If you believe that social media begins and ends with sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Digg, Reddit and Sphinn, that rock you're living underneath must be cozy. If you assume social web sites are all about eye candy and juicy talk, you may be right.

A new book called, The New Influencers - A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media by Paul Gillin, was my reading companion during a recent travel experience to a search engine marketing conference. The first story Gillin tells illustrates our dream experience with social networking and marketing.

He describes how an AOL customer tried to cancel his account. As most of us who were around during the primitive Internet years can attest to, it was far, far easier to deliver a baby while jumping on a trampoline than it was to cancel an AOL account once you set up one.

One gentleman, Vincent Ferrari, is a blog owner. He recorded his phone experience with an AOL account representative. Of course, it didn't go well, with the highlight coming when the then 30-year old Ferrari was asked to go get his father.

On June 20, the recording was broadcast via an audio file from his blog, and he asked his readers if they could report any similar customer service tales from AOL. Boy could they! An hour later his server crashed with over 300,000 requests for downloads of his audio file. Four days later, while his server continued to suffer from the strain, he was appearing on nearly every major TV news show, including being interviewed by Matt Lauer of the Today show in the USA. He made Nightline. CNN. Top blogs ran his story.

By August 1, Google presented 150,000 results for "AOL" and "Vincent Ferrari". Meanwhile, AOL announced changes to their policy but insisted it had nothing to do with the Ferrari recording.

As the author writes,

"Vincent Ferrari may not have caused AOL to change its business model, but he must have influenced it. He lit a match that set off a conflagration of customer complaint. AOL probably new that its hard-sell tactics were unpopular, but it probably didn't know the degree to which those tactics inspired rage among its customers."

I love to study human behavior and the Internet. Social web behavior takes the cake. It's a marketers' never-ending party. Reputation management is something big business can no longer hope to control without also understanding Internet media. This new book is a relaxed, informative read that covers social media in all its various forms, including podcasting, blogs, and video.

He doesn't end there. Gillin considers how the long-time public relations industry must adapt. He works in viral marketing, tools and illustrative examples from the field to help drive his points home to readers. Beginners trying to understand all the ways the Internet can communicate information will get explanations in an easy, non-technical language. For the experienced, ideas and inspiration are worth the very affordable price for this hardcover book.

In an era where traditional journalists struggle with point persons in an effort to get the "real story", there is now the freedom and often easy access to get to the truth of a matter simply by following clues dropped by social media sites.

You can influence change by communicating what's important to you. Done well and creatively, you can earn money, force positive change, teach, inform, unite, fight together for causes and create new communities that stretch far beyond your present physical boundaries.

Gillin lightly touches on the future effects of social media marketing and barely gets into how it has been used to threaten and bully people.

With influence comes responsibility.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

September 19, 2007

Kimberly Krause Berg is the owner of Cre8pc.com, Cre8asiteForums.com and co-founder of Cre8asite Webmaster Resources Directory.

Kim's career began in 1996 as the Webmaster for an Internet magazine publishing company. Later, while working for "dotcoms", she built websites, incorporated search engine optimization and performed Internet software application usability/user interface testing. For years she freelanced on the side by performing search engine optimization services via Cre8pc.com. Now a self-employed usability/SEO consultant, this mother of 2 is an advocate for home and small businesses. She specializes in what she calls the "marriage between search engine optimization and usability" and to that end offers Cre8pc and Cre8asiteForums as teaching sites.

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