Tweet obliv­ion

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.

In So­cial Me­dia is Bull­shit, B.J. Men­del­son writes that busi­nesses shouldn’t have a Face­book page at all.

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