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By April Dembosky in San Francisco
Social media backlash
While some regular users may have declared that “social media is bullshit” in moments of technological frustration, a book has now been penned with this sentiment as its actual title.
B.J. Mendelson takes issue less with the social merits of sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but more with the scourge of consultants that has sprung up around them, promising small businesses the secrets to promoting their brand within the brave new world of social networks.
A recovering social media marketing consultant himself, Mendelson spent six years trying to convince businesses to pay him to explain the inner workings of YouTube and Foursquare. He now wants to expose the myths and lies of his former industry. (He just wants to tell the truth, he swears, not sell books.)
Marketers and “cyber hipsters” have spread a story of social media being a “democratic” platform where “anybody” can be an author, Mendelson says, but in reality, people influence each other less than we think. Social media “success stories”, like the “phenomenon” of Justin Bieber, usually result from the help of an industry insider, a celebrity, or just plain luck, he argues. “But for the other 99 per cent of us, it ain’t happening.”
There are plenty of studies on the ascent of social media campaigns, but Mendelson says they can’t be trusted. Not only do the authors of those reports have something to sell, but the numbers themselves are often meaningless. Some companies’ Twitter counts, for example, are “inflated” because of early Twitter promotions (Dell got 1.5 million followers this way in 2009, and has since inched up to 1,504,465).
Mendelson’s bottom line: what really works on the internet is what worked before the internet: have a good product, use connections, and get the mainstream media behind you. But his utter dismissal of social networks could be premature. Compared with other advertising channels, social networks are in their infancy.
By giving his book such a stark title, Mendelson falls prey to the tricks of his own industry, when what he really means by all this is, as he says on page 49: “ … comments and audience interactions on these platforms, while not ineffective, are way overrated.”
‘Social Media is Bullshit’ is published by St Martin’s Press (£14.99)