Like many people, I’ve read my fair share of business books for work, research, and possibly some odd form of “pleasure.” For the most part I’ve found them disappointing – either vague advice that could be applied to nearly any venture or narrowly focused and impossible to truly duplicate outside of the case study. One of the better ones is Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness, although it is as much a story of Hsieh himself as it is the story of Zappos. But the ideas Hsieh proposes are interesting: culture and community as better business tactics. When I was given the chance to review (full disclosure: free copy) Barry Libert’s Social Nation, I took it with the promise of fleshing out the integration of social media and business.
Libert recognizes the benefits of social media and the difficulties that companies have in implementing these philosophies and tools into their business. Expanding on themes echoed by Laurence Lessig, Libert begins the book by pointing out one problem with the tendency to pass knowledge down from one generation to the next: it is very difficult to change. Both men use Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook as an example of what can be done today by those with drive and passion. Social media breaks free from the “permissions culture” and lets people directly reach their audience.
However, Harvard, home of many great minds, is merely a footnote in the story of Facebook, as it is in the similar tale of Microsoft. Libert point out that Mark Zuckerberg broke free of the belief that we are to be “seen and not heard” and that “[t]eachers taught and the student were supposed to do little more than listen.” This, Liebert says, is where businesses fail in building their own social nation.
Social Nation does more than simply chronicle the exploits of businesses as they try to modernize and set up shop on Facebook, Twitter and whatever else is yet to come, it breaks down the social skills into a number different attributes and qualities. Sometimes this includes listening to your audience; other times simply recognizing that behavior in the online world should not really differ from that exhibited offline.
Liebert looks to Zappos as a business that found its own voice in customer service. He admits that not every company can or should build around that theme – each business is unique and should implement a social strategy that rings true.
The main theme of the book is that the world is changing and businesses must adapt to compete; the question is how. Social Nation is not a guide to riches or a guaranteed business plan, but more of an analysis of what others have done and a look at why some have succeeded and some have failed. Guidelines to the rulebook that nearly every business will have to play by in the future.