Gail’s Folly, or Why You Shouldn’t Be Learning About Social Media From Your Mother

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By this time in January, I too could realistically achieve excellence and success in the realm of social media for my business. So says, at least, Gail Z. Martin, the “marketing expert and international speaker” who has now reached a point of near infamy among many in our class after reading her “30 Days to Social Media Success.” Never mind that I have no discernable business in need of marketing or promotion, or that upon review of this book I in my very individualized understanding of social media seem to have a better handle on what social media strategies could and could not realistically work. Throughout her slim book—the first in an expanding series of “30 Days” publications—Martin discusses the importance and purpose of marketing through social media sites and presents her condensed and heavily formatted road plan for marketing “success” in the space of a short month.

            Through a slew of cute acronyms and strategies incessantly set to the number 30, Martin aims to demystify the process of marketing and specifically the development of social media presence for a wide spectrum of professionals, be they “coach, consultant, speaker, author, or owner of a small business” (Martin 17). Martin of course quite astutely notes throughout the book that social media sites and an understanding of how to use them to a business or individual’s marketing advantage is key in an ever-shifting and increasingly digital marketplace. Her 30 chapters—over a dozen devoted to exploring specifics of social media sites and practices alone—illustrate this point constantly. In all ways but explicit statement, Martin writes with an implicit subscription to Nancy Baym’s technological discourse of social shaping (that is, the theory that we influence technology and it influences us) by emphasizing use of multiple social media sites’ technological affordances in order to market a brand or product. However, she also crafts her book through a lens of domesticity, or the assumption that social networking sites and the processes of marketing through them in fact need be used and is necessary to marketing success.

            This is where the relatively sound concept of the book falls apart in practice. Martin takes her notion of social media importance a bit too far, confusing the probability that some social media sites may be useful to some businesses with the statement that all social media sites should be used to market in as many ways as possible. Chapters go at length describing the advantages of sites ranging from the practical of Facebook and Twitter to the misguided in forums and threads to the confusing of YouTube. Martin’s writing calls into question whether she’s denoting usages of social networking sites for business or rather creating half-baked business marketing applications for social networking sites retroactively. Combining such a breadth of topics to cover with a decided lack of any sort of examples of real world applications—a whole chapter of self-publishing marketing strategy goes without any concrete mention of Martin’s own forays into the publishing of her fantasy novels and self-help books—and a tone best described as “polite condescension” leaves an impression of just scratching the surface of the social media marketing game.

            Martin’s format of writing in favor of producing fast-track guidelines to success contributes strongly to an underlying theme of form over function. In her effort to craft a plan for a non-media-savvy audience, the helpful elements in each of her chapters (“results reminders,” which recap the chapter’s takeaway in a sentence) are grossly outweighed by those that serve as little more than slaves to an unwieldy unifier—like the “Rule of 30” and “Exercise” sections in the recaps, which often prompt the reader to arbitrarily “find 30 ways” to connect the chapter’s subject to their business plan in a rather ridiculous and sometimes demeaning effort to mind a confusingly established and numerically obsessed theme.

            All of these red flags ultimately add up to the disheartening question of whether or not Gail Z. Martin is the right person for this job. It seems, simply put, that Martin is not the ideal candidate to educate on the topic of social media success in marketing. Her exercises, helpful as they could prove in real-world applications, offer no support or examples and are rooted in the short-term with vague (at best) directions on how to apply to marketing strategy outside of the month she discusses. Her frequent outdated references—on the myth that social media is a fad: “that’s what some music critics said about the four lads from Liverpool” (59); on emphasizing a business’s comeback story: “notice that Rocky Balboa has six movies!” (47)—may stand the test of time but in their irrelevance give off quite an undesirable impression of a person supposedly an expert in an up-and-coming field such as social media marketing. Her status as a bestselling author, which is played up on the book’s jacket and in her biography section, comes from her completely unrelated moonlighting as a fantasy novelist.

            On top of all of this, many of Martin’s tips seem to be just plain faulty in the grand scheme of social media principles. She would advocate for adherence to one of Liu’s taste performances, to be sure, but to which one it is never quite clear—at many different moments, Martin advocates for tones of prestige, authenticity, and differentiation to be maintained among separate profiles across the Internet, which could only lead to brand schizophrenia. As Leah pointed out earlier, Martin insists upon many social media technologies in her profiles, even the obscurest-of-obscures Squidoo, which she herself seems to hypocritically warn against: “too heavy of a sales emphasis will get you in trouble with the site” (91). Others of her suggestions sound wholly undesirable for a marketing entity to become involved with; she recommends a brand presence in forums, chats, and threads, while I and other Internet-savvy individuals can provide concrete proof that chats and the closely related comment sections of websites have proven no place to try to market—take this recent (and recurring) example from the entertainment blog Vulture:

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Please, DISH troll, regale us once again with epic tales of Blockbuster and the Hopper

In a book that is best described as well-intended and poorly executed, Gail Z. Martin seems to try her best to shoehorn a kernel of a good marketing methodology into a puzzling and often ridiculous “30 day” framework that could have only been originally implemented to draw attention through its headline. In her simply undesirable handling of her material, Martin inadvertently raises an important question: in an environment of constantly shifting social media technologies, can such a book as this exist in a static print form any longer? Surely, one thing is clear—this book, at least as Martin writes it, need not exist any longer. 

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