On Friday, Nov. 16, on day two of the upcoming Explore Portland event, I will interview and debate B.J. Mendelson on the merits of social media. The good-natured discussion will feature me, co-author of No Bullshit Social Media and social media marketing evangelist, and Mendelson, author of the new book Social Media is Bullshit. So, the bullshit will hit the fan.
Mendelson’s book is chock full of generalizations and assumptions. He proclaims that all social media marketing is geared toward enterprise level clients, that no marketing works unless you have a multi-million dollar budget and a healthy media presence, that all marketing authors/consultants are scam artists making money while not offering anything of value and the like. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to the social media marketing wave from someone who appears to have tried to be a marketer and failed, so this book will show ’em!
He calls out Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Brogan, Malcolm Gladwell and others as selling nothing but bullshit. Mendelson aims his canons at Altimeter Group and Brian Solis a fair amount as well. He takes a nice swipe at me in there, too. If you want someone to name names and point fingers about the social media world, B.J. is your man, even if his accusations are misdirected, sometimes unfounded and come off as if the nerd who didn’t get a seat at the cool kids table is finally delivering comeuppance to the bullies and pricks. (Not a great analogy as I don’t think of any of the aforementioned as cool kids at any table, nor do I think B.J. would have ever wanted to sit with them … or me, but you get the point.)
All that said, there does exist an undertow of good in this book. Mendelson does bring some realism to the social media hype, though in a polarizing, reverse-hype way. His essay on the practicality of marketing of Facebook is full of spot-on observations. His questioning of the validity of YouTube sensations and the cautionary tales for small businesses thinking they can easily replicate big-brand success is admirable.
However, he continually seems to claim he’s looking after the small business, no-budget, hopeful professional, seeming to insinuate they’re the poor, stupid schmucks who believe the nonsense social media gurus are peddling, yet debunks social media “myths” by attacking the following case studies: Zappos, Dell, Old Spice, Blendtec and Kia. There were no small business case studies to be found and if there was research done to show how small businesses are falling victim to social media guru-ness, I’m assuming they didn’t illustrate his point and were thus omitted.
Mendelson’s Apples-To-Oranges comparisons left me unsettled, especially when it would have been easy for him to find a dozen or so case studies to attack in dozens of books, even mine (which he apparently read). But I guess Miss Shirley’s driving 18% sales in three months by only adding Foursquare and incentivization to their marketing mix isn’t all that easy to debunk.
The fact is B.J. Mendelson can easily destroy social media case studies of companies smart enough to approach marketing with an integrated mix of channels and tactics. Just give all the credit to TV or some other variable. He wasn’t the first to claim Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Can Smell Like” campaign of 2010 was not a “social media” success story. Many of us pointed out during the campaign that couponing, television support and public relations showed smart campaign integration. And because of the relative youth of social media marketing, it’s very easy for Mendelson or others to show example after example of social media failures.
The main problem I have with Mendelson’s book is that while he terms himself a “humorist” and seems to approach the topic from a, “I’m kinda half kidding,” approach, he’s very absolutist and seemingly non-apologetic in interviews I’ve seen thus far. He claims in the book to be telling “the truth” and that it’s important because so many people are being fleeced by the gurus and the experts who are only in it to make a buck.
The marketing of the book is also very serious, not light-hearted. The book jacket language exemplifies the problem:
“If you listen to the pundits, internet gurus, marketing consultants and even the mainstream media, you might think that social media was the second coming. They declare that it’s revolutionizing advertising, PR, customer relations — everything. And they all agree on one thing: Social media is here to stay. In this practical and insightful guide, journalist and social critic B.J. Mendelson skillfully debunks the myths of social media.”
It goes on to say, “Social media is bullshit. This book gives the knowledge and tools you really need to connect with customers and grow your brand.”
So he’s a humorist and all this is in good fun, but he’s also a journalist who skillfully debunks myths? The mixed messages are as confusing as the, “you small folks can’t be like big companies,” argument.
The crux of Mendelson’s approach is that he is trying to say that people who claim expertise, write books and speak about a subject do so to line their pockets and aren’t working in your best interests. Yet, in writing this book, B.J. Mendelson is claiming expertise, has written a book and now speaks and appears about the subject to sell books. He tries to cover his ass a bit by saying he’s doing it to tell the truth and that you really don’t get rich writing books (he’s right). He claims he is not a consultant, doesn’t do workshops and doesn’t invest in companies he talks about. (There is a nifty “click on Brandon to book him as a speaker” link on the book site. One might assume you can do so, but not for free. Heh.) Even so, he is using a sensational stance to further his name and career, even if it is as a humorist. He has become that which he warns against.
Mendelson says he wrote the book to prevent good people from getting screwed. In my opinion, by selling a bill of goods that offers a blanket generalization that social media is bullshit without fully offering a balanced view of businesses who use and don’t use social media marketing, Mr. Mendleson is unfortunately screwing just as many people as he’s protecting.
But B.J. will have his say at Explore. And I will, out of respect for him and in the interest of intelligent discourse, give him the last word during our little debate. I’m guessing you might want to be there. If so, just join us. Register below and use the code ILOVESME to get $200 off the full ticket price, just for being a reader. And there’s a ton more value in the event than our little debate. Check out the lineup, which features Scott Stratten, Jay Baer, Michael Brito, Nichole Kelly, Tamsen Webster and more over at GoToExplore.co.