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Book Review: Socialnomics by Erik Qualman

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In a world where social media behemoths like Facebook can change their user interface between the time you send your final tweet about Stephen Colbert and before you wake up to read the news on your NYTimes iPhone app, can you possibly learn something about social media from a book written last year? This was my test when I finally got around to reviewing Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business by Erik Qualman.  The short answer: Yes, there is still much to be learned from Qualman.

Some of the points that jumped out as me as relevant no matter how many changes Facebook and others throw at us include:

  • "Business models need to shift. Simply digitizing old business models doesn't work; businesses need to fully transform to properly address the impact and demands of social media."  This mirrored my take on Sports Illustrated's iPad app. While it's definitely cool, does it really capture how people are going to want their online information? 
  • Authenticity often means lower production values. "Even if you had the money, you wouldn't necessarily want top-level editing because that destroys the authenticity of the organic ambiance you are attempting to create and, more important, increases the lag time to get the content in the hands of the socialmediorati." For a perfect example, check out Momgenerations.com fashion expert Audrey McLelland's fashion hauling video, with two of her kids sneaking into the action.  Now that's authentic . . . especially to a busy mom of little boys. 
  • You can learn a lot from search data.  Qualman uses this example from the last presidential election. 
McCain and Obama each tried to build up their respective brands in the eyes of voters. They used search data to answer questions such as: Is it better to print "Obama" or "Barack" on promotional posters. There were 3.5 [times] more searches done on "Obama" than "Barack."  Pretty helpful information.

  • Old Metrics Are Deceiving.  Qualman looked at the 2008 Summer Olympics as a clash between new- and old-style marketing. The main point: relying on the archaic Neilson Television Rating system is bogus. None of us watches TV the way we used to. I personally have no idea how I lived without my DVR. I no longer know what day or when shows run. And if I do miss something? I search for it on Hulu. (Qualman also has a great section about how Hulu is mastering the ad game with a whole new approach).  
Here are some of his salient points on why incorporating online viewers into broadcasts is a good thing:
  • It's more measurable.
  • It has a younger audience.
  • Users are willing to give you valuable demographic information like name, age, gender and so on in return for video.
  • It increases--not decreases--your total viewership, which means more eyes on advertisements.
Case in point: The NHL hockey playoffs. I'm a Washington Capitals fan living in New England (yes . . . I know, I know . . .), yet I was still surprised last year when I went to watch a Caps Stanley Cup playoff game and couldn't find it on TV. I raced online and found out that I should check to see if I had a station called Versus. Fortunately I did, but it didn't televise every game. However , I was able to watch some of them online--and, I wasn't alone. The NHL is experiencing a boost from its digital integration.

Beyond pure eyeballs, another way to look at how networks can engage people with social media is by changing the experience of watching TV.  Being the lone Capitals fan in Bruins territory is not much fun, especially this past week. Yet, I probably watched more Capitals games this year because I could interact (i.e., commiserate) with friends via Facebook (some of whom were at the games) as well as other Caps fans via Twitter and the Capitals Facebook page. This year, I had my son watch game seven with me, and we were able to look up info online about Jaroslav Halak as we watched the final debacle. 

  • In addition to the above, here are a few predictions Qualman makes that are right on track:

  • The demise of reality TV. We now have reality social media that allows us to watch the personal train wrecks of people we know in real time. And even people we don't know (cough cough, Lindsay Lohan). Who needs TV?
  • The demise of e-mail.  While it won't go away forever, I find my e-mail is mostly rendered useless due to spamming of press releases and e-newsletters I never signed up for (don't get me started on this pet peeve). So, I'm relying more and more on social networks to engage with others (and I'm not even Gen Y or Z).
  • Companies need to learn that they can't drag customers into their own online communities. They need to learn to play in other people's databases. Qualman has a pretty funny dating analogy here. If you meet a gal at a bar and ask to buy her a drink, if she agrees, you don't immediately grab her and run out of the bar to share a nightcap back at your place. You generally need to buy her a drink in your current location. That is unless you're part of the cast of Jersey Shore!  
  • The role of a marketer today and in the future will . . . [involve] having ongoing external conversations with customer/prospects while at the same time having ongoing internal conversations with operations, customer care and product development.
  • Search engine results will need to stop being prehistoric. I noted that Qualman's question, "Why can't an advertiser easily alert users of a winter sale?" has since been answered by Twitter's new business plan.
And, finally, here are a couple of statements by Qualman I'd like to see come true:

  • Due to the amplified power of word-of-mouth recommendations online, "[o]nly companies that produce great products and services will be part of these conversations; mediocrity will quickly be eliminated."
  • "In a Socialnomic world, companies need to relinquish the total control they have had over the last few centuries and allow users, consumers, viewers and so on to take their rightful ownership."
The Daily Dose verdict: Ignore the first chapter (which I thought was a bit redundant for a social media convert and a bit too "out there" for a social media resistant). Socialnomics really starts rolling in the second chapter. The book contains a ton of information and examples that will help marketers in every size company view social media as a communications platform of the future where the old rules (and outdated metrics) no longer apply. 

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