Brandon (B.J.) Mendelson Interview
(Social Media Is Bullshit)
Brandon or B.J. Mendelson as his publisher calls him is the author of a book that has caused quite a stir.
That book is called Social Media Is Bullshit.
We talked with Brandon about his controversial and the reaction to it.
Q - I hear people say all the time, please like us on Facebook. What does that mean? So somebody likes you on Facebook, so what?
A - It doesn’t mean anything. That’s the whole thing. It’s kind of a useless metric. A lot of people don’t realize Facebook has a pretty extensive algorithm that determines what you see and what you don’t see. As a Facebook like it’s probably the most worthless thing in terms of overall algorithm. So even Facebook itself doesn’t consider likes to be something worthwhile. When you hear people say like us on Facebook it’s more or less because some marketing executive somewhere probably has an MBA because they’re obsessed with numbers and said they should do that because there is a metric they can track. In reality it doesn’t track anything. It’s just a stupid number.
Q - I always thought when you hear news anchors saying it; it has to be because there’s money in it for them down the road. But you’re saying it doesn’t mean anything.
A - No it doesn’t mean anything. There’s a lot of cases when we’re talking about the American media in particular there’s an obsession with social media because it’s ingrained in them coming out of school taught by people who really don’t understand it themselves. All these people come out oh yeah. This is going to be the salvation for our industry and so there almost brainwashed in how wonderful social media is. When you try to tell them it’s not so wonderful they immediately say well what you mean? So when you see that especially with the media it’s almost like an echo chamber of people repeating things they think are important and meaningful to make themselves look cool, smart and hip. But in reality it’s like a fancy metric that is just getting reinforced within that community over and over again because no one wants to question it. If you work in the American media what’s the alternative? Well the alternative is your screwed. They’ve bought into this thing bought into this so heavily that they keep repeating it even though it doesn’t mean anything.
Q - How did that phrase like us on Facebook become so popular? Who came up with that?
A - Well, Facebook had a lot of sway when they opened up to the general public. It is very much a survival growth success story of people sharing pictures on Facebook is really what fueled most of its growth. Very quickly Facebook by its own admission if you read the history they had no business model. The overall picture of Facebook was to become like an operating system for the web which just recently they’re talking about Facebook Home which is trying to make Facebook the operating system for the phone. So it’s really the same thing along the way when they opened up to the public they were kind of like, well, we didn’t have a business model. And that’s where the likes started to come in. These likes will mean something to you. No one questioned that sort of thing. So they started to position likes as some meaningful metric. Right now you see them actually a full 480° away from this by saying the Facebook advertisements is no longer about likes it’s now about the same kind of impressions you get by advertising on television so even Facebook is moving away from this thing they created.
Q - And what kind of meaningful information can you get from twitter? That took off too.
A - Well, I don’t know if it’s accurate to say it took off because it’s actually less than 15% of Americans who use the service and of that 15% a quarter of them use content creation which is celebrities Bran and Media Outlets and of course social media experts. For the media there is a value in using twitter. It’s sort of like a news wire and a lot of them will use it as that. I use twitter as a news wire so there’s a lot of that. Unfortunately they’ve taken that use of it and extrapolated it and say we use it for this. It’s wonderful and it means twitter is wonderful for everybody which isn’t true.
Q - Now with cell phones, you don’t see as many people talking as they used to. Its texting. How did that become so popular?
A - That’s more of a cultural thing than anything else. My generation Gen Y and younger, we don’t like conflict and we don’t like things that are challenging and I think being able to text someone makes things easier. It makes difficult conversations easier. It’s more convenient and faster, at least that’s the perception of it. So because of that you see a lot more people texting than phone calls. It’s more representational of a larger cultural shift in the country. America has always been about, since the 50s, every man for himself, what’s in it for me. In school it’s all about who has the highest GPA (Grade Point Average) and who finishes in the top of their class. So were very competitive competitiveness. It creates like a key separation. Because of that separation were not as good at communication so see that reflected.
Q – When did you come to the conclusion that social media is so meaningless?
A - I started out as a viral marketer back in 2001. I wanted to be a stand-up comedian and I found out that I was too young to perform because I was 18 years old and I had to be 21, because most of the places were bars I figured out very quickly that if I rent out the venue I can go and do my show and so I got into business for myself doing that up and down the East Coast 55 sold-out shows all the shows were promoted using the Internet. And so I got in pretty early in terms of viral marketing and different MySpace when it worked. And when I heard this whole social media is coming around back in 2007, 2008 I said, O.K. I’ve had a lot of success using the Internet I got this show into 40 million homes on A.B.C. I got my cat involved in the presidential election, I sold-out all the shows. There may be something to it. At first I was a true believer. I realized very quickly that these people didn’t have the background I did. They had no past success. They had no marketing background. No advertising background. No communication background. They were very much like laid off real estate brokers who were reinventing themselves. I realized they were selling stuff that wasn’t true. They were selling hype I started doing some digging and what encapsulated everything for me was I did this breast cancer tour in 2009 which was entirely built on social media. It was a massive failure. I turned around to the social media marketers with the information I used to construct the tour and said, let me ask you something, I’ve been doing this for years with great success and I’ve tried almost exclusively to use your methods and it didn’t work. Maybe I did something wrong. Can you enlighten me? And their response was, well that’s how social media works! I said, well bullshit. That’s why you charge people these extravagant speaking fees and booking advances to say how it works. And so I took the tour and reorganized it. I did it the following year for an outfit called Wounded Warriors Family Support which is not Wounded Warriors Project. It’s a smaller organization. The tour went on to become a huge success and it continues to operate to this day it’s a multimillion dollar endeavor. The key difference between breast cancer tour and the Wounded Warriors tour was the removal of social media. That’s where there’s something going on here. I spent the last three years researching the topic now I came to the conclusion from all that research that social media is B. S.
Q - I believe you’ve referred to Google as social media now I use Google as a reference tool. It’s sort of Encyclopedia Britannica in real time.
A - What I think you’re referring to is I call them the big six, seven if you count Google. There’s Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, Foursquare, LinkedIn and YouTube. So I don’t count Google as part of social media it’s very much a distinct thing and people use Google differently then they use those different social media platforms. When you use Google it’s very much top of mind and you want whatever it is right that second. I don’t include them as part of social media.
Q - LinkedIn is worthless too?
A - LinkedIn is very good for one specific thing and that’s for finding jobs, for anything else, which social media marketers don’t talk about, is it’s good to be on there, it’s good to network. That’s why they tell people to use LinkedIn. I say jokingly most of the time, LinkedIn is very good for finding a job but again that’s a very unique and distinct thing from the other uses of these platforms that are rolled together and advertised as because that’s the issue that the social media marketers have rolled these six platforms together and give people phony advice which they pretend travels across all the different platforms and that’s not the case at all. They’re very different platforms with very different uses for them. In a lot of cases the social media marketers talk about are not even accurate.
Q - Have you gotten both positive and negative feedback about the book?
A - Yeah you know the interesting thing was I think the title of the book. It threw a lot of people off. I was told point-blank at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal that they didn’t like the title of the book and for that reason they didn’t cover it, and so obviously there was a negative reaction, plus they think that people saw the title and thought it was very polarizing and I’m not going to even bother to read this book. I think the title of the book was a mistake. It should’ve have been one B. S. Instead of Bullshit and to it should’ve have been social marketing is B. S. Because that’s really not what the book speaks to there’s 100 reviews on Amazon and I believe 80 of them are positive and those are all organic and unique from people who read the book and liked it so I think people who have read the book and gotten past the misstep I made, the title having really enjoyed it.
Q - Your name is Brandon, yet the book is released as B.J. Mendelson. I don’t understand.
A - So what happened was when I first pitched the book to St. Martin’s what they had said to me was, we love you, be yourself and that’ll be fine. Then about a week later I get a call from the people at St. Martins and they say, could you not use the word mother fucker so much? I replied and said well, technically mother fucker isn’t a word, and it kind of went from there where I would kind of get passive aggressive phone calls from them saying you really have to lay off the comedy stuff and they were right. I don’t want to make it sound like they were leading me astray. They were certainly right in terms of positioning the book. They wanted me to be more of a marketer. There came a point where they said booksellers are Googling you and getting these comedy posts and they don’t know where to file the book. What do you think if we change your name to B.J.? If we change it to B.J. all the sections stuff will come up. If you Google Brandon all the comedy stuff will come up. It was well intentioned. I don’t think the plan executed the way it should have but mostly that’s on my end and then it is there end. All the links you needed to do I didn’t do to be honest with you that it would’ve made it more clear who people were searching for B.J. but now that the book is out and it’s been more than six months, it doesn’t matter if you find the comedy stuff everyone’s happy. The book turned a profit were going to do another one. The name thing is really a minor issue. But there is a lot of confusion out there, so, it is Brandon.
Q - You’re going to do another one? How much more can you say about social media?
A - Well it has nothing to do with social media that’s the best part (Laughs). The title which we are not going to use, the working title is People are Assholes.
Q - I can relate to that one.
A – (Laughs) Exactly. The book deals with an organization, no matter what kind of an organization you work in the biggest conflict in any organization is assholes. (Laughs) so, the book is how to deal with that. Of course, going to change title and not use the word asshole. But the second one has nothing to do with social media.
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