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Review: Bob Fine’s ‘The Big Book of Social Media’

I did my first advance praise copy for a mass market book in 2010 (Mark Amtower’s “Selling to the Government”). What that means is getting a review chapter and a table of context and coming up with something pithy about the author and why their book matters. I’ve also received a couple of books from authors appearing as guests on my Gov 2.0 Radio podcast.

I do my best to familiarize myself with these books, speed reading a couple chapters and skimming for key themes. I got a copy of Bob Fine’s new book when I keynoted a recent “social media for government” day at a conference he co-organized with Beverly Macy. When I first set out to read The Big Book of Social Media: Case Studies, Stories, Perspectives, a collection of 42 authors edited by Bob, I figured I’d take a similar approach. I even joking asked on Facebook, “How much of a book do you read before reviewing it on Amazon?” However, as I got reading and realized the incredible accomplishment that Bob achieved in putting together this incredible encapsulation of social media in 2009-2010, I knew I had to read it cover to cover. And I’m glad I did.

The book, which Bob markets under the title “The Best of Social,” (TBOS) is the product of connections that Bob forged while producing 20 social media conferences around the U.S. and the world over seven months in 2009. And for a practiced social media fanatic like myself, the perspectives of the authors helped renew my vision for what social media means for the world.

Lessons for a Wide Range of Verticals
The book collects the best thoughts of an amazing cast, from marketers to true-crime novelists to activists and small business owners, many who were quite familiar to me and more who were not. It covers a wide range of verticals: healthcare; religion; eco-activism; education; law enforcement; media; government; HR; art and more, with specialized chapters on analytics, integrating web and mobile apps into social media campaigns, and international perspectives. Having followed the fan-fiction of Firefly and other sci-fi movies on Twitter, I especially enjoyed Carri Bugbee’s behind-the-scenes descriptions of fans and AMC tangling over representations of Mad Men on Twitter. Bob and I are are both Twitter fanatics, and that bent shows in this collection, but I also found myself learning a great deal about integrated marketing campaigns, and about how to better leverage LinkedIn, which gets its own case study by Neal Schaffer.

I generally find a few things worthwhile in mass-market social media books like Trust Agents and Crush It, but TBOS adds tremendous value by getting down in the weeds with the clients and campaigns and front-line practitioners in our new social media world. Tech PR pro Michael Bourne catalogs how his team used social media alone to launch a new Olympus camera, then wove social into a much larger campaign for the general consumer market. Bourne details how the Olympus campaign reached out to online influencers to create relationships months before the launch, and integrated campaigns on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. Antique store owner Cordelia Mendoza writes of “broadening the market for antiques through social engagement,” going far beyond the typical listing of for-sale items to photograph, blog and tweet changes in displays, unusual inventory and visits by prominent customers. Veteran newsman Matt Felling tells of learning to break news through social media, and to allow more of his personality into his reporting and discloses that he’s the only (first?) reporter in Alaska to have been retweeted by TasteeFreez, of which he says, “While that doesn’t make me Bob Woodward, it does position me in the 21st century social media game.”

Government and Politics
Rory Cooper of the conservative Heritage Foundation submitted one of the many chapters in TBOS that alone are worth the cover price, detailing how the think tank uses its social media channels to inject its opinion into mainstream debate, while not getting carried away with success and losing focus. In an especially powerful section, he explains how each of the foundation’s writers has been enlisted as a social brand:

“A library of [unique and well-researched] information is insufficient to move the ball forward, so the experts have to be involved in the process of helping market their ideas.”

On the progressive side, Allan Rosenblatt of the Center for American Progress explains how the organization activates supporters to pass priority legislation, such as several hundred taking to the Facebook pages of key legislators to support a conflict minerals bill.

In one of the more familiar stories to me, my friend Wayne Moses Burke, founder of the Open Forum Foundation, tells the story of working to build a citizen engagement platform, and the successes and setbacks in creating the Twitter app “GovLuv.” Burke writes, “Upon further examination of the way social media is being used to communicate to Representatives, we found that it is actually acting more like a relieve valve for citizen’s frustrations” than a tool for real engagement between individuals and their representatives. But, undaunted, Burke and his network have moved forward with a new project, the “Open Model for Citizen Engagement.” Burke’s chapter filled in details about his project that I didn’t know, and also is brazenly open in highlighting the challenges faced by citizen entrepreneurs seeking to make real impact in how our government works.

New Global Connections
I found a number of new Twitter connections through the chapter bios, which include social medial links for most authors, as well as through great people and projects listed in the texts. One is the cheeky “HelloMeHippo” a snack-brand mascot profiled by Indian social media consultant Shrinath Navghane. Besides a hilarious schtick crediting all evil in the world to hunger, the Hippo used its fan network to find missed inventory opportunities throughout the web of independent groceries in India, crediting Twitter inventory-tracking with helping it increase its sales 76 percent in its early days. In another story totally new to me, Ecuadorian dreamer Alfred Naranjo chronicles how a group of social media enthusiasts in that country worked together to create a global Twitter “trending topic” of “#TeAmoEcuador” (“I love Ecuador”), an accomplishment diminished only slightly when when a strange sighting in the Ecuador skies created a global Twitter trend for Ecuador’s “#OVNI” (UFO), beating them to the punch. TBOS also includes the first social media case study I’ve read from Madagascar, where IT infrastructure expert Haja Rasambainarivo (Haja took the photo that leads this post – see his Flickr stream here) explains how social media has become an important part of Malagasy political discussion.

Finally, I took great interest in the closing “what’s next” chapter by TWTRCON founder Tonia Ries, who shares her thoughts on “social shopping” and the expansion of the social graph to include inanimate objects (I recently blogged about how many iconic inanimates in San Francisco are alive on Twitter).

I plan to share copies of Bob’s book at my social media workshops in 2011, and I highly recommend it.

You can find many TBOS authors on Twitter here.

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Adriel Hampton

Thanks, Andy. Two other books I really enjoyed in 2010 that are highly relevant going forward are Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget,” and the slightly older “Whole Earth Discipline” by Stewart Brand.

Steve Radick

Well constructed, thought-out review Adriel. I haven’t read the book yet, but based on your review, I’m not sure I want to. You say that “the perspectives of the authors helped renew my vision for what social media means for the world.” OK, that’s great, but for people like you and me, well-established practitioners in this field, did you actually LEARN anything from these case studies? Did it go beyond simple “engage, be authentic, build relationships” stuff that we all already know? I’m just reluctant to read case studies that are written by the very people behind them because they all come heavily tinted with bias and self-congratulations (oh, you used Facebook to create relationships with your customers and got 1,000 likes in five days? That’s fantastic!!!).

Just wondering if you looked at it from that perspective or not – I don’t doubt that it will be interesting, but will it be valuable?

Adriel Hampton

Steve, based on what stood out for you, it sounds like you’re also one of the experienced social media pack whose also grown cynical over time! You also may have experienced a lot more implementations than me first-hand. Some of the chapters were deep enough that I dog-eared them to go back to for future campaigns. Of course, to get into that kind of detail in a review would truly be going overboard. Many of the chapter authors are at a very high level in their experience and responsibility – Cooper and Rosenblatt and many others. I still don’t think anyone has the magic formula, but as I wrote, many of the chapters are alone worth the price of the book.