Dave Kerpen‘s Likeable Social Media claims to teach “How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistable Brand, and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook (and other social networks),” and he might succeed. His intended audience clearly isn’t a social media expert, though this is not a book for someone creating a facebook account for the first time. It’s intended as a tool to aid marketers and brand managers of businesses small and large in their social media interactions with their customers, from the trustworthy cofounder and CEO of the marketing firm Likeable Media, which specializes in word-of-mouth and social media marketing (6). Overall, I don’t think Kerpen gives any outright bad advice, but I do think his grasp of how and why people use social media sites is lacking.
Kerpen outlines “the fundamentals of ‘likeable’ social media [as]: listening, transparency, responsiveness, and engagement,” and instructs brands to conduct their social media activity keeping them in mind (166). Although these fundamentals seem like general good customer service guidelines, he makes the case that increasing your likability–in particular, the number of likes on your facebook page–will improve your business’s performance. In one of the few pieces of advice I really felt was coming from a professional, Kerpen explains the algorithm that determines whether a liked page’s activity will make it to the top of fans’ newsfeeds. With this and only a few other technologically specific tips, like how to target facebook advertisements, Kerpen lays out ways to make brands accessible, approachable, desirable, and capable using social media. His advice revolves around creating an environment and persona for your brand that consumers can trust and will want to explore and engage with, and not using social media platforms for sales pitches or broadcast advertising.
In terms of Nancy Baym‘s social discourses of new technology, Kerpen writes under the assumption of social shaping, in which there is an understanding of coproduction between the technologies’ affordances and the wants of the users. Kerpen outlines some of affordances of social networking sites, and celebrates their use as marketing tools, if one uses proper “likeable” techniques. However, he does make some unwarranted assumptions of domestication, while social media really isn’t the best platform for reaching all audiences, specifically children and the elderly.
When it comes to Hugo Liu‘s concepts of taste performance, Kerpen is steadfastly supportive of social media marketers to make statements of authenticity. In order to give customers the best possible experience with your brand, Kerpen recommends “giving your brand human traits” to make their experience personal, as social media interactions are meant to be (86). He encourages companies to show vulnerability and apologize for their mistakes, be it a typo in a facebook post, or a company-wide PR crisis (100).
Kerpen devotes an entire chapter to authenticity, but fails to grasp that not all social media users subscribe to the authenticity taste statement. In fact, he outright denies other taste statements’ existence when he discounts Aaron Sorkin’s claim that “social networking is more of a performance than a reality” and states “social networking, done well, is authentic and real” (97). While I don’t think Sorkin completely grasps the real-life extension social media provides, he is correct to assert that performance is an important aspect of social networks. Kerpen calls inauthentic social media users “short-sighted and in many ways tragic, as the promise of social network communication holds much greater potential” which shows a poor understanding of the users he claims to know so much about (on top of being wildly offensive to anyone who doesn’t use social media in the way he prescribes) (97). I suppose his phrasing could help reinforce his message that authenticity is important in dealing with customers on social media sites, especially in responses to individuals or all followers. And although he is incorrect in assuming authenticity is the only possible taste statement to make, this does not really affect people trying to be “likeable” social media marketers.
Another problem with Likeable Social Media is that Kerpen does not always consider how context like physical location affects social media use. For instance, he uses Newark Mayor Cory Booker as an example of using Twitter to maintain transparency with constituents. In this example, Booker responded to a constituent’s Tweet about being snowed in, tweeting,
Please @BigSixxRaven don’t worry about ur dad. Just talked 2 him & I’ll get his Driveway by noon. I’ve got salt, shovels & great volunteers. (115)
Based on the length of that tweet, and the context (a snowstorm in Newark), I see authenticity and an effort to connect to Newarkians. First of all, restricted by the character limit, Booker could not have typed out all the words perfectly if he had wanted to. Second, the working class Newark community is not likely to relate to prestige taste statements, so pristine grammar does not belong in Booker’s tweets. However, Kerpen incorrectly instructs readers to “note that Booker didn’t care about proper grammar in his tweet. He was too busy listening, engaging, and responding to his constituents” (115). I am reminded of danah boyd‘s lecture, specifically her example of the boy with gang-themed myspace postings, and believe that Booker does care about his grammar, but knows how to perform an identity over Twitter that his constituents can relate to.
Overall, I think Likeable Social Media is probably very helpful to people with businesses trying to start or fix their social media marketing. Kerpen provides great advice about engagement and responsiveness that all brands using social media should be aware of. Some of his advice is a bit elementary, like the whole chapter devoted to the importance of asking questions in order to be interactive (117-128). And to a discerning social media student, he is no expert on some common social media practices. Still, to readers with little to no PR or social media marketing experience, Likeable Social Media sets the guidelines and provides the reasons behind them for brands to achieve social media success.