Social media unlikely to help your business, author says
Hemingway advocated “built-in bulls--- detectors.” If yours was sufficiently developed, you might have caught a strong whiff of something: spin doctors referring to something called “the Twitter election,” “the most tweeted-about event in U.S. political history.”
If this doesn’t impress you (and there’s no reason it should; 31 million election Tweets shouldn’t be too hard to amass, considering how many people tweeted about it more than once), you’ll find a friend in B.J. Mendelson.
In his absorbing and provocative new book, Social Media is Bullshit, Mendelson, a former marketing guy, is pulling back the curtain on what happens when you’re inveigled into having a “social media presence” by people who, as luck would have it, will show you exactly how for an often exorbitant fee.
He caught this reviewer’s attention via Twitter; someone with more than 700,000 followers writing a book about how it was all just a crock of BS was hard to miss.
For all those social media success stories you hear about, very few of them, it turns out, happen organically, i.e. one person doing something interesting and a bunch of people sharing it. Sure, that happens eventually, but only after interest is generated from the top down, by those with clout, backed by corporate interests twinned with celebrity culture.
Mendelson points out that the breakout Twitter hit-cum-New York Times bestselling book Sh*t My Dad Says was created not by some unknown but by an editor with Break Media, a popular entertainment network with more than 100 million monthly visitors.
Everyone doing social media diminishes its value; bands that have had their lonely videos flounder on YouTube or Kickstarter are proof.
The few that have succeeded have likely exploited a network of cagey corporate gatekeepers who you and I will never meet while the majority of would-be Biebers get digital tumbleweeds.
It’s not that social media doesn’t help; it’s just that its effects can be decidedly under- whelming for businesses. A recent test case: an NPR experiment using a New Orleans pizza shop that had a Facebook ad show up more than 700,000 times targeting 30,000 fans of pizza, mozzarella, etc. in the Big Easy. The result: incredible difficulty translating into any customers whatsoever.
Mendelson wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, he advocates businesses not have a Facebook page at all. In a campaign run by automaker Kia, their case marketing study suggested a viral reach of “over 31 million through Facebook friends of friends” from 89,000 fans. As Facebook says, half of active users check in every day and they likely aggressively ignore most of the newsfeed detritus. Mendelson found that this rise in “awareness” from these supposed millions of Friends translated into less than 1per cent of the company’s revenue.
Mendelson is more sanguine about Twitter. By his own admission, most of his 700,000plus followers aren’t really invested in him or the links he posts. Twitter use may be increasing, but bots still outnumber real people by a factor of 2:1. As Dylan sang, “I heard 10 thousand whispering and nobody listening.”
What advice should you heed, when so many claim to know what works and what doesn’t online? Most effective is a basic multi-million-dollar ad budget and a healthy media presence everywhere. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have a good product with a good story. Christopher Lombardo is co-author of The Man Who Scared a Shark to Death and Other True Tales of Drunken Debauchery (Penguin), and Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys’ Book of Bitingly Funny Lists.