The first step to becoming a social media expert is calling yourself a social media expert. It's often the only step.
Accordingly, the Web is crawling with latter-day snake-oil salesmen willing to show you how to tweet your way to success and influence.
Published by Portfolio, "The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise?" by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith is the latest book to emerge from this hit-and-miss category.
Brogan and Smith are no social media charlatans, however. Brogan has about 225,000 followers on Twitter. Smith, meanwhile, has a much-coveted first-name-only Twitter handle, @julien. Their previous book on online influence, "Trust Agents," was a New York Times bestseller, as the pair mention. ("You may have read it," they write in "The Impact Equation." "A lot of people did.")
If "Trust Agents" was about how to make noise on the Web, then "The Impact Equation" is about how to get heard — not just on the Web but also in business and life. This is done through algebraic self-improvement.
The equation is as follows: impact = C(REATE) or contrast x (reach + exposure + articulation + trust + echo). Brogan and Smith present their ideas over 257 pages of the large type and short chapters favored by publishers aiming to make book buyers feel like quick readers.
In the process they are not afraid to lay down a few basic truths about life online, such as: "There's a lot of information all over the Internet about every possible subject."
Some junk philosophy is thrown into the mix. "Not just anyone can be a doctor from Harvard, because if they could, it would mean nothing."
Assaults on the English language are frequent. The authors use iPod as a verb and mention something called an "ideator," which I'm still trying to get my head around.
Some sentences, however, are just weird. "You don't have to try to emulate human behaviors," they write on how to communicate clearly online. "You have to actually be human, in every possible way."
Paradoxically, their advice on the importance of being able to write to make a splash online is solid, even if their first point ("Learn to freaking spell") suggests a rather low estimation of their readers. The advice on taking criticism online — suck it up, don't let it grind you down and be polite — is one of the stronger sections too.
Although it takes a certain chutzpah to declare yourself an expert on something that barely existed 10 years ago, when it comes to building a brand online Brogan and Smith have been there and done that. They bear the scars of their mistakes.
When Brogan experimented by posting less frequently on his blog, they say, he fell to No. 7 from No. 5 in the Advertising Age Power 150. "Is this earth shattering? No," they write, "but it means something to some people."
The pair are also willing to share their successes. In a section on how to build "echo" — highlighting stuff you have in common with others — Brogan reveals how he built a connection with Bob Iger, Disney's chairman, during an interview. Iger asked Brogan if he had sailed around Searsport in Maine.
By sheer luck — Brogan had sailed only once in his life — he had. "Chris magically put his only sailing experience into play with Disney's top guy," Brogan and Smith write.
Although the book is not about social media per se, the most clear-headed advice of "The Impact Equation" is: "If there's a way for someone to say you're doing [social media] wrong, they will. There are a few ways that you can use Twitter that aren't ideal but, for the most part, you'll experiment and learn those for yourself."
There is rarely any reason to pay someone big bucks for a half-day seminar on installing TweetDeck.
The lasting impression Brogan and Smith give is of pathological self-confidence. There is little room for doubt in "The Impact Equation" and plenty of room for overstatement, as the book's final two sentences attest: "Give this book to someone. It may help them a lot." Well, it might. No harm in trying.
Reviewer Duncan Robinson is a reporter for the Financial Times of London, in which this review first appeared.