How to Fight Social Media Book Fatigue

I had the pleasure recently of reading two books by people I know. Two *more* social media books by people I know quite well.

So, how am I supposed to do an objective review?

I’m not.

How am I supposed to drum up enthusiasm for social media books when it’s probably much healthier to step away from my day job once in a while?

I’ll wear my fatigue on my sleeve and still recommend the books.

First of all, the two books in question:

Content Rules, by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman, and;

Social Marketing to the Business Customer, by Paul Gillin and Eric Schwartzman.

(Oh right, disclosure- I was given copies of each book with no obligation, though I am prone to buy these types of books on occasion as well if the mood strikes and I just-just-just-just-juuuuuuust got paid).

I’ll just say now: go buy and read these books if you are interested in online content strategy or social media for the business-to-business (B2B) world- or more importantly need information on either of these subjects to make the case for such at your company, because these folks know what they are talking about. Simple enough for a review?

I’m not going to critique writing styles or nitpick about content, though both books are full of anecdotes, case studies (especially in the case of Social Marketing…) and practical advice (more the province of Content Rules). I’m also not going to get into the tired “I’m not the audience for these books” – that’s part of what the “fatigue” is about. You not the audience as well? Then give the books away to someone who could use them (yeah, I should do that).

The main reason I don’t want to get into picking apart writing styles is I don’t want to go down the road of reviews like this and get into a pissing match where authors are defensive and.. well who cares, anyway?

By the way, if you choose these books for writing that sings, you are probably reading the wrong kind of books- but I will recommend a couple of fairly recent books where the writing flowed really well for me: Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel, and Twitterville by Shel Israel, who I found to be an excellent storyteller (yeah, I know those guys a little too- occupational hazard).

The real value of Content Rules and Social Marketing… to me is that they represent a positive, evolutionary move to more niche oriented books, rather than “Social Media is Good” books of the first wave (Groundswell, Join the Conversation and yes, Six Pixels…).

Both books hit specific concepts within online social media – content and B2B, natch – and therein lies their usefulness. Both books also manage to future-proof themselves to the point that is possible in this industry, meaning they rely heavily on ideas and strategies rather than tools (Content probably had the tougher line to toe in that regard). The disadvantage is that practical advice can be blunted by generality, while the advantage is that it prevents a book from being obsolete not long after it hits the shelves (an example might be- though I hope I’m wrong – Steve Garfield’s Get Seen, a wealth of practical information for creating videos, but so laden with equipment, software and website recommendations that the first edition is probably already out-of-date).

You Could Have Just Skipped to This Part

So what value can I bring writing about these books other than pimping out and linkbaiting my friends? I think these books (and others) are better enjoyed by exploring the wealth of dynamic online content that these authors are creating on a weekly, even daily basis. You cannot judge books without knowing where the authors come by their subjects, and you certainly can’t judge the review without knowing the reviewer’s point of view.

In fact, I would go further to say dip into the authors’ current online content and root around as you use the books- it tells you more about where they come from, and where their thinking may have evolved since publication.

First, Content Rules; this book would have no authority if both authors were not knee-deep in content.

I knew of Ann Handley dating back to her days at ClickZ, and now through the amazing marketing content she oversees at MarketingProfs. She also occasionally (that is, not often enough) commits a more personal style of writing on her personal blog, Annarchy.

C.C. Chapman, for his part, adds to the book’s ideas, deliberately and otherwise, through a variety of podcasts, video and written posts. Home base is http://www.cc-chapman.com/, but definitely have a poke around the Digital Dads content.

For Social Marketing to the Business Customer:

Paul Gillin writes a regular column in BtoB Magazine, and has built credibility on years in the industry based on leading roles at Computerworld and TechTarget. Also, he often uses his blog at http://gillin.com as a workshop to test-drive chapters of upcoming books, and take in comments and contributions from others. What is a social media book without collaboration?

Eric Schwartzman I first got to know through his podcast, On the Record Online. Each episode is an in-depth interview with communications professionals and journalists, a rich backlog of material that of course informed much of Eric’s contribution to the book.

My point, put briefly: bring life to any of these books by incorporating the living content that feeds them. They may be dead tree books, but you don’t have to read them that way.

Will I be reading the bunch of new social media books coming out? Maybe, I don’t know. The next issue of MOJO Magazine is on its way, though, and my bedtime reading is reserved for the next several nights.

Thoughts After a Year of Telecommuting

I composed this post without realizing it was Telework Week. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that, but what the hell…
I hereby resign my right to ridicule cat-bloggers and Tweeters

After commuting to office and studios for more than 20 years, I joined the ranks of teleworkers a year ago January. I promised myself (and others) that I would blog observations, but I think the year’s wait was worth it to give me a little perspective on what has worked. Here are a few of my observations:

Routines may be great, but breaking them is more important: There is no shortage of articles (like this from Monster.com, a client, and this from Yahoo!- also a client- maybe I should get out more) on telecommuting advice, and they largely include some sort of advice about routines– set up your work boundaries even though you are at home, resist the temptation to do dishes and laundry during office hours (nailed that on day 1, by the way), and more.

What I found more difficult was breaking those routines. It is easy to get locked in work until 8. That’s great short-term, but long-term it’s deadly. I found that actually breaking the routine is very healthy and important. No, I don’t do laundry or dishes (again, nailed that one), however:

  • I occasionally move offices- most telework equipment is portable enough to afford a change of scenery- the dining room, the porch, the backyard. As a bonus, send pictures of your workspace on a nice day to your office-bound colleagues (the isolation of telework can incubate a nice cruel streak).
  • I regularly get out of the house altogether, attending a weekly coffee group when I can, networking with folks for lunch and coffee, and attending events when I can (I can do better at this).

In all, changing scenery is important. In this laptop age, I found moving from my office to a conference room or other location on occasion was just as beneficial.

(Cliche warning) Social media really is the new water cooler: At an office, getting up and gathering at the “water cooler” (whether or not it is actually a water cooler) is not (just) a waste of time, it’s a vital socialization component that helps productivity by fostering workplace relationships, informal brainstorming, and simply clearing minds. At home? I do find yelling at my printer sometimes yields (imaginary) results. However, tools like Facebook, Twitter and Yammer are good for trading information, questions and quips with company and industry colleagues. It’s not face-to-face, but it is social and intellectual stimulation.

Similarly, I would say that many workplaces lack that stimulation– they may have the water cooler, but sometimes it is great to get out (and encourage your workers to get out) and talk with others.

Shutting off is hard. Shutting off completely is easier: When I worked at an office, I found that I would get home and set aside time to get back on the computer to do personal blogging and social networking many evenings. When home IS the office, I find I am either online or off. That’s no judgment either way, but an observation. Before, getting on the computer at home wasn’t work (aside from taking work home like many of us do). Now, being on a computer at home defines “work” even when I am doing personal things. I find myself shutting it down more after hours.

No line is uncrossable, but that’s what it feels like.

Culture is important: I work for Voce Communications, a company that has several senior people telecommuting (not to mention a small office in Florida to go with two in California). It’s important that that culture was in place as I joined, and the company does much to include the remote folks. Other people arrive at telecommuting in different ways, so mileage varies, but it is important that I have the support to be able to do my job and deal with the unique issues telework brings.

Those of you who telecommute, even sometimes, or did so in the past: what has defined telework for you?


What Made Me Your Audience?

This post originally appeared on Voce Communications’ Voce Nation blog.

One of the things that frustrates me most about being in the social media bubble is the fact that we all (social media marketing, PR, and other folks) seem to be each other’s audience; reading each other’s blogs, books, Tweets and newsletters and commenting on them in some great big circle of life (note: a bubble, or if you prefer, fishbowl, is also circular).

I actually think that’s great in many ways; we need and crave each other’s feedback and when done well it makes us all better. When done poorly, it’s just a bunch of industry friends sucking up to each other in public, rubber-stamping content filled with stuff we all already know (reading that back, I make it sound like a bad thing– you decide, but as ever “it depends”). This translates to any person- or company- in any industry.

While many of us strive for “audience” outside of our known colleagues as we build up our businesses or consulting practices, or want to be known more widely as some kind of “wicked smaht” idea machine, we sometimes forget to provide context, wherever possible, to clue in this “audience,” and especially our existing inner circle, that we know who they are and why they read.

More importantly, if you are going to use more intrusive methods like email, you had better make sure you are making yourself welcome in that more personal space. Industry friends occasionally launch email newsletters; while they are generally pretty good, they don’t often tell me anything new, or more importantly, anything I feel I need to know. Worse, many of these email newsletters have a generic feel, treating me as an audience rather than a friend, colleague, acquaintance or peer.

Is that what I am to you? Audience?

Here are my thoughts on making sure your message is received

  • Create context: If you are creating something you hope to appeal to a wider audience, acknowledge those closer to you by framing the newsletter with a special message on the version they get. Perhaps it is just a note of hello and thanks; perhaps it is an invitation to give feedback as a trusted colleague; perhaps it is a separate email asking ahead of time if they would like to see the newsletter at all, and what they might like to see in it. You might even create a separate piece of content that appeals to this more sophisticated inner circle.
  • Leave people out: Alternatively, just leave people out if you know they won’t need this content– if for some reason you cannot create context, don’t risk your relationships by blasting something out that may not be something they want. Honestly, these folks will not be offended.
  • Say something unique: The hardest part of any content is having a unique take– in the social media bubble, we are all talking about the same thing much of the time– what is your niche? What is your unique point of view? We advise clients all the time to differentiate content, and for good reason. In our circle, one example I like very much is Christopher Penn’s. His email newsletter, like his blog, touches on many familiar social media issues, but frames them in a no-nonsense way that does the most difficult thing; speaks to beginners as well as advanced practitioners (even with Chris, to be fair, his World of Warcraft references may not be for everybody). He is also very upfront, not to mention unapologetic, about his distribution methods; you know where you stand with him, and you know why you’re getting his content.

  • Expand your horizons: What I mean by this is reach out, find that audience of “outsiders” if that is what you desire. While you can eventually build such an audience by building a reputation and credibility based on a history of solid content, there may be a role for that “inside” group. Rather than foisting the content on them as part of the overall audience, distinguish them as folks not meant for your message, but as equals who, when asked nicely, will forward your content to people they know can use it (I look at the rack of social media books written by folks I know, and remember how often I lend or give out my copies to people better served by the content than I).

Yeah, it comes down to those PR staples many of us have harped on for years upon years: targeting and customizing messages. Is it that simple? No, of course not, but we need to think constantly about how we appear to the people who see our content. different relationships deserve different contexts.