do it yourself), it’s well-written and engaging. It’s clear that the authors have been active participants in the web since long before the social media buzzfest began.
It’s a handbook in the truest sense of the word. But, while a new social media handbook or how-to guide seems to be printed every week, none equals this one in depth, breadth and clarity. Even for web veterans, the book contains thought-provoking ideas on how to tweak or improve what you’re doing now. My copy is heavily dog-eared with things I need to return to for more thinking, or to share with clients or co-workers.
That’s All, Folks!
There are a ba-jillion other social media books out there, and I’ve read (or at least skimmed through) most of them. With the exception of the four listed above, I think most of them can be skipped. Do you disagree? Can you think of other excellent books I’ve missed? Let me know!