Social media is an integral part of any modern business, whether it’s a start-up company or a big corporation. Not only is it the new way to advertise, it is a way to create community and interact with a business’ consumer audience. Or, at least, this is what David Kerpen, author of Likeable Social Media and CEO and co-founder of Likeable Media, argues. He uses his book Likeable Social Media to argue why social media is important in branding a company and the benefits of such media versus more traditional methods, such as network television commercials and print ads. It should be noted that his company Likeable Media specializes in helping companies start up their own social media presence and brand, so this book should be taken with some cautiousness in its ultimate goal may be to persuade users to seek help from Kerpen and his family of social media savvy employees.
Though, there is truth to what Kerpen advocates in his book. He comments on how social media is beginning to replace, or at the very least becoming a notable force in competition with, traditional forms of media and advertisement. With upcoming generations being a part of the new digital age, we see that there is a shift in concentration from placing print ads to web ads, strong social media presence, and so forth. For example, in the recent presidential election both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama worked to create a strong social media persona, helping to brand each candidate and garner support for their campaigns.
Companies do this as well by branding themselves very specifically. This can be done by dedicating their social media to promote their own products or to create a personality for the company that users would want to engage with and ultimately purchase. For example, Old Spice brands itself as the “bro next door.” Taking a look at their Twitter, you can see that most of their tweets are sarcastic, rely on bro-humor, and when they’re not promoting their new online game Old Spice Saves the World, their tweets have nothing to do with their product. Instead, Old Spice has chosen to create a personality to face their company, one that their target audience (most likely males in their early twenties to early forties) is drawn to. They use this personality across all media platforms, from their commercial spots, Facebook, and so forth, which encourages consumers to follow each and in essence become a “bro.” Kerpen would call this a great use of social media — not only has Old Spice used social media (i.e. the online game advocated on their platforms) to not necessarily replace but as great supplements to their traditional media forms, they have also used social media to brand the company.
But this idea of branding a company and using social media to create a specific personality/persona for a company is all a part of an identity performance. Hugo Liu might best explain this as a taste performance. While each company may choose a different kind of taste performance (Liu suggests there are four categories: prestige, differentiation, authentic, theatrical), each does perform an identity that would hopefully appeal to its consumers. Kerpen states that it is important to establish this identity before applying it across all media platforms as this will help create a personality or taste profile that a company can use as a guideline. In doing so many people may be able to manage a company’s social media while maintaining a singular voice, versus having multiple voices from various people. This, Kerpen explains, will confuse the audience and lead to a messy, disorienting social media persona.
The idea that social media is even an integral part of every company’s marketing plan shows a definite shift from what was previously thought. Before social media, we relied heavily on television commercials and advertisements placed in newspapers, magazines, etc. Now, we turn to the Internet. If we hear about a new and funny commercial, we look on YouTube for it rather than on TV. Social media has also shifted as well: while it was at first a way for individuals to communicate and network with on another, it has now become a platform for advertising, branding, as well as social engagement. Nancy Baym might define this change as social shaping in that social media was invented and we as a society migrated our time and attention to such platforms. Social media and technology responded, however, in changing its function to be available for marketing purposes as well as individual connections. Marketing is no longer a one-way communication route. Consumers react to a company’s product or advertisements and the company responds to the users. Kerpen writes that now “it’s about tapping into the conversation, listening, engaging, and empowering [the consumer]. The loudest, biggest spenders don’t win anymore. The smartest, most flexible listeners do” (42). Also, the mere fact that we do consider social media as an obvious part of every marketing plan is a move towards social media’s domestication, or social media becoming a part of the fabric of everyday life. We no longer question its presence, we expect it.
There are, however, aspects about Kerpen’s book that are lacking. He doesn’t delve into the expenses of social media branding other than stating that “social media is not free. It will take time and/or money to achieve sustained growth” (43). Other than this, however, Kerpen never explicitly states how much one can expect to spend on a social media campaign (on visiting the Likeable Media contact page, I saw that they list list a monthly budget of “$10,000 or less” as their lowest option). Also, as the target audience for this book is most likely start-up company and business owners, he is very one-sided in only offering tips on how to use social media. He never comments critically or analyzes the social impact of the changing genre of media. Kerpen offers insight on how to respond to the changes, but fails to touch on how these changes come about and why it is important to consider. The book is very business oriented, particularly in advocacy for Kerpen’s company, as he even states in his introduction that readers can tweet, email, or Facebook questions to him or his social media accounts dedicated to Likeable Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Website).
Overall, the book is a somewhat masked attempt at marketing Kerpen’s company Likeable Media. While it does have a do-it-yourself feel in that Kerpen offers tips, he ultimately states that time and money will be necessary to create an effective social media persona and that it is not exactly the easiest to do so. The book does offer some interesting insight into the business aspect of social media, I think he pushes his own social media company too much, even if he never explicitly states that readers should use his company’s service. Using Likeable Media as a reference in every chapter felt like an orientation or beginner’s guide to the company by the end of the book. I was glad to be done with it and turn my iPad off. In a way, I wanted to say this to the book: