Books

How Can You Make Money from Social Media?

In A Social Strategy, Piskorski sets out to make sense of a social media culture where videos of cats garner 100,000 views but serious news stories sometimes go unwatched.


A Social Strategy: How We Profit from Social Media

Publisher: Princeton University Press
Length: 288 pages
Author: Mikołaj Jan Piskorski
Price: $29.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-05
Amazon

Above: Social media icons image from Shutterstock.com.

How can we profit from social media?

It’s the question that big businesses and small businesses, businesses that existed long before the internet and businesses that exist only because of the internet are asking. And it’s not just an issue for businesses, either. Non-profits, musicians, authors, mommy-bloggers, and entrepreneurs are asking the question, too.

Let’s face it—it’s easier to find (and make a little fun of) the less-than-successful (or sometimes simply downright stupid) social media campaigns than it is to find the successful ones. And it’s not just the start ups or the folks with no marketing budget that sometimes fail miserably—think about the Coca Cola Chase ads from the 2013 Super Bowl or how McDonald’s #McStories quickly became #McDHorrorStories.

Whoever thinks using social media successfully (i.e., making money from it) is easy needs to think again. So do people who think it’s all one big fad or that creating a successful social media campaign is just blind luck. And that’s where Mikołaj Jan Piskorski and his book A Social Strategy: How We Profit from Social Media come in.

In a data-driven, highly analytical book, Piskorski sets out to make sense of a social media culture where videos of cats garner 100,000 views, but serious news stories sometimes go unwatched.

Piskorski starts with a vocab lesson. He eschews the commonly used term "social media" in favor of "social platform", “to underscore that people connect online, using whatever means, in whatever form, primarily to improve their relationships with others.” He doesn't like the term "online social networks", “because that term implies interacting with one’s existing set of friends and acquaintances”, and does not take into account any new acquaintances made online.

Four other key terms in the book: social failures, social successes, digital strategies and social strategies. Piskorski focuses on the first two in the opening chapters and then turns to digital and social strategies in the second part of the book.

Social failures are not necessarily exactly what one might think; they “are interactions that do not occur, but would make two people better off if they did.” Piskorski blames these failures on interaction costs and notes that all interactions have costs. He focuses on four: breadth, display, search, and communication. Most are exactly what they sound like. Take display. Although Piskorski engages in a somewhat verbose explanation, he includes a perfectly clear example: You bought a new house. You would like all your friends to see it (i.e., you would like to display it), but it may be too expensive to invite all your friends over for a party.

After the terms, Piskorski examines specific entities and shows how they are succeeding or failing and does so using plenty of research and numerous charts. Each chapter includes background and conclusions, and many of the businesses discussed (eHarmony, Twitter, and Facebook) should be familiar. Even with this familiarity, Piskorski’s concise histories are fun—for example, it’s interesting to be reminded that Twitter didn’t always have a Retweet button—it added it in 2009—and it’s even more interesting to see that in 2013 Twitter only made 17 cents per active user per month.

The second section proceeds in much the same way. First, more terminology—Piskorski explains the differences between digital strategies and social strategies. Digital strategies, the more common of the two, seem to focus on things like getting Facebook likes and Twitter followers and leave companies asking “How much do all these social efforts contribute to our bottom line?” Social strategies are more complicated, but have clearer benefits—both for the consumer and the company (think eBay’s Group Gifts app, which allows people to “pool funds to buy gifts for friends”). While sometimes Piskorski’s definitions require rereading, the examples he provides illustrate his concepts nicely.

Both sections of the book contain interesting case studies and good analysis. Piskorski’s focus—trying to understand why people do certain things online—is an admirable (and large) one. Whilehe doesn’t have easy answers or provide information business owners may want to hear (social platforms may be free, but implementing a social strategy probably won’t be), overall he is encouraging and closes the book with “I hope that the frameworks and the examples advanced here will get you to start experimenting with social strategies, so that when I sit down to write the next version of the book, I will be able to use your company as the exemplary case of how to leverage online social platforms for profit!”

Before jumping into A Social Strategy, though, keep in mind that scholars are Piskorski’s primary audience. The book is published by Princeton University Press and more often than not it reads like an academic text. Piskorski does hope that his book with help practicing managers, and it could, but only if they are willing to wade through some relatively dense writing.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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