Books By Women on Social Media Are Game-Changers: Charlene Li's Open Leadership and Toby Bloomberg's Social Media Marketing GPS

20 days ago

After just one week, Charlene Li's second book, Open Leadership, hit #5 on the New York Times Bestseller List. I will be surprised if it doesn't reach the #1 spot.

A week before Charlene's book was published, Toby Bloomberg launched her first book, a free ebook, Social Media Marketing.

What does one have to do with the other?  They are two business books on social technology written by women. As a genre, the business book category is dominated by men.

If you check out the New York Times  Hardcover Business Best Seller List for last week, you will not find one women author on the list. Suze Orman is on the paperback best seller list, but she's the only woman.

While vastly different in scope and approach -- Charlene's is a bestseller, Toby's is a free e-book -- the two books share a common message: Social technology/media is forcing companies to change the way they do business by thinking about relationships in a new way. If you read the two books, they will seem as if they are echoing each other.

Toby's book is actually a succession of 40 interviews conducted by Toby via Twitter. The interviewees include prominent marketers from Canada, England, India and the U.S. There are some names that are very familiar to BlogHer: Elisa Camahort, Susan Getgood, AV Flox and some BlogHer alums, Nancy White and Marianne Richmond.

Both books promise to provide practical, pragmatic, actionable information.

Toby says she created her book to be a resource for marketers, written by the community of social media marketeers. She calls it an experiment in "crowdsourcing"  and says she wanted to create a body of knowledge that could serve as a roadmap for developing strategic social media.

Charlene says Open Leadership picks up where her first book, Groundswell, left off. She writes the purpose of this book is to show readers "just how they can use these new technologies [...] to improve efficiency, communication and decision making for both themselves and their organizations."

Both books look at the shift in the balance of power brought on by social technologies:

It's all about empowering the front line&ass.stakeholders; more power power vs. less control. Don't relinquish quality checks -- geoliving

Charlene says in her book, "Open Leadership is about how leaders must let go to succeed." She emphasizes that "being open requires more-not less-rigor and effort than being in control." Charlene defines open leadership as:

Having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.

Both books talk about the need to listen, the need for strategic planning, and the need to embrace failure. Both books talked to the social media strategists at Dell and Comcast.

The question is, did the two books succeed in what they set out to do? For the most part, they did.

Toby's is not a sit out on the deck, with a nice, cool glass of ice tea,  kind of read. For me, it's more like Bartlett's Quotations -- a great go-to resource when I need a quick, easy way to find smart insights on social media. Like the quotations in Bartlett's, these tweets by industry experts serve as great conversation starters, thought jumpers and inspiration.

Charlene's book has been reviewed by many folks. Click here, here, and here. For the most part, winning rave reviews. While I do have 22 Kindle pages worth of notes, highlights and bookmarks, I did not find this book as powerful or as inspiring as Groundswell. I was clicking right along, doing lots of head nods and feeling at one with the subject, until I got to locations 1308-14 (25 percent through the book, this is Kindle talk). The subhead read: The Apple Factor. Charlene writes:

I would argue that, given Apple's strategic objectives, it doesn't have a driving, compelling need to be open -- at least, as long as it continues to develop world-class products.[...] When you come down to it, Apple doesn't need to be more open than it already is. And as long as it continues its success streak of delivering market-changing and leading products that delight customers, it likely won't need to change its ways.

While this is just a minor part of the book, it had a major impact on me, tainting the entire book. That may seem ridiculous, but it did. It really bothers me that, on the one hand, Charlene is saying businesses and organizations must change the way they do business, and at the same time, she gives Apple a big fat pass because their financials are strong and many consumers are zealots about the product line.

What we don't know is if Apple would enjoy more success if it had open leadership. What we don't know is if Apple will be able to sustain its leadership role if it doesn't start following open leadership principles. Charlene speculates that as Apple faces more competition, it "will open up even more, to curry greater favor from fickle consumers."

Saying that Apple will open up to "curry greater favor" gave me the impression that Charlene doesn't really believe Apple will adopt an open leadership business approach. Instead, it seems she is saying that Apple will go through the motions without buying into the concept. That seems like an odd position for someone who is advocating the need for companies to adopt open leadership strategies. As far as calling Apple's consumers fickle, that not only seems harsh but also counter to what Charlene is advocating.

She also wrote:

My research shows the biggest indicator of success has been an open mind-set -- the ability of leaders to let go of control at the right time, in the right place, and in the right amount.[...] The first step is recognizing that you are not in control -- your customers, employees, and partners are.

Like in Groundswell, Charlene shares a lot of stories about businesses that are enjoying success by following an open leadership approach to business. There is just one tiny problem with these stories -- they're all from industry and nonprofit giants: The American Red Cross, Dell, Comcast, The U.S. Navy, Cisco and BestBuy.

According to Information Age:

Another concern is that a large proportion of the case studies come from IT companies, such as IBM and Cisco. The concept of openness has a particular cachet in the IT industry, whose cultures value openness in the sense of open source and open standards because it has so often been withheld in the past. Cynics might therefore question whether all the IT companies profiled in Open Leadership are as committed to true openness as they are to the image of openness.

It's not just the focus on the IT industry that is the problem; it's the focus on Fortune 100 size businesses. Charlene goes beyond telling stories and provides a detailed process that businesses should follow to adopt an open leadership strategy. Lots of great information, charts, models, and self-assessments. While the process seems smart and reasonable for a Fortune 100, is it scalable for small businesses?

The more I read this book, the more frustrated I became, because I could see small-business leaders saying, "Well of course they can do it, they're a Fortune 100. We live in a different world."

My other problem with the book has more to do with style, and less with substance. At times, while I was reading, I got the feeling that I was reading a transcript from a major presentation. The book is sprinkled with phrases like "as we discussed earlier,, "Let's move on now to understand how," and "So, let's go on to Chapter Eight," and "Now that you understand why it's important to acknowledge that failure happens."

If you can get past that minor annoyance -- and it is minor -- this is a book that I think everyone working in social media or organizational development should read, highlight, and then read again.

BlogHer Contributing Editor: Business & Career

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