Book Review: Twitterville by Shel Israel Ross | November 29th, 2009

Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods, by Shel Israel, is different from the many Twitter books that have been published since 2007. This difference makes Twitterville a must read for any business that wants to leverage Twitter and doesn’t know where to begin.

Here’s why: Twitterville offers an outstanding insight, through case studies, into the different ways that individuals and businesses (large and small) have successfully leveraged Twitter.

Importantly, even though it seems silly to talk about history when discussing Twitter (after all, Twitter is only 3 years old), this history is important because it shows the growing shifts in social activism and the increasing voice that loosely organized “groups” have gained when using Twitter to respond to marketing campaigns (and missteps) launched by brands. This history also shows that cultural norms – even for a 3 year old social network – continue to radically shift. What was acceptable in 2007 and 2008 (or if not acceptable, at least not visible) is met with criticism and anger in 2009.

This isn’t a how-to book. Those looking for a list of top 10 things you can do to increase Twitter followers won’t find such a list in Twitterville. However, those looking to understand how to succeed (or avoid failure) on Twitter will learn much from reading this book.

Why should you care how others have leveraged Twitter? You should care because missteps on Twitter can create publicity nightmares for brands (and individuals). And while some brands even now continue to stay silent on Twitter, Shel correctly reminds us in the final chapter that:

Chances are that right now, there’s a conversation going on in Twitterville that can impact what you do for a living.

Think about that for a moment. Historically, brands (mostly through agencies) closely guarded and controlled conversations about their products or services. Social networks have changed this dynamic, and Twitter has led this shift. Through case studies, Shel shows how big brands (including Dell, Jetblue, Comcast, American Airlines, U-Haul) and small brands (including Seesmic, StockTwits and crowdSPRING) reacted to these changes (some leveraging the opportunities to strengthen their brands, while others failing miserably and tarnishing their brands). While there’s still a great deal of confusion about how companies can fully and sincerely use Twitter, there’s little doubt that some brands could benefit from interacting with their customers on Twitter.

If you’re not interested in business case studies and stories, Twitterville has plenty to keep you interested. For example, Shel writes about how individuals – including, among others, Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang) and Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) – have built personal brands using Twitter. Other chapters cover Twitter’s impact on journalists, politicians, and charitable fundraising, among other topics.

For those interested in following all of the people and companies mentioned in Twitterville, Shel has made it easy for you to do so. Just follow Shel’s list of Twitterville people.

For those of you in or near Chicago – please consider joining the crowdSPRING team at Social Media Club’s December 8, 2009 event, where Shel Israel will speak and afterwards, autograph copies of the book. More info here.

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