Q&A With the Author of Social Media is Bullsh*t, Brandon Mendelson
Meldelson takes on the “asshole based economy” of the web, using real life common sense, some old-fashioned facts, and the words of internet marketers themselves to tear down the entire “social media” mythology.
Bring a good friend of DAPS, Brandon answered a few questions about the “social media” landscape and offers some great insight into the lies people sell to boost their own speaking fees and perpetuate the myth that people can get rich and famous online.
Social Media is Bullshit is available to buy today, so get your copy right this second then click through to see what Brandon has to say.
Editor’s Note: Aside from the questions, everything from here on out are Mendelson’s words.
What the hell is “social media”?
99.9% of the time, when you hear someone say “social media”, they’re just referring to stuff on the Internet. We’ve a very self-conscious species. Nobody wants to look foolish, and that’s true across every culture. So the same way we don’t say “the information superhighway” to describe the Internet, around 2007 we started saying “social media” to describe the same thing.
The problem with doing this is that with the new term comes an opportunity for bullshit. And that’s the .1%.
That .1% is when the term “social media” is being used and abused by what I call the Asshole Based Economy (or what I call on television and the radio, the Dishonest ABE, because if I don’t they won’t invite me back and the FCC will cornhole me), to describe to a small group of platforms on the Internet such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, and FourSquare.
Occasionally other platforms get thrown in there too, but most of the time that’s the “Big Six” (seven if you count Google’s search engine as a platform) that the Asshole Based Economy likes to talk about.
In those instances, these parties are using and abusing a redundant term to make themselves rich by feeding off the ignorance of others.
And let’s be clear: There’s a lot of ignorant people out there. The success of Fox News is proof of that, and so is the success of the myth of “social media”.
Why do you hate the term “social media”?
What I hate is the mythology that’s been formed around these platforms and the Internet in general. The one that goes that all you need to do is have a presence on these platforms (any or all of them) and that’ll make your dreams come true. But the truth is they can’t. You might get lucky, but it’s extremely unlikely. What’s more likely to happen is that you’ll start out really excited about being on Twitter, believing the hype, and then a few years will come by and you’re just kind of using it out of obligation or boredom instead.
The truth about the Web and the Internet is that it’s run by corporations, and any thing that becomes successful is quickly monopolized by them. You can see that going on with podcasts right now. Try starting a new one and booking big guests. You can’t because you’re not a celebrity and need to show that you have a large audience first, and it’s virtually impossible to get that audience unless you already know famous people, so then you wind up in this stupid catch 22 and ultimately, people just kind of give up because there’s a glass ceiling, and the only way to crack that is to be famous, get the media to cover you extensively (or feature you because it fulfills one of their objectives), or you get lucky. And in most cases, none of those three things are going to happen. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but as the late, great, Gorilla Monsoon used to say, it’s “highly unlikely”.
What is your favorite “social media” site?
Twitter. Mostly because it’s how I amuse myself. I started out with such high hopes for the platform, especially when I had a million followers in August of 2010 but then I realized that, if those followers don’t do anything off Twitter, whether that’s click on stuff, donate to charities, come out to events, they’re totally useless. Especially for me because I want to eventually make the transition to stand-up comedy, and as a new stand-up, being able to bring people out is going to be the difference between being relegated to the open mic nights or actually getting booked. So you need to be able to draw fans, and since over the years I’ve found 99% of my followers to be totally useless, I’ve just started writing jokes. Not so much to amuse them, but to amuse myself when I’m bored.
What are the big “social media” myths?
You know, I mentioned the big one above, but there is another one that kind of pisses me off, and that’s the myth that people are able to figure out on their own what’s bullshit and what’s not with these platforms.
I was up at a craft fair at New Paltz, New York, this weekend and I met a lot of really talented artisans, but universally none of them really had an Internet presence, and for those who did, it looked like something out of 1998. If you work on the Internet for a living, or for a software company or some other tech-related field, you’re really in a bubble when it comes to how you experience the Web and the different Internet platforms. You don’t realize that the majority of Americans are Baby Boomers who didn’t grow up with the Web like a lot of us, and a lot of the information they were given to work with is kind of poisonous, you know, written for the sole benefit of the author who is also a marketer with bullshit to sell them.
It’s not really helpful, so what we have are thousands of people who don’t know any better. And that’s not to say that they’re stupid or ignorant, it says that the information that’s been given to them is awful, and the end result is that you have people struggling to make a living and nobody is helping them because marketers like Jason Falls say arrogant bullshit like, “People can figure out for themselves what’s bullshit and what’s not”. No. That’s not the case at all. We need to tell them. Every chance we get. Otherwise the assholes win.
It’s obvious that people are making money using “social media”… How do they do it?
The people making the money are the people selling the myth. So if you take a look at a guy like Chris Brogan, he developed an unfortunate following of smaller marketers who hang on his every word by virtue of him getting on something as soon as it launches and then selling the secrets to “success” in using it. Twitter was a good example as he jumped on it in 2006 and claims to have made it a “business staple” (which wouldn’t be true for another three years, and even today, it’s very questionable that it is) and he did this just recently with Google+ too (as I laid out in Social Media Is Bullshit) claiming he was “nuts for Google+” and telling people to “get in early” while charging nearly $50 per person for an online seminar he offered in the (very) early days of the service.
One thing I didn’t mention in the book was that he also authored the book “Google+ For Business”, which I kid you not, says “Every week, millions more people sign up for Google+: Suddenly, it’s today’s hottest new social network. Google+ for Business reveals why Google+ offers business opportunities available nowhere else–and helps you grab those opportunities now, before your competitors do.”
This is said besides the fact that nobody uses Google+, and Google has had to take to exaggerating about its user numbers just to keep people interested and talking about it.
Unfortunately, nobody thinks critically about this stuff and they go along with whatever guys like Chris Brogan and Robert Scoble (see below) are saying.
Which “social media” cheerleader is the biggest douche?
Robert Scoble. Hands down. He’s nasty to people (as seen from my and others interactions with him), he is constantly wrong about everything, and yet because people believe in “influencers” they continue to pay attention to him and send him stuff.
There’s a piece of information that got cut from the book that Loren Feldman sent me, which I’m going to give you as a DAPS exclusive. It’s a list of everything that Robert Scoble has been wrong about “¦ so far:
LZ Premiums: Scoble is a camera salesman at a scam camera shop. Breaks up kits into parts, cheap becomes a fortune: “Premiums” really refers to price. Early hater of Digital Photography (later reverses position) and now hates film. Reversing positions is a Scoble hallmark.
Fawcette Technical Publications: Scoble is conferences maven. Party party, liaison with coders/writers, just don’t pay them. Fawcette went from respected to seriously hated all during Scoble’s short reign.
Microsoft NetMeeting Evangelist: No Net. No Meeting. His hype notwithstanding, or most likely because of.
Microsoft Train Simulator Evangelist: Train Simulator 2 became Duke Nukem level vaporware. Forever promising a new version. Never happened.
Visual Basic SIG: Couldn’t code a lick (or focus on one topic for greater than 30 seconds) but was somehow a point man. VB later dies.
Winnov: Nvidia competitor. Heard of them? Me either. In spite of the hype he created, became capture card minor player.
Sean Connery: had a relative that worked at Winnov. Scoble talked him up. No surprise to Scoble watchers, that it was exactly at the point where Connery’s career nose-dived. Robert Scoble translated into English means “Jump the Shark Everlasting.”
Userland: Dead, flat-line. Became Dave Winer’s only friend. Scoble’s blog marketing helped not a bit. Service even lost all of Scoble’s blog posts.
RSS Evangelist: Browsers are dead. RSS will Rule the World. Doesn’t.
NEC (WinCE/Pocket PC/Tablet PC Evangelist): Yeah, look where that went. Niche city. NEC pulled out. Tablet PC had potential, but not with Scoble on the gig. Doomed.
Microsoft Vista Evangelist (PDC 2003): Easily the biggest trainwreck in Microsoft history. Even my tech clueless sister hates Vista. Vic the die-hard Microsoft loyalist that hires him, folds, going to Google (another Scoble curse victim).
Internet Explorer Defense Counsel: Yeah, what a gig. Microsoft shrill. Firefox sucks, Safari sucks, IE rules. Later reversed position when it became wholesale untenable. IE6 anyone?
Microsoft SmartPhone Shill: This is the end-all be-all Microsoft phone. That rumored Apple Phone will suck and become another dead Newton. Again, later reversed position when the iPhone became a cultural phenomenon. But more as a photo-op device, as didn’t do shaky phone cam video, his primary need, thus saving the iPhone from The Curse.
Palm Pre: All hot on it after seeing a CES demo.
HDTV: Had you bought when he was all fuzzy, you would have spent literally $5,000 too much. Starts shooting HD way too early, now the Scoble boringly laugh-hankerings are 150 to 200 meg. HD doesn’t cover up poor quality content. Goes self-righteous indignation, demanding the web do video in HD. Got bored with it and started bad-mouthing CE companies. Immediately the market saw it take off.
HD-DVD Evangelist (Microsoft/Toshiba shill): Sony was granted a Red Sea parting. Scoble’s early purchase made the winning bet obvious. Bet against, never lose.
Xbox 360 Evangelist: Overheating, failing systems galore. Becomes a $8 billion (and counting) rathole for Microsoft. Hates Wii. It becomes a phenom. Says BluRay will kill PS3. It doesn’t.
Podtech: Oh that bomb is already infamous Valley lore. “Aggressive stock options” weren’t.
Annie Liebovitz: Scoble goes photowalking with her. She files for bankruptcy and risks losing her houses and apartments. Scoble, patron of the arts, also literally climbs into Ansel Adams’ sink.
Seagate sponsorship: Underdog Western Digital whips Seagate to a death-knell under his watch. WD marketing guys literally rejoiced when Scoble got the gig. Hardly gives them any benefit outside of firehosing “Thomas Hawk” with tons of freebies. Bill Watkins, the CEO that hired Scoble, hounded out of the company with torches and pitchforks. Hire Scoble, ruin your career, proven true twice.
FastCompany: Slow. Fast Company Digital dead. Lots of normal subscribers turned off by the ego-hound blogger dweeb.
Scoble Jean Dixon: Steve Jobs is ok. The Yogurt shop guy told me so. Within days, Jobs takes a leave for a liver transplant.
Toyota Prius: All giddy on the 2010 model, in an annoyingly Yuppie Scum way. But even factoring future year waiting lists, the Prius market tanks, down from 45% to 65% depending on sources. Lower gas prices blamed, but Scoble’s interest is an important factor. If Scoble gets tingles, slice off at least 45%.
Web fad tools:
1. MySpace. Hated it. Caught on. Didn’t like it. Went back to blogs. Ignored it.
2. Facebook. Hated it. Caught on. Liked it. They didn’t listen to him or hire him. Hated it again.
3. Twitter. Hated it. Caught on. Liked it. Used at lame tech conferences to have Barmeetups. But then hated it, moved to Friendfeed instead.
4. Friendfeed. Loved it. Hyped it. Still loves it. Community gave up and moved on.
It’s hard keeping track per his endless mind-changes, but the overwhelming rule of thumb: if Scoble hates it, it will catch on. The reverse is true, anything he hypes won’t catch on.
Rackspace: Quackspace ahoy. Some floundering geek meet-up deal, for an increasingly failing hosting company. Blogger parties and Tweetups, instead of actual service. Oatmeal mush of a generic multi-poster blog. No hook whatsoever.
December 2010: Rackspace goes down yet again. This like the 30th time since he’s been hired. Building 43 is empty.
January 2010: Scoble blogs about his Prius. Toyota has a massive recall.
February 2010: Scoble gets TED press pass. Show is disaster, show founder mocks speaker Sarah Silverman on Twitter over the use of the word retard and penis.
Why are people buying Twitter followers? Isn’t that really lame?
That stuff has been going on since MySpace. It’s just a sign, fueled almost entirely by the media (and previously, the Cyber Hipsters back before the real celebrities showed up and they hilariously went from “Followers matter” to “The number of people following you doesn’t matter, the number of lists you’re on does”, and then that changed and then they saw black people and did what uppity white people do and moved to a platform that didn’t have black people) that our society thinks those numbers matter. They don’t. Like, not at all. So yeah, it’s incredibly lame that this kind of shit goes on, but there’s no surprise here either. If people think that’s what matters, then they are just victims of this giant scam, and they’re wasting their money because of it.
Who does it right?
If you look at the history of the Web, at least in the “˜00s, the answer would have been Maddox and Tucker Max. There you have two people, love them or hate them, whom were able to take simple websites featuring just their writing and turn that stuff into multi-year New York Times Best Selling books. That world doesn’t exist anymore.
The opportunity isn’t there because the Web and the Internet are now controlled by massive corporations who mostly anoint random people and web celebrities on their whim, and almost always because it benefits them in some way (The Double Rainbow guy is a great example of this. His video sat unwatched for months until Jimmy Kimmel sent out a tweet to it, and then because Kimmel sent out a tweet, The Huffington Post and the other media outlets who repost anything a celebrity does posted the video, and it exploded from there. And aside from a commercial here and there, that’s really been the extent of that guy’s fame. And that’s true for everyone now. I can’t, at least off the top of my head, think of someone today who got themselves famous by the sheer power of just writing stuff on their website. Maybe Dooce (Heather Armstrong), but even though she published her books later than Tucker Max and Maddox, she’s in the same boat as them because she comes from that era of the Web.)
So today the degrees of “doing it right” (which I take it to mean, make money and be sort of famous) would be folks like Gaby Dunn and Lindy West. Both of them are supremely talented and wonderful writers, and both of them have been able to succeed and do it right in the extent we’re talking about, although there’s more steps they have to take and the success is a little more limited. You’re not seeing that success translate into book deals and mainstream celebrity. Instead they’re kind of limited to the Web.
If you say “Tucker Max” a lot of people’s skin crawls, mostly for shitty politically correct reasons. But if you say Lindy West or Gaby Dunn, people might not know them, but it’s likely if they browse the Web heavily, that they’ve read their work.
What’s the next big platform?
Honestly? I don’t think there’s going to be one. You might see small waves of excitement like there was with Pinterest earlier in the year, but like Google+, those waves are going to crash and then there will be virtually nothing afterward. The problem is that Facebook has a virtual monopoly. So as big and useless as they are, you also have a large amount of people who use it because their friends use it, and they’re not all going to go and jump ship like they did with MySpace because with MySpace the service was always bad to begin with, and so when the alternative did finally come people were happy to make the move, but I don’t think they’re going to do it twice.
Unless this digital racism thing is true, which so far it’s only true for the Cyber Hipsters who seem to strongly dislike the presence of brown people on their shiny white toys.
What is the “social media” landscape looking like in 5 years?
The fun thing to watch, for me anyway, is that the smartphone is pretty much taking the role of these different services, making them as obsolete as fast as they were created. But yet you have these venture capitalists, including some of the more dangerous ones like Marc Andreesen, pouring in millions and millions of dollars into these companies for the slim chance that he’s going to hit the jackpot again like he did with Facebook, where he found a company with virtually no business model but the Asshole Based Economy adopted, making him more money than he knows what to do with.
I’m going to enjoy watching Marc Andreesen piss his money away on these platforms, and that’s what the landscape is going to look like: Stuff will pop up, the phone will then have that built in, and the cycle will continue endlessly until the phone itself becomes obsolete and we move on to some other bullshit like Google Glasses or who knows what. All the while, Andreesen, Thiel, and the others will just keep flushing their money away hoping for another hit. The rich get richer, and we get new toys to play with. Most of which will suck.
You would punch Marc Zuckerberg in the face?
I’d fight Mark Zuckerberg, although I don’t think it’d be worthy of anything you can put on pay-per-view. Then again, I haven’t seen any TNA wrestling pay-per-views, but I have to imagine that us fighting would be better than anything they put out.
If we did fight it’d be a lot like this fight I had in sixth grade, where a bunch of kids sealed off the sides of this stupid bridge on the playground of North Main Street Elementary, leaving me and this other nerd to wildly slap at each other until the kids realized that was as good as the fight was going to get and then they walked away to eat dirt or something. I don’t know. They were idiots.
By the way, I imagine that this is how most Facebook shareholder meetings are going to go from here on in.
How does it feel to be verified? Did you pay?
Oh no. I thought I would have to in order to get verified though. I read a while back that Twitter was only offering verification to businesses that paid them $15,000+ like WWE, and then they would do some shady shit for me like they do with WWE where stuff appears to be trending, but it’s really not. (Twitter also did the same thing for The Voice on NBC when it first debuted, claiming stuff was trending organically but it was very clearly part of an advertising campaign, as later alluded to in stories in the media about their “close integration” between the two for the show.)
So, here’s the thing with being verified: When they first rolled out verifications, I signed up because I had so many followers and the Cyber Hipsters were giving me shit saying I gamed the system. I didn’t. Twitter corporate promoted my account. So I said to them, since you promoted my account, can you verify it so I can stop having to listen to these assholes piss and moan about this, and also to help cut off any future stupid comments along those lines from other people.
I waited for two years, and then randomly, when I was visiting my brother in the hospital, I got a weird DM saying they wanted to verify my account.
The only real advantage to being verified is that, in the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of stories in the news about jackasses buying followers, and with the badge, I don’t have to worry about some idiot thinking I did that, but beyond that, it’s a dumb, trivial thing.
Some guy was annoying me about being verified and wanting to know how to do it and I told him the truth: “It just sort of happened.”