Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky, A Book Review

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky really has something here. Because I have to say, I just plain love this book. I am a fan! In addition, this book ended up tying with Groundswell for being my favorite of the six books that we were assigned to read in my first Quinnipiac University social media class, Social Media Platforms (ICM 522).

Clay Shirky: Here comes everybody!
Clay Shirky: Here comes everybody! (Photo credit: ChimpLearnGood)

At the time, I started classes thinking I would only get a certification and nothing more. However, I ended up staying long enough to get my Master’s of Science in Communications in Interactive Media (social media). And a part of that decision can be traced directly back to reading this particular work.

Philosophy To Go

Furthermore, I really liked the philosophical and sociological aspects of his work. Essentially, what he ended up saying was – society is changing. It’s not just the Internet; it is happening to humans ourselves. We are in the process of becoming new, and different. Hence there is a seismic shift going on, in our society.

Of course, that is likely to just be the wealthiest slice of society. Because heartbreakingly poor people in Third World countries simply aren’t going to be adding to online or offline content any time soon. Or, if they are, it is far more likely to consist of content that is survival-based. Hence this would be items for sale, rather than the products of truly creative pursuits.

Amateurs vs. Professionals

In addition, I really love what he had to say about amateur participation. Because in Chapter 5, on page 154, Shirky persuasively writes:

“As more people come to expect that amateur participation is always an option, those expectations can change the culture.”

So here’s to amateur participation. Because it is here to stay and I suspect it will never, truly go away.

Rating

Review: 5/5 stars.

Optimize by Lee Odden, A Book Review

Optimize by Lee Odden

Optimize by Lee Odden was not an unfamiliar concept. I have read about search engine optimization on countless websites and in any number of books already.

Optimize by Lee Odden, A Book Review
Lee Odden presents on SEO through blogs and feeds (Photo credit: toprankonlinemarketing)

But I don’t think I ever truly understood it until now. Lee Odden has taken an almost mysterious concept and made it comprehensible. I definitely liked Optimize.

SEO

Google doesn’t have a lot of options for its spider bots when it comes to reading your content. It can read your text. And that’s about it. While there are, I am sure, plans to try to make it so that Google can better read flash, PDFs, PowerPoint slides, Images, and Videos, the truth is, it’s currently pretty much all letters and numbers.  That will eventually change, but right now that’s it.

Hence Google doesn’t know that the picture you added to your blog is an image of, say, Dame Judi Dench. It needs a caption. Sounds obvious, right? But I wasn’t doing that, not with this blog and not with my writing site or anywhere else.  Oops. And that caption should be obvious, in order to serve the search bots, and informative and conversational, in order to serve your human readers/audience.

Who or What Should You Optimize For? Bots or People?

Both. And fortunately, they don’t conflict. Hence if you add keywords, tags, or categories to your webpage, blog post, etc., then if you can reiterate the keywords, etc. within the content, you’ve got it made. And you need to look around wherever you are posting, and use every available square inch for your optimization efforts. This does not mean that you cover every single pixel!  Rather, it means that, if you have a space for a caption, use it. If you have a space for tags, write them. Blogs have categories. So make them meaningful, and use them. Hence I finally feel I get it. And that is a wonderful feeling.

Rating

Review: 5/5 stars.

Google Advertising Tools by Harold Davis, a Book Review

Google Advertising Tools by Harold Davis

Google Advertising Tools by Harold Davis is one of those O’Reilly books, so it’s got an animal on the cover. This one is some sort of lemur or monkey. Not that that has anything to do with the subject matter but it ends up much nicer than the O’Reilly books with scary insects on their covers. Ick.

Cover of "Google Advertising Tools: Cashi...
Cover via Amazon

But I digress.

The book concerns, unsurprisingly, Google AdWords and AdSense, but it also talks about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and the process of driving traffic to a website. Davis dispenses with the idea of adding significant article marketing-type content. So he instead focuses in on getting your site onto directories. He also does not seem to get behind requests for backlinks. He does not seem to go for the other kinds of authority enhancements which seem to go in and out of style these days.

Davis also covers affiliate programs, such as Amazon and the like. For example, if you happen to check out the link to purchase the book from this blog entry, you will see an affiliate link in action. He also covers sponsored and contextual advertising.

Hence the book probably would have been better titled Advertising on the Internet. Because it explains far more than Google’s offerings. And it goes into far more detail.

While this book was not strictly about Social Media, any Social Media Marketer worth his or her salt should at least make a concentrated effort to understand online advertising. Because optimizing sites for advertising often helps to optimize them for other purposes as well. And these include important to tasks driving web traffic and even making conversions or sales. Important to the bottom line? Absolutely. Google Advertising Tools by Harold Davis is a worthy addition to the web developer’s library.

Rating

Review: 2/5 stars.

The Zen of Social Media Marketing by Shama Hyder Kabani, a Book Review

The Zen of Social Media Marketing by Shama Hyder Kabani

The Zen of Social Media Marketing by Shama Hyder Kabani is a fascinating little work on how to get ahead with online social media marketing.

Shama Hyder Kabani
Shama Kabani’s book is a good read. It was awesome to be at the book launch party for the first edition (Photo credit: ShashiBellamkonda)

Shama Hyder Kabani’s prose style is engaging and direct. Furthermore, if you go to her own website, the way she writes represents an obvious reflection of the way she really speaks. Major points for authenticity.

Shama says that the three main social media areas/sites you should focus on are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Forget most others. However, this part has changed and is out of date, for I would argue to swap out Instagram or even Snapchat (depends on demographics) for LinkedIn.

In addition, your should present your company (and, by extension, yourself) on all three with a kind of what I like to call professional intimacy. That might sound like an oxymoron. However, the idea is, be genuine and sincere but also hang back in terms of too much sharing and togetherness. Your customers want to know about your company and your product, to be sure, but a little personalization works (and, in fact, can help to build trust). But too much personalization does not work. Your prospects and customers really do not wish to hear that you’re going in to have a root canal.

ACT

So Shama’s three points come under the ACT acronym:

  • Attract – bring the prospects and customers in with good, lively (and up to date) content
  • Convert – turn your prospects into customers (and this may take several visits by them before this happens) and
  • Transform – turn successes into magnetic forces of attraction

Attraction is your brand, your outcomes, your differentiators. And Social Media marketing is extremely good for this. Clarity of communications is key.

However, Social Media remains a less optimal tool for converting strangers (prospects) into clients (paying customers). However, it is good for converting strangers into information consumers, which can often be a major step in moving them along the path from prospect to client.

Transformation

Transformation involves social proof, e. g. we’re more inclined to do something if we see others doing it.

Therefore, you have to do a good job, and use your success in order to attract more successes. That is, ask your clients if you can retell their success stories. Make it easy to buy and pick your tactics (means of marketing) last — you need to get the essentials (such as theory) in place first.

Strategy is the big picture. Tactics are the when, the where and the how.

Blogging is also key. The idea behind blogging is three things:

  • Educate – use your blog to add value by giving away good information.
  • Market – make it attractive to buy and
  • Sell – make it possible to buy.

The book is a brisk read. Of particular interest are the testimonials in the back. As you go along, you realize that Shama practices what she preaches on every page of the book. And, it worked, didn’t it? Because if she got you to buy her book and check out her website, then she’s already converted you to a client. And all she needs to do is sell you her services and she hits 100% of her target. Finally, the most amazing thing is, even after you realize how much you are being marketed to, you just don’t seem to mind any more.

Rating

5/5

Book Review: Zen in the Art of Writing

Book Review: Zen in the Art of Writing

Zen.

So for the social media writing class at Quinnipiac, we were required to purchase Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. However, the book proved to be optional.

Yet I read it from cover to cover, and I just plain devoured that thing.

Book Review: Zen in the Art of Writing
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

So as a fiction writer, I particularly loved his ideas about how to, well, get ideas. On Page 33, he wrote –

“… in a lifetime, we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small. We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. Into our subconscious go not only factual data but reactive data, or movement toward or away from the sense of events.

“These are the stuffs, the foods, on which the Muse grows.”

Spoiler Alert: I Loved It

First of all, that is just a great way of looking at things. Because what Bradbury is doing is essentially giving the aspiring writer permission to get inspiration from everywhere, and from everything. Since the smallest memories can do it. So don’t give up on your weirdness. And don’t suppress it. I love this concept.

Furthermore, on Page 50, he writes about praise. And as writers, we might aspire to everyone loving us, and buying our works or at least reading them or, at minimum, being aware of them. However, Bradbury offers a rather different definition of success –

“We all need someone higher, wiser, older to tell us we’re not crazy after all, that what we’re doing is all right. All right, hell, fine!”

Therefore, really, it is okay to want to be loved. And it is okay to be weird.

Who knew?

Review: 5/5 stars.

Book Review – Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen

Book Review – Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen

Dave Kerpen has a rather interesting book here.

Likeable Social Media

Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen
Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen (cover image is from Amazon)

This book was required reading, as a part of my Community Management class at Quinnipiac University.

And it made for an excellent read.

For Kerpen, a lot of social media success comes from listening to, and then surprising and delighting customers and potential customers. Are your posts what they are interested in? If you received this post, would you bother clicking on it?

Case in point for surprise and delight

In May of 2015, my husband, parents, and I went to a Mexican restaurant in my parents’ town. We have eaten there before, but not so much that they know our names or our usual orders or the like. My husband and I don’t visit my parents too often. And he visits them even less than I am. To the restaurant, even if my parents are repeat customers, my husband and I surely don’t look like repeats.

There was a short wait until we got our food. Without prompting, we received a little appetizer, which mainly consisted of little breaded and fried mashed potatoes, configured a bit like sticks. There were three bits of sauce in different colors. The potatoes and sauce, most likely, were leftover odds and ends. It may have taken the chef all of ten minutes to make the dish. I didn’t see anyone else getting the appetizer. We thanked the server. The appetizer tasted good.

We were served our food, and you’d think that would be the end of it. But it wasn’t. We didn’t order dessert. But we received a plate of flan and four spoons anyway. No one asked us; we just got the flan (it tasted really good). We weren’t charged for either little extra.

These twin activities impressed us, so much so that I’ve even linked back to the restaurant. Win-win!

Surprise and delight your customers. Or, as I’d like to say, where’s their flan?

Being Likeable

By no coincidence, Kerpen named his company Likeable Media. From its positive name to its obvious association with Facebook, the book and the company are all about creating positive and meaningful experiences for customers and potential customers. Kerpen begins with listening and with careful, accurate, and specific targeting. E. g. not all women in their 50s have the same interests. He strongly urges marketers to dig deeper. He also encourages them to have empathy for their customers. Is a post interesting? Would it be welcome to the customer base? The first fans should be preexisting customers, with perks for the really rabid fans. Another skill to master: engaging in a true dialog. This means not just accepting praise, but also effectively and expeditiously responding to complaints. It also means owning up to your mistakes when you make them.

Honesty

Kerpen advocates authenticity, honesty and transparency in dealings, and promoting an exchange by asking questions, which goes right back to listening. From listening, comes the surprise and delight. Did the restaurant hear us complaining about slower than normal service? Possibly. The appetizer and the flan certainly helped to quell those complaints and win us over.

Because he’s talking about social media (and not restaurant service), Kerpen’s flan moment doesn’t just cover coupons and offers. It’s also the sharing of stories as social capital. Some of this includes stories of the company (e. g. how a product was invented that spawned an industry). But it also encompasses the stories of the customers themselves. Imagine being a soft drink company and asking customers who drank your soft drink during their first date to share their love stories?

Finally, rather than hard selling, Kerpen exhorts marketers to simply make it easy to buy. Good products and services will always have customers. Generally, you don’t need to massage demand. But you do need to make it easier for customers to open their wallets.

A terrific, breezy read, well worth your time.

Rating

5/5 stars

Book Review: Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk

"Book

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook is a bit too cleverly named, but the premise is an interesting one. Essentially, what Gary Vaynerchuk is saying is, little bits of content and engagement which reach your potential customers are the setup for the big finish (which is not really a finish, actually) of a call to action and an attempt to make a sale.

The other major premise of the book is that all platforms have their own native quirks and idiosyncrasies. Therefore what is reliable on Pinterest, might fall flat on Facebook. What is killer on Tumblr might get a shrug on Instagram. And what is awesome on Twitter might bring the meh elsewhere.

Breaking Down What Went Wrong, and What Went Right

The most powerful part of this work was in the analysis and dissection of various real-life pieces of content on the various platforms. Why did something not work? Maybe the image was too generic or too small or too blurry. Or maybe the call to action was too generic and wishy-washy, or the link did not take the user directly to the page with the sales information or coupon. Or maybe there was no link or no logo, and the user was confused or annoyed.

While this book was assigned for my Community Management class, the truth is, I can also see it as applying to the User-Centered Design course at Quinnipiac. After all, a big part of good user-centric design is to not confuse or annoy the user. Vaynerchuk is looking to take that a step further, and surprise and delight the consumer.

Give people value. So give them what they want and need, or that at least makes them smile or informs them. In the meantime, show your humanity and your concern.

And work your tail off.

A terrific read. Everyone in this field should read this book.

Rating

5/5 Stars

Book Review: Strategic Planning for Public Relations

Book Review: Strategic Planning for Public Relations

Book Review: Strategic Planning for Public Relations
Book Review: Strategic Planning for Public Relations

For a Strategic Planning class at Quinnipiac University, we were required to read Ronald Smith’s Strategic Planning for Public Relations.

And so it was … okay.

In all honesty, I do not expect public relations textbooks to be laugh riots or thrill rides.

However, one area ended up being rather frustrating.

On page 95, Smith writes, “… goals are general and global while objectives are specific.” On pages 93 – 94, he writes, “Strategy is the organization’s overall plan.” And on pages 225 – 226, he says tactics are the visual elements of a public relations or marketing communications plan.

What Are You Saying, Mr. Smith?

First of all, to my mind, I saw great deal of overlap. Hence I feel that much of the book could have been better condensed. And essentially, I feel, the strategic planner or public relations expert wants to follow an organization’s general goals. For example, an organizational goal could be to get more exposure.

Plus they want to achieve this with special attention to specific objectives. Such as, they might want to increase awareness by 6% during calendar year 2017. And then add the nitty gritty of tactics. E. g. the strategic planner might believe they can accomplish this by tweeting every other day following a particular plan. And that seems more or less to be it. However, it did not take me over 400 pages to tell you that, now, did it?

However, in all fairness, there were some good parts in the book. Furthermore, the sections on SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) and PEST (political, economic, social, and technological factors) analyses were very good. And you do not have to be in the public relations field in order to be able to use that information. But man, it could sure use some editing.

Rating: 3/5 stars.

Book Review: Stephen King On Writing

Book Review: Stephen King On Writing

For my social media writing class at Quinnipiac, we were required to purchase Stephen King On Writing although it turned out to be an optional work. I think the work was decent.

Book Review: Stephen King On Writing
Cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

A lot of people seem to fall over themselves with praise for King. Me? Eh, not so much. I would say, though, that this is the best thing I have read from him.

Nuts and Bolts

One area that I feel he handles well: the question of how meticulous attention to detail needs to be. On Pages 105 – 106, he writes,

“For one thing, it is described in terms of a rough comparison, which is useful only if you and I see the world and measure the things in it with similar eyes. It’s easy to become careless when making rough comparisons, but the alternative is a prissy attention to detail that takes all the fun out of writing. What am I going to say, ‘on the table is a cage three feet, six inches in length, two feet in width, and fourteen inches high’? That’s not prose, that’s an instruction manual.”

Agreed, 100%. I see far too many fiction writers getting into far too much detail, and it’s maddening. Readers are intelligent (generally), and can follow basic instructions. However, the writer needs to provide the framework and then let the reader run with it. Otherwise, it’s an instruction manual, as Stephen King states.

And the corollary is also true – for writing which requires meticulous instructions and step by step information, woe be unto the writer who decides everybody knows what a flange is, or a balloon whisk, or EBITDA. Or any other term of art known more to insiders than to the general public.

Stephen King also exhorts would-be writers to read a lot and write a lot. Basic information, to be sure, but it makes good sense. Without practice or comparisons or even attempts to copy, none of us would learn how to properly craft prose.

What the Hell Did Adverbs Ever Do to You, Steve?

Here’s where we part ways.

King writes, on Page 124, “The adverb is not your friend.” On Page 195, he clarifies his statement:

“Skills in description, dialogue, and character development all boil down to seeing or hearing clearly and then transcribing what you see or hear with equal clarity (and without using a lot of tiresome, unnecessary adverbs).”

It’s funny how he makes the above statement with the use of the adverb clearly.

I see his point, and I’m not so sure that a lot of aspiring authors do. The gist of it? Make sure to choose your words well. A part of this is what editing is for, but it’s also to be able to best get across your point(s). You can write –

She waited nervously.

Or

She waited, drumming her fingers on the table until her brother told her to cut it out or he’d relieve her of the burden of having fingers.

The second example is more vivid. It shows, rather than tells. But sometimes you just want to cut to the chase. There’s nothing wrong with that. Adverbs, like passive voice and other parts of speech and turns of phrase, are legitimate writer tools. They can still be used.

In all, a decent work, albeit a bit redundant in parts. I didn’t want to read the memoir portions of the work although I can see where they would interest others.

I bet this guy is going places.

Review: 4/5 stars.

White Space is not your Enemy by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen, a Book Review

White Space is not your Enemy by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen

White Space is not your Enemy by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen is a beginning design book. And I purchased it because I definitely need assistance with design. While I (at least I think I do) have something of an understanding of which color goes with which, it is sometimes difficult for me to make something look good. Seeking some inexpensive professional help, I turned to this book.

Practical Help

White Space is not your Enemy by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen

So apart from the obvious title, the book offers tips on color combinations, font selection, focal points and even how to prepare a document for a professional print job. And the chapter on design sins really resonated with me. I have seen poorly designed advertisements (both online and offline) and websites, and have never really been able to adequately articulate just why they were so hideous. So now I can.

Exercises

The exercises in the back of each chapter seemed, I thought, somewhat superfluous. However, I did find myself beginning to look at designs with a more critical eye. For example, I noticed a print advertisement where the background photograph was of varied colors. Some were light, some, dark. The print, however, was pure white, and cut horizontally along the middle of the photograph. Hence this would have been fine, except the copy crashed straight into a white space, so some of the print was invisible. Which part? The company’s name. Epic design fail.

Foolproof

Another extremely helpful chapter: the one on the “works every time” layout. This layout is all over the Internet and all over print media, and for good reason. It is, essentially, a full width photograph or other graphic across the top third of the screen or page, with the remaining two-thirds divided into two vertical columns for text. A cutline (caption) goes directly underneath the visual (if appropriate; some visuals don’t need a cutline), with a more prominent headline directly below that.

Break up the columns into paragraphs and beware widows and orphans (one or two short words on a line). Place tags (these aren’t Internet meta tags), which are the logo, company name and small nugget of information such as the URL or physical address, in the lower right-hand corner. In addition, round it all out with generous margins all around. Voila! An instant beautiful (albeit somewhat common) layout!

If nothing else, that chapter has a greater value than the price of admission.

Learning Creativity

Creativity cannot, truly, be taught. But the peripherals around it can, such as how to gather ideas and nurture them, and how to place those ideas together in a coherent format. It’s like teaching pottery and smithing but not cookery: you get enough so that you can set the table, but not nourish anyone.

For that, you need to be an artist. And that, sadly, no book can ever teach you.

Rating

5/5