Is Social Media, Indeed, Bulls#*t?
This is a guest post from Gina Joseph, social media community manager at Cision.
Well, in those general terms, we certainly don’t think so. But if you happen to come across a new book, boldly titled “Social Media is Bullshit”, you might take a step back and wonder what’s inside. I did, when I saw an email from B.J. Mendelson—author of said book—show up in my inbox. I was interested in what he would have to say, so I met with him to set the record straight.
From “believer” to whistleblower
The idea for the book came about after Mendelson decided to generate donations for a campaign, using social media tactics he learned from a few well-known social media marketers. But when those strategies failed to solicit engagement for his cause, he wanted to make sure other individuals and small businesses wouldn’t go through a similar experience.
“I was a true believer,” Mendelson said. “I did a nationwide breast cancer tour fueled by social media—but the whole thing was a massive failure. I took a step back, and said ‘what went wrong?’ and I realized it was all the tips and strategies that had been put out there that I bought into.”
Prior to writing the book, Mendelson served as marketer and contributor to sites like Mashable. Yet, he said the space has become “polluted” with people posing as social media experts, with no statistics to back up their claims.
“We now have so many people out there who don’t know what they’re doing, and it’s creating a giant disaster,” he said. “So with the book, I’m just trying to say it’s not that the tools are bad, but it’s become so you almost are forced into using these tools whether you want to or not. So now that we’re all stuck in this situation, let’s figure out the right strategy.”
Not so cut-and-dry
I had my reservations about talking to Mendelson in the beginning. For starters, there’s that immediate trigger effect when you first see the book’s title. I’m a social media community manager, and here at Cision we use social media in many different ways, with just as many great results. So what’s this guy talking about?
Well, Mendelson himself hopes people don’t judge the book by its cover. In fact, he said if he could do it over again, he’d choose a different title for the book.
“It’s snappy and fun and people like it,” he said. “But with the title, people think ‘you’re coming at me with an axe’ and that really wasn’t what I was trying to do.”
However, in the book he does publicly call out some noted names in social media marketing, which in turn has alienated him from people he previously had good relationships with. Mendelson said he believes they are perpetuating an idea that social media is the solution in all cases—a notion, he said, that is misleading.
“That’s the bottom line,” he said. “I want to take those people out of the equations, so we can stand back and say ‘for you, this works. For you, it doesn’t.’ That’s the takeaway of the book.”
A fair shake
Mendelson admits he doesn’t shine a good light on a few of the specified marketers in the book, and they, understandably, don’t find the book amusing. Yet he said he feels confident that when most people read the book, they’ll see that what he’s saying makes sense.
Social media speaker and strategist Jason Falls is one member of the industry who has read the book and feels Mendelson deserves a place in the conversation. Falls invited Mendelson to speak at Explore Portland, and the two had a lively debate on stage, and have continued a professional relationship since.
“I knew he was getting a lot of push back from people who hadn’t even read his book,” Falls said. “So I wanted to give him a fair shake and an opportunity to show the folks that he had a point and perspective we should all consider. He was awesome.”
Falls was not spared in the book either—Mendelson takes an issue with Falls’ own book, No Bullshit Social Media—and Falls said he disagrees with the notion that most social media marketers are out to deceive people. But says his whole focus as a blogger, writer and event host has always been to push thinking.
“I’m not a fan of naming names, especially in negative scenarios,” Falls said. “There are ways to be more diplomatic while getting your point across. But I applaud him for poking us. We need to learn how to accept the poking and use it for good, not let it piss us off. I admire him for making a statement and sticking to his guns.”
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