Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover (Oops Too Late)


It is common knowledge that one should not judge a book by its cover. Perfect example, here. However, it is hard to remain partial to a book when there is a bird, specifically the Twitter logo bird, screaming (Tweeting?) a money sign as the cover’s main visual. Trés tacky. It also doesn’t help that the cover is green, as in money, as in way too obvious of a “subliminal” color choice for a book that is essentially about making money, mostly for the author but I guess the reader as well. This book is “30 Days to Social Media Success: The 30 Day Results Guide to Making the Most of Twitter, Blogging, LinkedIn, and Facebook” by Gail Z. Martin.

So I judged it by the cover…I thought this book was going to be a tacky self-help book that was extremely outdated and unuseful. I was expecting to be pleasantly surprised based on the glowing reviews on Amazon. Unfortunately, my preconceived notions about the book turned out to be startlingly true, if not worse.

Let me first begin by noting that Martin is extremely well intentioned with her writing. The book tries, a little too hard at times, to get the audience to understand what it takes to be successful on social media. However, the first problem with this text lies with the idea of the audience. Martin targets this book to a very specific subsector of the population: small-business owners that are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of social media marketing, or social media in general. Her RESULTS approach, which stands for Recommit to marketing, Expect Success, Seek partners, Understand your audience, Look for win-win scenarios, Take strategic action and Stay visible, includes understanding the audience as one of its approaches. Martin discusses the “U” of understanding your audience in chapter 3, and encourages her readers to write down their target audience, analyze their business goals and intentions, and go after their “new” target audience in a space that already exists, rather than creating a new one.

What Martin fails to mention is the idea of “context collapse” which Marwick and Boyd discuss in “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience”. Context collapse is the idea that in an online space, a wide range of people can interpret messages differently, and even reach people that were never the intended audience in the first place. In her chapter about Twitter, Martin advises her readers to follow the trending topics and “and jump into the conversation if you can add relevant information or insight”. However, many companies, both large and small, have gotten in trouble by unknowingly Tweeting a promotional message with a trending topic that was culturally sensitive at the time. Not once in the Twitter chapter does Martin warn her small business owners that information can be retweeted, saved, shared, go viral, etc. with one gaffe on the social media site. She does, however, mention this but only at the end of her chapter regarding comments and threads, which seems highly less relevant than a Tweet or Facebook update. For new users to social media sites, Martin should have written a lengthy warning of all the potential problems a small business owner could encounter when they are authoring an online persona.

As my peer Julia also points out, Martin fails to effectively warn her new social media users about the potential pitfalls of joining an online community and expecting “success” within 30 days. Martin writes:

Remember that when you join social media sites, you become the new kid on the block. You wouldn’t move into a new neighborhood and begin pounding on your neighbors’ doors to sell to them, so you shouldn’t be aggressive in your new virtual neighborhood, either. Take the “community” part seriously and look for ways you can add value, help others, make connections, and have fun. Focus on being a valuable part of the community, and you’ll be rewarded.

While she does acknowledge that online social media spaces are communities that are sometimes unforgiving to n00bs, she does not grasp the level of understanding of Bonnie A. Nardi in her work “My Life as a Night Elf Priest”.

Nardi argues that in digital spaces such as World of Warcraft, it would be near impossible to understand them from the outside and full immersion is required. However, Nardi also discusses that in other places of research, such as villages in Western Samoa, she is clearly seen as an outsider based on appearance alone. However, on social media sites, she looked no different than any other player, just less experienced. Looking at Nardi’s description, you can see how Martin is enthusiastically technologically deterministic, claiming that the “virtual neighborhood” makes it visible to all other users that you are in fact new to the site. Instead of simply telling her readers to add value to the site, Martin should have instead suggested that users first open private accounts on all the sites to familiarize themselves with the technological affordances. Once they are familiarized with the site, have made some network connections and are comfortable with the jargon of the community (#tbt #subtweet), they can then open up an account for their small business.

Finally, Martin’s book can’t possibly claim to bring success to any small business when the book is a.) severely outdated (though only two years old) and b.) written by an author that can’t enact her own strategies to achieve success. The book was published in 2010, but in the fast-paced world of online media, it might as well have been written by Moses. Martin has an entire chapter dedicated to the sites Digg and Delicious, both which were abandoned by their parent companies, left for dead, but have resurfaced under small but new ownership. Neither company is considered a necessity anymore for any business.

My peer Aliza also gives some great screenshots from Martin’s own social media pages. As someone that gives a pretty comprehensive guide to building an online persona, Martin only has 5,851 followers on Twitter and is aggressive and self-promotional with all of her Tweets, although she advises against that in her book. Is she effectively adding value to the Twitter community by posting the same, lame, self-promotional Tweet 8 times in a row?

Screen shot 2012-12-07 at 10.06.55 PM

When your reputation and credibility are so visible in the social media world, it’s fascinating to see an author that is a supposed expert on the topic failing to take her own advice. Perhaps, 30 days is not enough time to build an effective Twitter account or social media presence. Two years clearly hasn’t been enough time for Martin to heed her own advice. In this lies the true problem with Martin’s book, or really any self-help book disguised as a guide to social media: they simply are not authentic (Liu) enough to work. Social media success is a curated yet organic process that takes time, though sometimes it doesn’t. You can’t force an account to go viral, a Tweet to trend, a status to be shared or an Instagram to make it to the popular page. As a business, but even as a personal user, the key to social media success is long-term dedication and authenticity, neither of which can be dreamt up and implemented in only 30 days.

I hate to do bid your book farewell Gail, but here’s a fail whale. 


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