#tweetsmart by JS McDougall

#tweets­mart by Jesse McDou­gall adopts the premise that many people dis­miss twit­ter as idle chat­ter and can­not fathom why they would want to engage with it. Although I have encountered many col­leagues that per­son­ally are some­what dis­missive (and in many cases rightly so) I am not sure that busi­ness dis­misses it as read­ily and cer­tainly doesn’t do so as quickly as it once might have. How­ever adopt­ing the tact of prov­ing a series of mean­ing­ful ‘pro­jects’ to demon­strate how twit­ter can be used for build­ing an online com­munity piqued my interest and is some­thing that I read­ily sub­scribe to. After read­ing this book how­ever I am of rather mixed opin­ion and would cau­tion that this book does seem tar­geted spe­cific­ally at online mar­ket­ing of a product or ser­vice. I find writ­ing this review dif­fi­cult as I was raised very strictly under the premise that if you don’t have any­thing good to say, then don’t say anything…but I will say a few things and some of them good.

The book is enga­ging and well writ­ten. I gather that it ori­gin­ally was title ‘#engage’ as most of the QR codes in the book refer to this ori­ginal title. The tone is play­ful and almost some­what sassy. The use of the QR codes for fur­ther inform­a­tion, for fun and as part of a lar­ger pro­jects itself is a use­ful demon­stra­tion itself. The prom­ise of an easter egg bur­ied some­where in the book provides a con­crete example of how to engage a fol­low­ing if only one reader at a time. McDou­gall seeks to provide ‘stra­tegic, meas­ur­able and fun’ pro­jects that ‘build an inter­ested and engaged com­munity for your busi­ness’. While the book is clearly aimed at busi­ness not at causes or organ­iz­a­tions as sug­ges­ted, I am left feel­ing that it is exactly what it claims not to be — a social media mar­ket­ing manual — and that the author doth protest too much. Although there are occa­sional nods to why cer­tain aspects could be seen as pure mar­ket­ing and not genu­ine com­munity build­ing, I am not sure that they are fol­lowed though — eg. pro­ject 22:

'This project is designed to help you build a connection with your audience by promoting your investment in the area and community in which you do business. This project should not be used to create the illusion that you care about your community. You don’t want to put one over on your audience. So if you don’t care, move on. But, I’m sure you do care. You’re a good person. I like you.'

Unfor­tu­nately it stops here and the flip­pant retort to the ques­tion actu­ally seems to dimin­ish the real import­ance that com­mit­ment to com­munity build­ing demands. I wish that this were not the case. The world is really cry­ing out for real solid advice on how to build and sus­tain online com­munit­ies, but this is not the one. It does how­ever provide an excel­lent selec­tion of twenty five pro­jects that are well described and out­lined in a step by step manner.

I have some con­cern that although play­ful, most of the pro­jects do not seem to adhere to the idea of com­munity build­ing — and if they do it, it is a rather tenu­ous one built around very super­fi­cial engage­ment. All are reas­on­able ways to pique people’s interest, have a little fun and pos­sibly gain retweets through a spe­cific offer­ing,  but I guess I was also look­ing for dis­cus­sion of the fol­lowup that would actu­ally turn the com­mu­nic­a­tion into some­thing con­struct­ive and ongo­ing. Per­haps I am being too judg­mental, but simply offer­ing give-aways through a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent twitter-based nov­elty acts doesn’t strike me as engage­ment. Espe­cially as the author claims that he is abhorred by the idea of coupon cam­paigns and claims that this is the ‘ant-marketing how-to community-engagement book’. This is not to say that many of the ‘pro­jects’ don’t con­nect Twit­ter to real world activity…whether treas­ure hunts or scav­enger hunts and there is an aspect of this that moves bey­ond email spam.  I like that each pro­ject has a basic struc­ture and premise and then in some instances there are ‘advanced strategies’. How­ever, many of these pro­jects don’t speak to build­ing an online com­munity with any longev­ity and this is where I am left some­what want­ing. I read back piece and the short teaser for the book and was intrigued, but I have a feel­ing my expect­a­tions were raised a little too high.

The author’s intent is stated to provide pro­jects to carry out using twit­ter that are ‘stra­tegic. meas­ur­able and fun’.  I would agree that all the pro­jects are meas­ur­able and ini­tially fun for both the mar­keter and for the cus­tomer, but I would ques­tion the long term strategy. They strike me as more tac­tical and deploy­able within  a lar­ger scheme and in sup­port of more act­ive com­munity build­ing and these pro­jects seem to be absent. To my sense, many of the pro­jects here are the little gim­micks that I imme­di­ately fil­ter out. I have had my email offers of sim­ilar tacts for years and have given me the cause to unsub­scribe from such. So I was not being hooked. I really wanted to be though and read on.

Around the tenth strategy, things begin to speak more to engage­ment. Encour­aging blocks of time around focussed dis­cus­sion or web scav­enger hunts are things I would note as con­crete and innov­at­ive, unfor­tu­nately these seem to gain less dis­cus­sion than the earlier projects.

I wish that I could be more sup­port­ive of this book. I sub­scribe to its premise that we need to develop effect­ive ways to engage­ment in a mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sion through devel­op­ment of com­munit­ies of shared interest and twit­ter offers a great tool. How­ever, I do think this is through con­crete means of meet­ing customer’s needs in the com­mer­cial sense as well as provid­ing a means to aug­ment tra­di­tional or other online forms of com­mu­nic­a­tion and discourse.

If the pre­face was the only part I had read I would feel wiser for it. I found the per­sonal anec­dote relat­ing to the author’s grand­father very heart­felt, but also very pres­ci­ent. The con­clu­sion that ‘the con­tent of your com­mu­nic­a­tion is important—not what car­ries it’ is pro­foundly import­ant. And this is where I feel com­pelled to leave it. It is about con­tent and there there are some activ­it­ies that twit­ter can enable as part of a lar­ger stable of online activ­it­ies to gain mind­share, but if you can’t mea­n­ign­fully dif­fer­en­ti­ate your con­tent you won’t rise above the pack.

This is not to say that this book in inap­plic­able to all, far from it. To all the mer­chants and vendors out there who ask you to simply retweet their latest offer…here’s a fine read that shows how to instill some fun into the mar­ket­ing pro­cess and quickly move twit­ter into an arsenal of tools to reach out to the but­ting com­munity. I sup­pose my lar­ger con­cern is simply that I got the impres­sion from this books pro­mo­tional mater­ial that it was step­ping bey­ond twit­ter mar­ket­ing gim­mick to look to build­ing effect­ive rela­tion­ships with a com­munity (which could be abso­lutely non-commercial) and was intrigued by the pro­spect of con­sid­er­ing such. If it hadn’t been promised.…Unfortunately for the product here, this con­tent I feel is some­what lack­ing. It tends towards a series of icebreak­ers rather than relationship-builders. So mar­ket it as such. It plays to heav­ily on com­munity build­ing in its own mar­ket­ing and wants to be some­thing it’s not.

This book is fine for the right audi­ence and there is an audi­ence for it. Call it an online mar­ket­ing aid for twit­ter in small and medium busi­ness and it’s a fun and well writ­ten manual. There’s abso­lutely noth­ing wrong with that.

I review for the O'Reilly Blogger Review Program

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