Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Interview with Anti-Social Media Author Brandon Mendelson

It may be hard to trust someone who writes a book but only gives his initials – B. J. – but the title is too provocative to ignore: Social Media is Bullshit. He may piss off the hand that feeds him – he has contributed to The Huffington Post, wrote a college survival column for CBS College Sports and has been a new-media director for a syndicated ABC TV show. But he does raise some interesting points and counters the mad rush by everyone to use social media to save the world and sell stuff.  It certainly stirs a good debate. The book was recently published by St. Martin’s Press.

1.      B. J. you seem to say everything and everyone is full of crap – social media, marketers, publicists, ad agencies. Why? I wouldn't say EVERYONE, but certainly a majority of people, particularly in those fields. Language is used to conceal the truth. This is something George Carlin observed many years ago, and the deeper I got into researching the social media industry, the more I found that George was right. Language is being used to conceal the truth. In this case, social media marketers, and some of the folks in different industries that you mentioned (but not all!) are repackaging and re-selling old stuff in new ways with fancier names.

So Web 2.0 and new media before that became "Social Media".

SEO strategies got rebranded as "content marketing".

The amount of information we now have at our fingertips is no longer just referred to as data but "Big Data".

The reason is greed, and in the pursuit of that greed, a lot of these professionals have decided to embrace bullshit like this, and that's why I think so many of them are full of crap.

2.      If social media is a waste of time why do some people seem to enjoy breakaway success as a result of it? Why are you doing an interview with my blog? Give me some examples and I'll show you that, more often than not, their "success" can be contributed to a number of factors, many of which has little to nothing to do with "social media". Justin Bieber is a great example of this. So is Shit My Dad Says. Any number of the YouTube originals and (alleged) viral videos like "Will It Blend?". There's so much more to the story, and we're often not given the whole story for greedy and other shitty reasons.

Put another way, I was doing a book signing at SXSW and one of the guys from Orabrush, often trotted out as a "successful" viral campaign, came over to talk to me. And he said that they don't advertise the fact that they paid for pushing their videos on YouTube (as so many big agencies and brands do as well) because the media likes to think this stuff is magic. So those "breakaway" successes you described are often portrayed as magic when in reality, they're anything but.

That's not to say stuff doesn't go viral organically. It can happen, but the things we often hear about aren't legit.

Why am I talking to you on your blog? Because attention is attention regardless of platform (although, it should be noted the kind of attention people think they can get from these platforms has grossly been distorted). Any chance I can get to stick my nose out and get anyone to stop and think about why they believe what they believe is an opportunity that can't be passed up. Even if nobody reads it.

I'm being flip, but I hope you get the point: There's a difference between using these platforms and tools for personal use, that's totally fine, and for business and other professional use. I don't think all of the platforms are bad, just grossly overhyped. So it's one thing to go and get on Twitter and think it'll make you famous. It probably won't. It's another to go and be interviewed on someone's blog because of the amount of power Google has in terms of what gets indexed and surfaces.

3.      Most people don't tweet, but they sure do search. So you don’t tweet or have a Facebook page? I have Twitter only because it now exists as a living breathing example of everything I write about. I have a Facebook Page that's hidden from the public and is used only so I have access to share and like buttons (should I ever go and incorporate those.) My Twitter account is verified, at one point it had a million followers (now it's close to 700,000), and most of those people don't click on anything or retweet anything. So I keep it around to show people that the number of followers you have is irrelevant. I noticed when I gave presentations before and just told them this, they didn't believe me, but then I showed them my account's analytics, and the evidence given by other people I interviewed for "Social Media Is Bullshit" with large followings, and then they were like "Oh. He's right!"

4.      Are you saying social media should be completely ignored as part of one’s marketing strategy, or merely that we should balance our efforts between social media, traditional media, and other efforts? You have to ask yourself this: If I walk up to someone on the street and tell them who I am, are they going to know? Now expand that out further: Does the average person on the street know who I (or my company / brand / whatever) is? If the answer to that question is yes, then for customer service purposes and customer service purposes only, it may be worth hiring someone to man different social media accounts and maintain a presence to address possible complaints; however, most of us don't fall into this category, meaning our presence on these platforms is totally optional, not mandatory as often portrayed. So what this comes down to is whether or not your customers are there in the first place. Do your customer research and see what that tells you. Do they use Twitter? How do they use it? Do they use it enough to justify your presence? These are all things you need to research and figure out for yourself. No one else can tell you. Once you figure out who your customers are, and what they like and what they use, then you can come up with a plan. But do that first. So few bother to do this, and that's what often leads to a lot of confusion and mistakes when it comes to their marketing and publicity efforts.

5.      If social media is useless why do so many corporations, including traditional media, push it on to consumers to use? A friend of mine works for a major corporation. If you open your wallet, you probably have something from their company in there. At the end of every fiscal year, what happens at that company and what happens at many major companies across America, is that there is money left over. That money is often dumped into social media. Not because it works, but because the money had to be spent. So don't confuse the fact that all these corporations have this stuff as some sign that it works, or that you should be doing it. That's not the case at all. In fact, if you read Social Media Is Bullshit, you'll find that social media is more of a money loser than anything else for these large corporations.

Other times this stuff gets pushed, and this is true for the American media, because we don't know any better. We see people talking about it, especially among journalists, and some journalists (not all) do that arrogant thing where they assume what's true for them and their friends must be true for the rest of America. You can see this happen often with the New York Times Style Section. It's not grounded in any sort of reality it's just "our friends are using it, this must be a trend!"  Actually, the reason behind the American media is much more complex than I can answer here, but it's answered pretty effectively in the book. This is just one component, there's a lot more to be said about how the American media is mostly corporately owned now, and how a lot of the stupidity you see is coming from them too.

The bottom line is that nothing is what it seems. So you shouldn't assume because you see the media talking about it and the corporations using it that it's some kind of sign that everyone else is or should be doing it. To put it in the words of a member of the monetization team for one of the world's largest social networks when it came to their data that was coming in,  "We don't know what the fuck we're really looking at."

6.      Here’s the million-dollar question: So how does one market their product, service, or idea if they don’t rely on low-budget resources like social-media? PR. Seriously. Social media isn't low budget. It's foolish for people to think that. It may be free to get in, but think about the time you're giving up to man those platforms, and the time, effort, and energy you're going to put in to "grow" those audiences. And you may even hire people to run those resources for you, meaning there are costs involved.  PR and marketing (which, honestly is the same thing) is legitimately cheap and free. You just have to craft a good story, make sure it's easily understood, strikes an emotional chord, and has a component in it that's worth sharing in a way that's easily conveyed. You want to market something? Tell its story. Make it compelling, easy to remember, easy to understand, and easier to share, and then fire up Google and start calling your local media outlets. Better still, find the person who covers your beat and take them to lunch. That's how this stuff is done. It's not magic on the Internet, it's building real world connections and getting press coverage, and if you do that stuff right offline, the online stuff takes care of itself.

7.      Why is the “long tail” bullshit? The Long Tail theory has been disproven by numerous parties since the book was released, including Harvard economists. The short version is that the long tail theory implies that you can run a sustainable business by selling narrowly targeted products to a narrowly targeted audience, but often that audience isn't large enough to sustain a business. The only place where the long tail is true, and this is the reason why it even got a book deal because the guy who wrote it, before other writing other nonsensical things, was the EIC of Wired Magazine, is for the media. And this is only true because of Google. So in their case, the content can have a long shelf life, and since it's all indexed by Google,  it can live practically forever. However, most of us aren't the media, and the long tail for media assumes (because of its reliance on Google) that ad supported websites are a viable business model, and that's becoming less and less true, unless you want your site to look like Buzzfeed or Mashable: Filled with shit.

8.      So are people like Seth Godin a bunch of liars and frauds? Mostly. Seth started out ok. I was a fan of unleashing the idea virus, but he figured out very quickly that he can say nothing and make a lot of money doing it, and others took the lead from him like Guy Kawasaki, Chris Brogan, and Gary Vaynerchuck, among numerous others.

Here are samples of what BJ offers in his controversial book:

“Offline matters more than online. This will never change. Your location, your circumstances, your audience, that determines everything.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the things that are often referred to as “viral” are driven by offline forces: real-world connections, traditional media, legitimate celebrities, corporate spending.”

“The concept that if you put something online “people will see it” is not true. Most YouTube videos go unwatched and most websites go unvisited.”

“Be skeptical of metrics like “awareness” and “engagement.” These and other “social media” metrics don’t really mean anything.”

“You don’t need to use any of these platforms. It all comes down to what you’re looking to do and who your audience is. Telling people that they’re losing money by not using “social media” is a lie made up by marketers of all stripes to sell you bullshit that’s going to benefit them.”

“Everything that happens on the web is driven by the media. The idea that there are limitless choices and millions of alternatives online is bullshit. We spend most, if not all of, our time with corporate owned Web sites, and although there millions of blogs and “social media” users out there, all of the information they get is coming from a consolidated group of places that are almost exclusively under corporate ownership.”

“’Social media’ is bullshit. Search engines optimization is not. But, SEO isn’t going to solve all your problems, either. That industry is filled with just as many assholes as the “social media” industry, and most of what they’re selling you can figure out on your own.”

“Analysts like to repackage what they’ve read elsewhere and then sell it to corporations at outrageously marked-up prices. If the analysts are saying it, you’re too late to be “ahead of the curve.” So essentially they have a scam going where they’re taking advantage of people, both the companies and the rest of us by selling “insight” into things that are already past their expiration date. “

For more information, please consult: http://www.bjmendelson.com

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2013

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