Can you recommend some books on social media? Advice for the late adopters

While some of us are  a little tired of discussing “the conversation” about the conversation, others are just now beginning to examine potential of social media. For example, a former student called last week asking me to recommend social-media books that would get her up to speed. “Jessie” graduated before SM made it to our classrooms and was busy starting a family while the phenomenon was unfolding

I chuckled at first, remembering this tweet from Paul Baker. Ain’t it the truth? But late adopters are a sizable group, and as I told Jessie, books are a good place to begin the catch-up process.

Because I’m an educator, people pose the cursed “book question” all the time. It sucks, because it means I have to read a lot of books that do little to expand my knowledge base or worldview. But reading the literature, for me, is sort of an occupational hazard.

Here are the Top 3 I recommended to Jessie. But I’ll warn you, don’t look for a lot of critical analysis in these books, as they’re written by SM enthusiasts.

The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web, by Tamar Weinberg, is a fairly comprehensive overview of the social-media and its many components. You’ll find plenty of how-to advice, resource listings and useful examples. At 350 pages, think of it as a handbook, not a one-sitting read. It may be the best “step one” for anyone entering the social web. My advice to Jessie: Start here.

The New Rules of Marketing & PR, by David Meerman Scott, does a great job of recasting the role of media relations in the 2.0 world. Now in its second edition, New Rules is a breezy read, and includes examples and some basic “how-to” advice that anyone in the media-relations role can use immediately. I don’t agree with all of Scott’s advice about “going direct” to readers with news releases, but I’m not the most agreeable guy, am I? Anyone new to the social web should read this book. Anyone who does media relations should read it, too.

Goundswell, by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li,  explains the 2.0 phenomenon, then offers advice on how companies can benefit from it. Lots of good cases in this book, which is well written and tightly edited (at least by pop-business-book standards). Groundswell‘s focus on “the relationship” vs. the technology is the book’s greatest strength.

Though I doubt Jessie has time for 3 more books, I sent a follow-up email suggesting The Cluetrain Manifesto, The Long Tail and The New Influencers. Cluetrain remains the seminal work in social media for business, and is surprisingly relevant after 10 years. The other 2 books, both from 2006, broke new ground in their time and remain useful teaching references. I’ve not read Gillin’s latest, Social Media Marketing, as I must escape the marketing topics for a while.

I didn’t write this post looking for additional suggestions, but you’re certainly free to offer them. I wrote this post because I’m frustrated that NOT ONE of the 2.0 books I’ve recommended offers a balanced look at PR in a 2.0 world. All are focused on marketing, and on PR only to the extent that it serves marketing. It’s no surprise that the books are written by marketers, or by consultants who serve them.

Regular readers know I get incensed over those who treat marketing and PR as a single concept. They are not. Do they often work together? Yes. Do they often pursue common outcomes? Yes. Should they integrate their efforts to reach marketing goals? Of course.

But to treat PR as a subset of marketing, as these books generally do, reveals an ignorance of the literature and the practice of public relations. I don’t blame the authors, as they come at SM from the marketing perspective. But it does raise an important question: Where is the definitive, balanced business book that focuses on social media for public relations? If it’s out there, I haven’t found it.* (By “balanced,” I mean one that doesn’t just extol the virtues of SM, but also explores its weaknesses and limitations.)

Quit your bitchin’ and write it! I suppose I’m in a good position to write such a book, as I have a decent knowledge base in SM, and I know where to find what I don’t know. But I haven’t the energy, the patience or the time to do it. Nor do I have the incentive.

It’s impossible to keep up with all the titles in SM, but I do what I can. I read 4 of the more popular SM books over the past 5 weeks. If the weather stays warm and the cross-country ski snow disappears, I’ll tell you  about some of them.

Until then, please pray that Mother Nature turns down the heat. The book reviews can wait. The ski season cannot.


* Two more books sit on my reading stack, and both look promising. They include Online Public Relations, by David Phillps and Philip Young and Social Corp, by Joel Postman. David Phillips is a senior professional who also lectures about online PR at two universities. Philip Young is at University of Sutherland where he focuses on social media and media ethics. Postman, a West Coast practitioner, has long show an affinity for social media, but also a willingness to take the critical view.

13 Responses to Can you recommend some books on social media? Advice for the late adopters

  1. paul says:

    Bill, thanks for emphasizing the distinctions between PR and marketing. While there are some overlaps, there are many differences. Here’s a good discussion:
    And here’s another:

    I read Postman’s SocialCorp, and it’s a worthy read. He does talk about branding a lot, so I’d put him in the marketing side too.

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by BillSledzik: Social-media books for the late adopters. Good stuff here, but all are marketing focused. Sigh!

  3. Andy Curran says:

    It seems odd that all the SM purists spend a lot of time writing books, speaking in-person at events, and attending meetings in hotels and similar facilities. How 80s! It would make more sense if they would actually use some of their apps to spread their word. But I guess it’s harder to gouge people for $$$ online than it is when it’s a live event. Throw in a cheap lunch and coffee, and they can justify $400 to attend and command a $10,000 speaking gig.

    I don’t know how good the skiing will be up your way:

  4. Hey Bill – Really appreciate your continued support in this conversation about conversation about books that talk about conversation (or something like that).

    Don’t mind me I’m giddy with a 14 hour time change sitting in a Tokyo hotel room waiting to speak to a crowd of 200 in a few hours (New Rules is out in Japanese).

    Hey – I LOVE your styling new (old) photo. I’ll need to dig one out like that too!

  5. Jon Buscall says:

    Guy Clapperton’s “This is social media” is excellent. I’ve read a lot of the current batch of books out there on social media marketing and this is the most accessible and sensible. It’s written by a British journalist and writer and has plenty of no nonsense advice for business users.

  6. My picks, in no particular order:

    Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies
    Charlene Li, Josh Bernoff

    What Would Google Do?
    Jeff Jarvis

    Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers
    Robert Scoble, Shel Israel

    The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media
    Paul Gillin

    Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition
    Rick Levine, Christopher Locke

    Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust
    Chris Brogan

    Social Media Marketing For Dummies
    Shiv Singh

    The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly
    David Meerman Scott

    Putting the Public Back in Public Relations
    Brian Solis

    The Cult of the Amateur
    Andrew Keen

    Wikinomics: The Expanded Edition
    Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams

    DISCLAIMER: Burn after reading. Dead tree vaporware, I swear.

    Worth considering: a Top 10 list of blogs you regularly monitor via feeds or whatever your viewing pleasure. Change this quarterly.

    • Bill Sledzik says:


      It’s unusual to find such common ground. Not only have I read 10 of the 11, I like MOST of them for the newbie audience. My review of PPBPR appears here. It would not have made my list, as I don’t think newbies have that kind of time or patience. But I blame the editors more than the authors.

      I’m also lukewarm on Brogan & Smith’s “Trust Agents,” but you’re right, it is a good read for newbies. When I completed the book, I said, “This is ‘How to Win Friends & Influence People’ (Dale Carnegie, 1934) for the digital age.” It helps you understand the sociology of 2.0, and how to connect to it.

      Upcoming review, when I get to it, includes “Trust Agents,” “Twitterville,” and “Crush It!”

      • Never read your review on Solis; will so now. I’m not the biggest fan of his, truth be told, but I respect his work and it’s a worthy read overall.

        I need to get around to “Twitterville” but just haven’t had time. And so far as a newbie read, “Cult of the Amateur” would be last on my list but I include it nonetheless. It’s a healthy does of realism, a cautionary tale.

    • Shiv Singh says:

      Dino, thanks for including my book in the list. I hope you enjoyed it. Shiv

  7. Laura says:

    For what it’s worth, I’m reading What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis (also mentioned in Dino’s list). I’m learning a lot!

    • Bill Sledzik says:

      Thanks for the comment, Laura. For those of us who spends hours each day online, reading blogs and studying the thought leaders, it’s easy to conclude that the books are out-of-date and overly simplistic. But the average PR professional can’t commit the time I do, so the books can bring real value.

  8. Bill,

    Some of my favorites which I don’ think have been mentioned yet (also in no particular order)

    Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business by Erik Qualman

    Sticks & Stones: How Digital Business Reputations Are Created Over Time and Lost in a Click by Larry Weber

    The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Build Better Products, Reach New Audiences, and Sell More Stuff by Clara Shih

    YouTube for Business: Online Video Marketing for Any Business by Michael Miller

    Marketing to the Social Web: How Digital Customer Communities Build Your Business. by Larry Weber

    Get Seen: Online Video Secrets to Building Your Business by Steve Garfield

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