Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra
When I expressed interest in learning how to use social media more effectively, a friend quickly remarked: whatever you do, don’t start Tweeting! Probably the hardest part of learning to use Twitter has been to overcome the pre-conception that it’s used primarily by celebrity fans. Mark Schaefer’s The Tau of Twitter has vanquished pre-conceptions and convinced me that Twitter is a business tool here to stay.
What is Twitter? Twitter looks like a personalized wire service or stock market price feed. The limited space in a Tweet assures that only short messages are transmitted which means that it is easy to view many Tweets quickly. For news junkies and market watchers, Twitter has to be addictive–it is more than a non-stop pajama party for fifteen year olds.
So what does Schaefer say about it? The book is organized into seventeen chapters. The introduction and first two chapters explain how Twitter can be used in business. Chapter three examines Schaefer’s basic social media strategy (The Tao Explained). Chapter four explains business benefits. Chapters five to seven explore Schaefer’s strategy in more detail. The remainder of the book covers advanced Twitter concepts.
Schaefer’s strategy in using social media revolves around three principles: Targeted Connections, Meaningful Content, and Authentic Helpfulness. Targeted Connections means concentrate on following and be followed by people likely to find your business interesting. This is just basic networking. Schaefer talks a lot about his Twitter Tribe—a group of about 200 contacts who share your basic interests. Meaningful Content means that you introduce information that is both helpful and interesting. Most professionals today are specialists—talk about your area of expertise. Authentic Helpfulness means that you express honest interest in what people are doing online. Just pretend a colleague has walked in your office asking advice and you get the idea.
What makes Schaefer’s discussion interesting is how he mixes business and personal interests. Several times he reminds the reader that “social media” begins with the word “social” or alternatively “P2P”—person to person. People want to do business with people that they like being with. For those of us who are not the life of the party, this whole discussion can be a bit intimidating—life in business causal—but the point is that networking is very personal. Twitter is not a place to sell, but rather a place to establish relationships.
Schaefer’s The Tao of Twitter makes Twitter more inviting, more accessible for business professionals. Baby boomers may be shocked to learn that real business gets done in Twitter. Millennials may discover that business requires a different protocol than Twitter’s social side. Still, this is not a how to book that will substitute for the help system in Twitter. Professionals outside of the world of business may also need to tweak Schaefer’s rules of thumb to fit the ethos of their own fields. Given those caveats, The Tao of Twitter is an authentically helpful book.