Just when I thought we’d seen last of the books dedicated to screaming at marketers until they sign up for Foursquare, along comes The Now Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social*.

I should note that I received two copies, both of them free. One I think I asked for in some email offer; the other turned up unbidden.  (In fact, almost everyone I’ve asked has at least one free copy of this book. Has anyone actually gone out and paid for it?)

Free books set off warning bells, as do books written by people who work for companies that sell these sorts of things to people like me. In this case, it’s Radian6, recently sucked up by Salesforce.com.  A quick trip to the book’s website  reveals a very, very concerted effort to sell speaking engagements and consulting.  So whatever value may lie in its pages, it’s wise to view this book through the skeptical lens of a content marketer.

That said, it seems to me that if you’re trying to sell me something, you ought to be a little nicer to me in the first few chapters.  To be fair, most of the Ritual Shaming is over with fairly early in the book and the authors offer seven things we can do to make our organizations more urgent. If we were poultry, they’d probably cut our heads off.

But we’re not so instead we are told to “engineer a new bedrock” by having a nice culture and remembering that every employee is, heaven help us, an ambassador. Well at least you didn’t say evangelist. Oh, crap, you did. And please tell me you didn’t drag out Ritz-Carlton as the example of this? Yup, did that too. Somewhere in the universe there must be another company that has empowered employees, I mean ambassadors, who can solve problems. Zappos doesn’t count either. Ignore Chapter One.

Chapter Two also takes us to familiar places like hiring people we trust who have a nice attitude, strong networks and good ideas. The authors believe they have stumbled on personal networks as the new standard for hiring. News flash: good companies have been hiring people on that basis for years. All that’s changed is we can see their networks online instead of having to steal their Rolodexes. There’s a tiny bit of Ritual Shaming here too with a bizarre matrix on page 30 that suggests that in the past we only hired jargon-laden, conservative, rigid people married to their job descriptions and uninterested in innovation or teamwork. Today we hire for new skills such as listening, measuring, being engaged and representing the brand. Now that’s just insulting.

Chapter Three looks promising and offers to help us structure our shiny new hires to leverage social media to get stuff done. And it goes pretty well until this:
“You should encourage as many of your employees as possible to get involved with social media, but that recruitment shouldn’t be done at bayonet point. A critically important truism is that if you don’t love social media, you probably suck at social media.”

Hmmm. I don’t love commuting, cleaning grout, filling in forms or being violently ill, but I’m actually pretty good at all of them. The only good point in this chapter is that companies who issue mobile phones or email addresses have already extended a considerable level of trust to employees. “Social media is faster and more public but the same trust applies. If you don’t trust your employees to communicate with good judgment, you have a hiring problem, not a social media problem.”

Two other good things in this chapter are Jason Falls’ wise suggestion that social media isn’t governed by one policy but by a collection of guidelines, and a profile of Autodesk and how they’ve used social media to build a wonderful user community. There’s a bit that suggests that agencies have a role as educators, trainers and designers. My experience suggests that most agencies should shut up and listen since they are part of the problem and mostly suck at social media. If you also received this book for free, maybe send it along to your agency.

Chapter Four is about using social media to do more than answer questions and seize the chance to eavesdrop on our brands, customers, competitors, industries and so forth. There is a good list of monitoring software in here and some guidelines on what should be in our dashboards. Plus there is an alarming study of a tea lady who needs to get internet access while she’s on vacation.

Chapter Five is titled Emphasize Response-Ability. Spelled just like that. The first part celebrates things good marketers have been doing for years by telling us that storytelling happens only with blogs and YouTube.  Then they share lists of tools we can use to bother our co-workers and customers. There’s a particular shout-out to Yammer and they include a Hand-Wringer’s nightmare as a sample exchange. Personally, I loathe Yammer. It’s disruptive and the content is like every elevator conversation in the building except that it’s happening in your in-box all day long.

There’s a bit more Ritual Shaming of the Old (we like to be interrupted by LinkedIn, apparently). The throw-away joke about Burt Reynolds is either a patronizing engagement tool or a dangerous look into these authors’ viewing habits.  The only thing that makes this chapter worth the slog is the tip about adding a +sign to a .bit.ly URL so you can see how many times a link has been clicked.

Chapter Six is where things get interesting and useful. The new rules of crisis communication are something we need to understand and plan for. Intuit’s  famous 18-hour service outage last year is a great example of a social media-fuelled crisis where the company didn’t know what was happening but people outside did. That United jet bouncing up the Hudson River is another example. The guidance here, and it’s good, is to remember to respond in the same medium someone used to trash you. It’s not enough to gather up the hate mail and call the business reporter at The Times to talk it through. What hasn’t changed, the authors correctly note, is that we still need to say we’re sorry when things go wrong. “Our society is wired to forgive—and we will”. As long as you put as much information in as many accessible places as you can, then forgiveness will follow. Boingo’s response to its email spamming incident last year is a good example.

Chapter Seven is about measurement and offers great charts and useful tips on evaluating social media on their own and versus older media. The authors also impose a little reality on the notion that social media are instantly measurable and that test-and-learn cycles can be accelerated in our shiny new age.  The truth is that while data come in very quickly, it still takes a bit of time before anything can be declared a trend or a result, particularly where the sales cycle is long and complicated, like in B2B.

This chapter is the most practical of the bunch and arms us with 21 KPIs, the revealing idea that B2B companies have fewer customers than B2C companies and some great tips about Google tools including Traffic Estimator and Analytics.

The authors, in their way, try to drink their own Kool-Aid by sprinkling links to supplementary materials throughout the book. Which would be a beautiful thing except for two problems: The first is using Microsoft Tags.. I get that they are pretty and that we can change the URLs, but let’s face it, the apps are hard to find and tags of any kind are unpredictable beasts that depend on steady hands, clean lenses, decent wireless connections and a bunch of patience to deliver any value.

Plus it’s rarely a ton of fun to read a white paper on a smartphone on a commuter train first thing in the morning. If the authors truly want to get their content to as many people as possible, which seems likely given the vast number of free copies in circulation, why not publish the thing as an ebook and embed the links so we can view the material as we read instead of having to change platforms?  Why kill all those trees when your revenue from this project is in the form of services?

Bottom Line: If you are reasonably experienced with social media in business, this is probably too basic. If you kind of know what you’re doing and need a few actionable ideas, start reading at Chapter Six, but get on it soon as this book will age very quickly and will need to be mocked and shamed by subsequent editions.

On a side note, if you are attending Marketing Sherpa’s B2B Summits this fall  you are getting a copy of this for free.