Later this year – September to be exact – there will be a book published about social media. This one won’t be like the rest, though. Its title, “Social Media is Bullsh*t”, pretty much says it all. As you might imagine, author BJ Mendelson isn’t interested in being one of the ever-growing in-crowd of marketers and SEOs who bombard us daily with “data” on how social media is changing our lives. Nor will you find him guest posting on the myriad optimistic tech blogs who seem to have some invisible vested interest in the machinations of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest et all. Mendelson is passionate about his message, and this interview will prove that he isn’t just some nutjob with an axe to grind. Frankly, his opinions and knowledge read like the only sane man left in the lunatic asylum.
According to his website, “B.J. Mendelson is a former marketer turned journalist, author, and entrepreneur. B.J. started his first business in the fifth grade at North Main Elementary School, selling Mortal Kombat 2 strategy guides on the playground for $5.” Following this youthful wing-spreading, Mendelson embarked on a frenetic career that saw him take more jobs in a few years than a roomful of marketers take in a lifetime. I fortunately caught up with him and he dispensed many pearls of wisdom regarding social media. Which, in case you don’t know, is B.S.
1. How many social media accounts do you have, and which ones do you actually use, and why?
Did you know “social media” is a made up term? A bunch of rich honkies, in an effort to to perpetuate the bull**** marketing industry, coined a term that just describes stuff that already existed prior to the term being coined. But since it had a new name, and most Americans have the collective intelligence of the Incredible Hulk, no one knew the difference and started using the term, which allowed the honkies to continue making money.
So, I’m not a fan of the term “social media”, and I gotta get that out there upfront. It’s just a bull**** term that’s used to lob together a bunch of very distinct platforms and audiences in order to sell a bunch of bull**** strategies that don’t work to people who don’t know any better.
I DO have quite a bit of accounts on these platforms, although I don’t actively use any of them beyond Twitter. But that’s on me. I like to play with the new stuff when it comes out, but what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you or other people, so all because I use a bunch of this stuff doesn’t mean you should, and me using them is not an endorsement of those platforms.
Everyone is different and every project has different needs. So what platform might work for me might not be right for you, and that’s the difference between the honkys and I. I’m a big believer that you can be totally fine without using any of this stuff, and they’ll tell you that you have to use it all.
That said, I like Twitter. Out of all the different platforms, I think it’s the least useless, and if you’re a writer, it’s a great tool because it forces you to be a better editor, and that’s all good writing is: Being a great editor.
2. Were you more angered by Facebook’s 100 billion dollar valuation, or more amused when their underwriters sprang into action the day after to falsely buoy the share value?
I wasn’t really surprised by any of that stuff. I’ve been knee deep in Facebook’s crap for three years now, following every story like I was trying to take down Avon Barksdale and his crew.
The thing that angered me was that there are a lot of good, hard working people with their pensions tied up in the stock market. So when Facebook went public, and that bull**** went down, my first thought was of teachers looking forward to retirement and potentially getting screwed because some rich degenerate decided to make him and his friends a few more millions by suggesting the firm managing the teacher’s pension invest in Facebook.
That upset me. But in America when it comes to how we treat our teachers, a lot upsets me, so being upset at this is a lot like being upset at the symptoms and not the disease, you know? So I shook my fist, swore a few times, and then went back to doing what I was doing because with the way this country is going, this is probably going to be the least worst thing to happen to teachers over the next few years.
3. Do you see Twitter ever successfully going commercial? If not, why not?
A lot of people don’t realize this, but a lot of these companies like Twitter, that were built without business models, have to spend most of their time praying a larger company like Facebook is going to come in and buy them up, sort of like what happened with Instagram. Instagram had absolutely no business model, but Facebook (seemingly) is interested in making their own phone, and given that they’re never going to really make a ton of money with mobile, they freaked out and bought the first, most popular mobile thing they can find.
Twitter had that moment a few years ago. They should have sold to Google when Google made the offer. Now they’re kind of twisting in the wind, grafting a business model on top of something that’s very essence is being able to follow only the people you want to follow.
The word hasn’t been too good from those buying trending topics and promoted tweets to make actual sales either, and once people and advertisers wise up, I think Twitter going to have to sell or eventually fold like Friendster and all the others that came before it. Those data centers ain’t cheap to run,.
That won’t happen immediately, and they’ll certainly try to go public because all of those investors want to make their money back, but I don’t see a Twitter IPO being a success for anyone but the already wealthy.
4. Twitter users consider themselves intellectually superior to Facebook users, and Google+ users *probably* consider themselves more intelligent than Twitter users. Do you agree with this or is it so irrelevant to life that you won’t dignify it with an answer?
Each one of these platforms have a very different audience, but Twitter has a disproportionate amount of journalists who use the service, and it’s also really popular with the wealthy, well-connected urban crowd in NY, San Francisco, LA, and London, so I can certainly see that air of superiority existing among the service’s “power users” (the people who represent a quarter of Twitter’s active users and do the majority of the tweeting), but I wouldn’t put much thought into that.
There’s always going to be this bull**** of one crowd thinking they’re better than another, so where it happens doesn’t really matter to me.
And really? **** those people. If you need to “other” another group of people to feel better about yourself, you’re an asshole.
You’re using Twitter, how superior can you possibly be?
5. Facebook cares one million percent more about its users than about the marketers who pay billions annually to have made that outlandish IPO even vaguely possible. Will this blind spot on Zuckerberg’s radar ultimately be what destroys the network?
The company line from Zuckerberg is that he cares more about the users, but I think that’s bull****. What he cares most about is keeping those users around so that he can keep the money coming in. Facebook has never been an innovative platform. Everything about it has been ripped off, and that’s something that didn’t stop after Zuckerberg left Harvard. What he wants to do, ultimately, is replace the Web with something he runs and profits from, and the only way to afford that kind of Manifest Destiny is to make sure the advertisers (who make up 85% of Facebook’s incoming revenue) are happy.
And that’s ultimately what will destroy the platform. The advertisers are aware that they’re mostly pissing money away on stuff the platform lets them do for free (see: General Motors), and they’re increasingly aware that the click-through ratio (and more importantly, the conversion ratio of clicks to sales, which is the only thing that should matter to someone spending money to advertising something) is horrible. So the jig is up for Facebook, and that’s going to make them desperate, and that desperation will lead to a series of mistakes, like a Facebook phone, which I think will ultimately bring the company down.
Full Disclosure though: I don’t moonlight as an off-brand psychic at Coney Island on the weekends, so … I could be wrong. Ditto for Twitter. Maybe they figure something out and make a ton of money? I don’t know, but I just don’t see it happening.
6. Is there a social network out there that does fulfill its own hyperbole?
LinkedIn. I think it’s useless, and the people who mostly populate it are creepy, but it’s profitable, people find it effective (allegedly, this seems to be all anecdotal evidence as far as I can tell) to find jobs, and it does exactly what it set out to do, which is serve as a network for business professionals.
I kind of like FourSquare, but I think it’s ahead of its time because while the platform is kind of cool, it’ll be a while before businesses take advantage of what it can do, and I think ultimately having a separate platform to do what FourSquare does is going to be redundant because in a lot of ways, a smart phone already “checks in”, and once that experience becomes personalized on the phone itself, there’s no need for something like FourSquare.
So LinkedIn would be my pick, with FourSquare coming a close second, but being just too ahead of its time to ultimately matter.
One thing you have to keep in mind: There’s no good or bad platforms. I can tell you something is useless, but it could be the greatest thing ever to someone else. This is just my opinion. I’d like to think I have an informed opinion on things, but I also like the smell of my own farts, so what do I know?
7. Why is social media bull****?
That’s the money question, isn’t it? I kind of touched on it in the beginning, but here’s something else I want to add: There seems to be this sense that, if something is happening on Twitter, that it somehow reflects how people feel offline. And the media likes to apply that logic to every one of these, again, very distinct platforms and audiences.
“Social media” is bull**** because, on all of these platforms, the only thing you can really say that applies to them and applies to everything posted on the Internet is that the people doing the posting reflect a minority of the actual audience using the platform. This is often referred to as the 1% Rule.
Like with Twitter and its power users, who happen to be mostly white, well off, college educated, and live in urban areas. That’s not an accurate reflection of the American population AT ALL, but it’s presented as such by the media.
So you have to keep in mind that when something is big on Twitter, that doesn’t really mean anything, and as has been demonstrated time and time again since the start of the new century, all because something is popular with a particular group on the Internet does not at all mean it’s going to be popular with the larger population on another platform or offline. I like to call this the “Snakes On A Plane Theory”.
Remember Snakes On A Plane? It was huge among the minority of vocal users across a variety of Internet platforms, and the movie was hyped like it was the second coming of Jesus, so much so that the studio went back and re-shot scenes just so Samuel L. Jackson can say, “I’m tired of these mother****ing snakes on this mother****ing plane” because people were saying it on the Internet. And then the movie came out and guess what happened?
So this concept that the Internet, forget “social media” is changing everything and that everyone has a voice is bull****. A very vocal minority seemingly has a voice, and that’s only because the media pays attention to them.
That’s why “social media” is bull****. It’s all a joke. What you post on the Internet disappears into the void like everything else. You’re not special. You don’t have an equal voice of that of a celebrity, and unless a celebrity, the media, or someone well connected comes along and gets behind you, you’re never going to get anywhere using any of these platforms.
That much is universally true, although the marketers want to present a myth that says otherwise.
8. If you were in charge of the Internet, what would you do?
There’s only one thing actually … I’d force Google to stop rewarding websites like Business Insider, Forbes, Mashable, Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and any of those other crappy websites who borrow and outright steal other people’s stuff, with a high ranking in search results. All of those websites, and many others, are built entirely on a foundation of gaming Google at the expense of people who actually made the content they’re using. I’d put a stop to it by outright banning websites for doing that. You want to rank well in Google? Post original, researched, well-thought out posts.
I think that’s not an unreasonable thing to ask Google to do.
So far though, Google has only acknowledged the problem, once publicly at SXSW Interactive 2011, and then proceeded to do nothing about it.
9. You’ve said (I think) that social’s role in the “revolutions” in countries like Egypt and Libya was vastly exaggerated. Please elaborate?
Iran, Egypt, Syria, and Libya are great to compare and contrast when talking about this. Remember those obnoxious green tinted avatars from ‘09 and how everyone was talking about Twitter’s role in the Iranian election protests? Yeah, as it turns out there were less than sixty Twitter accounts actually based in Iran. The rest was a bunch of Cyber Hipster cheerleaders in America wanking off about how awesome technology is. So, Twitter played no role in Iran.
In Egypt, Wael Ghonim has done an unfortunately excellent job of making himself rich by pretending Facebook was like Egypt’s best friend in the revolution. Ghonim’s actual role in all that has been grossly overstated (anyone else notice the first thing he did was start peddling a book about technology’s role in the protests when he got on American television?), as has Facebook’s. Facebook actually did what they could to sabotage Ghonim’s page before the media started paying attention to what was going on.
And the unfortunate thing about Egypt, that got lost in all this bull**** about the role of the Internet, is that just 1 in 8 Egyptians have Internet access. What made the revolution a superficial success was the omnipresence of Al-Jazeera, the poor (who don’t have Internet access) getting involved, and most importantly of all, that the Egyptian military decided not to actively get involved with squashing the protests. Had that happened, we wouldn’t even be talking about Egypt in the first place.
(Keep in mind: Although Mubarak is in jail, the military still actively has control and influence over what happens in that country. So in a lot of ways, nothing has changed over there, which is why the Cyber Hipsters and the other technology cheerleaders stopped talking about Egypt.)
All of these factors were overlooked because in the West, where the media doesn’t have money anymore to send people to Egypt, you got guys like Andy Carvin from NPR “curating” Tweets as if that accurately covered what was going on. It didn’t, but that hasn’t stopped Carvin, like Ghonim, from getting a book deal about it.
Carvin’s curation helped create a simple narrative for the Western media to parrot to each other: That the revolution was a success because of the Internet. It wasn’t. It was successful because of the poor getting involved, Al-Jazeera, and the army standing down.
If the army hadn’t, you would have wound up in a situation like Libya where the American military had to get involved, or with Syria now where the military has actively been involved and that revolution hasn’t gone anywhere, and won’t.
Now, I don’t want to say that the Internet doesn’t matter, but it’s role got overstated and oversold because it was an easy narrative to sell for the Western media. Anyone who was actually on the ground covering what went down in Egypt would laugh in your face if you told them the revolution was (superficially) successful because of Facebook.
Except Wael Ghonim, but that’s only because he wants you to buy his book about how great Facebook is.
10. Who is your favourite commentator on the current state of SEO, social, blogging, Web-related stuff (apart from yourself, obviously)?
I honestly don’t have one. The people who talk about this stuff for (most) of the tech outlets are a pack of unlikable dickbags. Each of them trying to use their “influence” to make themselves rich, either by getting into the venture capital game or leaving their jobs to take high paying gigs with the companies they’re supposed to write impartially about.
It’s kind of hard to do that when you’re angling for a job, you know?
I spent many years reading the tech blogs and articles on **** like this, but once the book went into production and I didn’t have to make any changes to it, I totally tuned out from the tech world and stuff going on in there. This was easy to do because I noticed a long time ago that if you just replace the name of the platform and update the buzzwords, they’re just saying the same **** they were saying back in 2007.
So I just follow people who make me laugh, and that’s about the extent of what I do on the Internet. Actually, in January after everything has died down for the book, I’m taking a long vacation where I’m unplugged from everything. I can’t describe for you how much I can’t wait for that to happen.
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