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on December 18, 2011
Grouped is a well-written, concise, and relevant summary of the latest thinking in social networking and social influence. It's like the crib notes to a four-year degree in social psychology and sociology. Beautifully laid out and designed to be easily consumable, it quickly covers the fundamental ideas and research about how and why we connect with one another, how ideas spread, how we make decisions, and why this all means that "permission marketing" through social networks is likely to be more relevant and effective than current "interruption marketing" of mass media advertizing.

It does read at times like an advertisment for Facebook (indeed, a cynic might pigeonhole this entire book as a "white paper" for Facebook Ads), but I know Adams better than that (having had the pleasure of working with him at Google on the early stages of Google+), and my take is that Adams sees Facebook as out in front of an important shift in the way advertising will work in general (perhaps this is why he now works there), so Facebook merely provides the best (and in many cases only) example of putting his ideas to work in the real world.

Beyond the explicit goals of developing better marketing campaigns, Adams makes the case (and I firmly agree) that the content of this book is essentially required knowledge for all of us as we move into an increasingly interconnected world in which our social networks (real and digital) and our "predictably irrational" brain help us navigate the endless, swelling seas of information surrounding us. Despite working in this field for years, I learned some new things and found myself nodding in approval at much of the rest. So if you're new to these ideas--or even if you just want an efficient and enjoyable refresher course--this book is well worth your time.
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on December 1, 2011
Paul Adams breaks down the complexities of social media by telling us to focus on behavior rather than technology. People behaving exactly as they have for centuries- social media is just an example of technology catching up. He has some really fascinating insights to back this up (ex. the brain can only store 150 relationships...directly proportionate to the average number of friends on Facebook). This book really lowers the barriers to understanding social media and its implications on marketing. Totally worth the 4-5 hours it takes to read this. I suspect this will soon be required reading for anyone in-house or agency-side in marketing today.
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on December 1, 2011
This fairly easy to read book discusses how and why social media is growing. The POV is that this is not a fad but an outcome of basic human instincts around socialization. There are well researched and well argued claims that organizing information and the web around people's social networks is the natural and inevitable consequence of how people have always behaved. It remains to be seen whether this is "inevitable" but the author presents persuasive arguments for why this makes sense.

There is good content about how the networks interact; what people like to share, why, and with whom. Some of this may be obvious but I liked the simple yet comprehensive list of insights. For example, the author underplays the value of "influencers" that Malcolm Gladwell touted in Tipping Point and argues that mostly people are influenced by those emotionally closest to them, often without even realizing it.

A concurrent story alongside discussing social networks is what it means for marketers. Several insights have been provided around how marketers can best work with social conversations to help grow their products. For example, seeding several groups with ideas versus targeting a few trendsetters, focusing on emotional arousal, gaining trust through WOM endorsement, preparing content that is "shareworthy", customizing data around people's social connections etc. Examples are Facebook specific (where the author works), yet can be abstracted. I have been to marketing conferences where people brainstormed about how social media affects/will impact marketing, and this book covers it all in a well structured manner.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that this book is pretty easy to read. The articles are well researched but the author thankfully presented the content simply instead of using MBA/PhD language. You can read this sipping coffee on a plane and still absorb the content.
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on February 11, 2013
So this book is pretty useful. Pragmatic information, much of it common sense and some of it already in the cultural zeitgeist, but it's a great synthesis of some good research available on social connecting, persuasion, and how the mind works. It is a quick read (I listened to it on Audible and it only takes 3 1/2 hours) so it won't use up that much of your time. Adams summarizes succinctly, translates information that would normally be arduous to wade through, and offers you the resources to go look up more in-depth information on your own if you're interested. It's a really great model for how to be a third-space translator between the research and the people who need the research but have difficulty accessing it or lack the expertise to understand it.*

That said, I gave it a three because it falls short of drawing out some obvious implications that this same body of research points out:

1. The book could have done more to help businesses orient toward more innovative and effective marketing strategies that are also more socially ethical and that would help make our world a better place. Adams does include some of this information--he stresses positivity, openly sharing information, cutting down on the noise of advertising ("interruption marketing is a race to the bottom" amen), and not deleting negative Facebook comments from your page because they give you more credibility and because "we should seek to rectify and not hide negative feedback" (Applebee's should have taken note)--but if he would have included more of this kind of information by demonstrating how a more ethical approach to the world is also the more efficacious approach, this book would be much more important to read than I currently rank it. If you're going to teach people how to exert influence, you better also teach ethics along with it, and he could have done even more of this.

2. Along the same lines as #1, the research he synthesizes indicates the importance of cultural diversity yet fails to emphasize this point. That is, Adams points out how our human instinct toward homophily (surrounding ourselves with others like us) actively prohibits more widespread sharing of information. But he doesn't take the next step to take the reader toward the conclusion that you can therefore exert more influence if you actively work *against* the instinct of homophily and instead build friendships and work-based networks by surrounding yourself with people who are different from you. An "actionable" strategy for businesses looking to increase their influence would be to hire a more diverse range of employees, consciously recruiting across separations of race, socioeconomic class, education, age, geography, sexual orientation, and across different approaches to building networks.

3. Adams seems to accept at face value that most people don't have crossover between friendship groups and that this is simply the way things are. That is, he explains how we often keep groups of friends in separate spheres and we are the "unique" connector. At one point he explains that this can lead to awkward moments at weddings or other get togethers where our worlds collide. Yet our lives don't have to work like that (and I even question the extent to which they do). The author doesn't even go into the possibility that we can individually exert more influence by cultivating more overlap amongst our social groups and nor does he point out the obvious idea that therefore events that bring together one or two people's various and often disconnected social networks would be especially useful places for idea spreading.

4. There was a tendency to focus way too much on the online world and either ignore or underestimate the influence of our offline networks and in-person interactions (even though he points out that we use our online networks to strengthen already existing ties). For example, even though I bought and listened to this book online, I discovered it offline while in an independent bookstore (yeah, I know, "see it here, buy it here, keep us here," but I did buy other books there, and this book in particular is one of those kind that are more useful for me to listen to while walking my dogs). Businesses who want their ideas to spread faster would be advised to help us cultivate and seek out more culturally diverse neighborhoods and in-person living/playing spaces. Even though there is attention paid to more efficient marketing targeting, in some ways this book overlooks the in-person world. Perhaps this was a methodological obstacle, or maybe it's because he has a different book about that (Social Circles, which I haven't yet read), but Adams emphasizes environmental cues so much that I'm surprised how little he talks about our physical world as an influencer of our online world.

5. I grew weary of the categorizing and in some cases either/or information that we are supposed to simply accept at face value. Instead, we could have been encouraged to think about developing more intentional approaches to the way we use our networks. The book becomes rather repetitive and in some places Adams appears to have only read the abstract of the research in question and failed to actually check out the methods. For example, in the Berger/Milkman research about which NYT articles get shared the most, he didn't appear to read too closely into how the researchers coded their articles according to emotion, but just accepted their conclusions and that the peer review process works. I'm not saying that the peer review process does not work, and I'm not necessarily critiquing these researchers' methods, but simply a sentence or two's worth of attention to reflecting on why/how he picked certain research to highlight might have helped me to trust his ability to negotiate and accurately summarize the research.

6. His vocabulary about how he talks about the brain could use some precision. For example, even though he debunks a myth or two about how our brains are "hard-wired," at times he uses the word "hard-wired" or "naturally" when I would prefer that he use the word "instinctual" in order to indicate that we don't have to accept some of our evolutionarily-inherited behaviors and emotionally-reactive beliefs as just the way things are. We can change them. We can evolve, and this is the point of his book, I think, and in some ways he is instructing us on how to evolve. I guess I just worry about teaching people how to adapt without considering and pointing out as many of the accompanying ethical implications as possible.

*Bonus observations:

I love how the book begins by insulting the academics who aren't his target audience, but who might read the book because it contains summaries of their research (or because they are in a different yet related field, or because they, too, are busy creating products and building companies). To me, this is a fun strategy, like getting someone to buy you oysters by saying you think they're overrated, and it also serves to ward off some pedantic critique by people who might otherwise miss the value of what he's trying to do here.

Pages vii and viii read:

"The academic reader may at times feel that I have oversimplified, overgeneralized, and talked about causality when we may be dealing with correlation. But this simplification is necessary to make research actionable to business. In this case, I believe that perfect is the enemy of good. People who are busy creating products and building companies don't have time to read full research papers, never mind try to synthesize them to find the larger patterns."

I like how Adams emphasizes the power of our emotions and desires to influence our beliefs. If you want to get someone to be more receptive to influence, target them when they are already happy or make them happy, he advocates. He also points out some of the problems with our entrenched Platonic (analytical and generic) ways of thinking. The book repeatedly urges us to abandon the "law of the few" who exert a lot of influence over the many. Although I like Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers book, it appears that Adams is trying to argue against some of Gladwell's ideas and I also like the counterpoints offered here.

Quick nugget: Don't try to persuade people that their current choices are wrong, because it might only serve to more deeply entrench them in their previous beliefs. Adams's summary of how we seek to resolve cognitive dissonance explains this dilemma well. Instead, he urges us, seek to alter behavioral patterns.
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on January 13, 2012
Absolutely terrifying (and I'm not referring only to the written-for-the-Google-generation "citations" or blindingly obvious statements about how we're influenced by our friends). This book, more than anything I've read to date, shows just how insidious Facebook has become in the private lives of hundreds of millions of people. Adams cites to "analysis" that Facebook is apparently conducting on individuals' communications that concludes most people only communicate with 4 to 6 people on a daily to monthly basis. Can you imagine if someone who worked at AT&T published a book citing "analysis" of the average phone customer's calling behavior? Coupled with the basic understanding of sociology of a key figure at Facebook, such information is incredibly powerful, so powerful as to be dangerous.

Overall, anyone who's concerned about privacy (and the deplorable lack of legal privacy protections in the United States relative to Europe) should read this book.
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on January 3, 2012
Even for those marketers/advertisers not dealing with the social web, "Grouped" is a must read for insights into how social media is changing daily life, communications, and marketing.

In Malcolm Gladwell esq style, Adams synthesizes hundreds of pieces of research into well organized and well thought-out topics. Each chapter is structured with great quick tips, real world examples, concise summaries and links to follow up resources.

"Grouped" was my top book of 2011. Highly Recommended.
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on December 10, 2011
I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Adams at a marketing conference earlier this year, where he gave a stirring lecture on the social web. Within a few minutes, the crowd was mesmerized and his talk was the highlight of the day. He delivered a clear message that there was promise for marketers in social, and to be successful, there were some key principles to adhere to. Ever since then, I've been thinking about how to create content and experience that really means something to the people we're trying to reach.

Adams expands on his thinking in Grouped. His approach is thoughtful and purposeful leaving the reader with a framework of how to approach social marketing. Unlike a lot of other self-styled experts in the field, Adams grounds his ideas in research, not 140 character sound bites or meaningless industry jargon. The content gets to the point quickly -- beginning with how the internet itself is shifting from content to relationships to the basis of relationships. Adams then builds his case for how how only close friends truly have an impact on our decision making process, while weaker relationships can broaden our horizons of information. He goes on to debunk a number of myths about influencers, instead suggests ideas get spread through a combination of "innovative" and "follower" hubs. This is an important distinction to make because spreading of ideas isn't merely a one-step process. It is a combination of art and science that requires more than people with large followings. The last parts of the book go deep on the impacts our own physiology and environment have with respect to our information-processing and thus decision making abilities. (hint: we do a lot of unconscious processing). At the end, he wraps up permission marketing and how it is the gateway to creating trust, credibility and ultimately loyalty.

Some books are quick reads if they're well-written and make you want to keep flipping pages. Grouped had a slightly different effect on me. I anticipated reading each chapter, but the more I read, the more I found myself pausing and thinking about what relationships I had, why I had them and how my own network influences my decisions. I would say I got as much out of reading the book as I did with the self-reflection one goes through when applying the thinking. And that's where the beauty lies in Adams' writing; by creating content that is compelling and relevant to the reader, he's practicing what he preaches. His writing is clear and concise -- just as he is in person -- making concepts easy to digest. He also couples theory with quick tips from his work at Facebook, making his points are more credible and practical. At the end of each chapter, he includes a summary and a further reading section that act as informal footnotes that encourage the reader to dive deeper.

Whenever I'm reading a book I really like, I often slow down towards the end, to savor each page before reaching the end. Grouped was no different, with one exception -- It made me want to go out and apply his thinking at work. It's at a level where most practitioners of social media can grasp conceptually and has relevance for strategists looking to make social the core of their company's offerings. Highly recommended.
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on December 5, 2011
Paul Adams is an insightful guy, I first heard of him via his early thoughts on online social networks from back when he was trying to plug his ideas at Google.

So I've been waiting to read Grouped for a while, and my quick notes after doing just that.

It is a fast read, and feels a lot like an "Elements of Style" for online social marketing. There isn't much discourse on theory, rather a list of expanded bullet points on what goes on in online networks, with a focus on marketing. The list of references at the end of each topic is excellent, and worth pursuing.

Should you read it? First -- here's his own perspective, whether or not you buy this book specifically.

"[To stay relevant] a new knowledge set is required [for] designers, marketers, developers and advertisers: social behavior, networks, and how people think."

The book distills his thoughts on these topics into self-contained chapters, and coming from someone who's probably had as many scars in this area as anyone else, it should be a useful reference for a practitioner to spark ideas and avoid some mistakes.

The underlying ideas are things that he's been thinking and talking about for a while, and you can get the general flavor from one of his recent talks. [...]

Some of the homilies that stayed with me:

1. The social web is not merely a buzz. It will gradually become what we think of as just "the web."

2. Think of the social web like electricity -- you don't have an "electricity experience" in a product, it invisibly drives everything and you just use it.

3. Center your products around people, not the technology or even the content. Or somebody else will, and eat your lunch to boot. (The video above has a example about Facebook photos and why it grew, examples from Etsy, nytimes and so on.)

4. The myth of the highly influential few. Highly connected does not mean highly influential. He points out the situation in social groups is more nuanced -- basically a rebuttal to the tipping point thesis as applied to social marketing.
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on December 7, 2011
A must read for marketers! The social web is a profound development that is re-writing the rules on how to conduct effective marketing. The old model of "push marketing" doesn't fit into this new world and an entirely different kind of thinking and approach are necessary.

In "Grouped", Paul Adams provides insight and foundational thinking that can help understand the kinds of changes the digital medium is undergoing. The reorganization of the web around people and the idea that everyone is an influencer challenge some well-ingrained conventional wisdom that persist in the ranks of agencies and marketing organizations.

The book is an easy read and gives great examples that show the principles in action. I highly recommend anyone who is in the field of marketing, advertising, or web development to get this book and begin to understand the profound changes at play. You will take an entirely fresh look at what you're doing and begin to build for this much more personalized, dynamic, and social world we live in.
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on December 18, 2011
I picked this book up on a whim because I had been following Paul Adams' work on social networks while working at Google. While I originally thought that social networks were just for people who "got" them, after reading the book I have a completely different view on the matter. The book did a great job of explaining the passive reasons we share with people, both online and off, as well as why a business wants to tap into that. It has made me think hard about what role people and sharing currently play in my vertical, and I think any book that does that can be considered a worthwhile read. It also doesn't take that long to go through; I got through it during 1 week of on-again/off-again reading during my daily commute.

A fair warning, the book does mention Facebook specifically a lot, simply because of it having the well known/discussed terms and use cases. The information does readily apply to any medium in which people share online, of which there are _plenty_. Keep that in mind as you read.
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