Book Review: Engage!

When I put together my reading list for 2010, I included Putting the Public Back in Public Relations by the prolific Brian Solis as one of my 2010 “must reads.” Surprisingly, though, it turned out not to be the first of his books I read this year. The good folks over at Wiley sent me a review copy of his latest book, Engage!, which I’ve just finished reading.

Engage! leads the reader through a pretty comprehensive look at the ins and outs of social media-based public relations. How comprehensive? Well, after a two-chapter introduction, Solis launches into an 11 ¬†(count ’em) chapter “new media university” course going from defining new media, to intros to a large number of tools, to the social media ecosystem as it currently stands. This fits with the target audience – Engage! is firmly targeted at people those who are new to using the tools for business. Other people can safely skip these 120 or so pages, or dip in and out as needed.

Once you’ve completed your “new media university” education, Engage! then explores some core basic facets of business social media covering:

  • The social media mindset
  • Basics of listening, engagement and audience/influencer identification
  • Developing a corporate social media approach
  • Current developments such as location-based tools, social CRM and VRM (vendor relationship management)
  • Practical pointers including measurement approaches

Together, these topics provide a good run-through of all of the foundational elements of social media that you’ll need to know when you’re starting out. Not only does the book cover a wide range of tools; it nonetheless manages to avoid taking a tool-centric (which would almost immediately be out of date) and works in sound elements of communication strategy and broader social media principles.

For those of us who are already familiar with the basics, the book also offers some interesting content later on, with the sections on emerging practices such as social CRM and measurement being highlights. The measurement section, in particular is useful, not for any original insights but for combining a variety of measurement approaches into one place for easy reference.

If I had to offer one criticism, it would be that the book needs a good editor. Engage! is an overly lengthy tome – while most books come in at around 240-280 pages, this one runs to 348. Solis’ blog posts are often lengthy affairs, so this won’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with his work. However, it feels like there’s a normal amount of content within those¬†348 pages. The book would have been a more useful and enjoyable read with the benefit of this.

Good editing would have also solved the other primary problem with the book – that there’s no discernable flow or narrative throughout the book. Some other recent reads like Chip & Dan Heath’s Switch and Daniel Pink’s Drive lay out a clear path that makes it easy to know where you are in the book. There’s no such signposting here, and no noticeable path to follow. This can be a bit disconcerting at times as the book ping-pongs back and forth between topics.

These quibbles aside, I did enjoy reading Engage!. Having read all 348 pages, I can happily recommend that anyone familiar with social media skip the first half of the book; however you may well find some useful resources in the latter half. If you’re new to social media for business, however, Engage! is as comprehensive a guide as I’ve seen.

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.