Book Review: The Social Media Strategist

“Page turner.” Not words you usually expect to associate with a social media book.

For anyone who is looking for a solid primer on social media within corporations, though, those two words perfectly describe Christopher Barger’s book The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out.

In case you aren’t familiar with Barger, he’s headed-up social media at two of the world’s largest companies – IBM and GM. While at the latter, he led their social media communications around GM’s bankruptcy filing. Suffice to say, he has the chops to write a book about corporate social media. Nowadays he plies his trade at Voce Communications.

Despite the over-abundance of social media books nowadays, you can generally divide them into twocategories: the inspirational, philosophy-level books (Trust Agents, Six Pixels etc) and the practical, action-focused books (ok, there are probably many more, but work with me on this…). The Social Media Strategist falls firmly into the second category – one that I think is very thin on the ground right now – and immediately takes its place as my pick for one of the best in the category.

Barger writes in a pragmatic, realistic style – he doesn’t pull any punches, but more importantly he doesn’t focus on shiny objects and he doesn’t bullshit you with visions of a social media-driven utopia. He’s honest and to the point about challenges, and this book is all the better for it.

Barger gives a nod towards social media 101s, but this book is intended for people who have already bought-in to the potential of social media, and are looking for the “how”, not the “why”.

The vast majority of the book is taken up with chapters on critical pieces of the corporate social media puzzle – roles, responsibilities and key infrastructure. Barger leads with substance – early chapters on the executive champion, the social media lead, and the challenges they need to overcome are some of the best parts of the book. Later on he delves into aspects of social media training, policies, crisis management, blogger relations and more.

One key point to note is that this is not a tactical “how to” for social media programs, or a case study-focused book. You won’t learn from detailed walk-throughs, and case studies are limited to comments from a few key individuals in the space (all of whom are highly credible, however). This book is focused at more of a strategic and structural level.

Equally, if you’re already a long way down the road with your program then you may get relatively little from this (although there will certainly be nuggets and reminders throughout) – this is focused more on someone starting from close to scratch.

Neither of these things is a problem, though – Barger knows who he is writing for (he states it explicitly at the outset, in fact) and he caters to that audience with aplomb.

If there were one thing I could change, it would be the flow through the book. There’s no narrative through the book – partially because Barger doesn’t prescribe a set process to follow, but at times the leaps from topic to topic between chapters could use finessing (while chapter 9 focuses on social media training within the organization, chapter 10 focuses on blogger relations). Also, the crisis communications chapters have relatively little substance when it comes to how to prepare for those events (the GM-focused chapter, alone, could frankly be a book on its own).

Ultimately, if you’re working on social media within an organization and need a handbook as you get started, I can hardly recommend The Social Media Strategist more strongly. I’ve already suggested that several people I know read it, and suspect that several others may find it in their stockings next time Christmas rolls around.

Two thumbs way up.

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.