#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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