tl;dr: Dave Kerpen cheated his way onto The New York Times Best Sellers list, told people he accomplished this using “social media” and got caught lying about it publicly. If you read “Social Media Is Bullshit” and wonder if there really are social media marketers like the ones I describe in the book, Dave Kerpen proves they exist.
The Suspicious Phone Call
Back in August, I got a call from Dave Kerpen, who is the co-founder and former CEO of Likeable Media. Dave asked me two things:
1. Would I like to debate him at WOMMA Summit 2012? Apparently they had been talking about inviting me, and he wasn’t sure if he’d get to do a presentation at this year’s summit, so if he mentioned that I said yes to him, the people at WOMMA would have to include him in the show as the guy I’m debating.
2. Do I want to be a New York Times Best Selling Author? Not being an idiot, I said, “Sure. One of my goals in life is to be a New York Times Best Selling Author. Tell me more stranger”. Dave tells me that he, much like Guy Kawaski and other prominent business and marketing authors, paid a company (ResultSource) “in the low five figures” to bulk buy copies of his book in order to get on that list.
I suspect, although I can’t prove, that Dave also purchased fake reviews for his first book, which has a suspiciously high count of five star reviews (247 at the time of this writing) and virtually no one star reviews. This is for a book that allegedly sold enough copies to make that best seller list, you need to have sold over 10,000 copies to do so.
So, it’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be more than a few negative reviews on Amazon if there were truly that many copies of Dave’s first book in the wild. I have 83 reviews and almost all of them are positive, but I do have some negative ones, and I’ve sold about half of what’s needed to make that list (at the time of this writing.)
(You’ll also note that Dave Kerpen’s second book has nowhere near the same number of reviews and also did not sell anywhere near as many copies. Coincidence?)
As I mentioned in Social Media Is Bullshit, there’s a proven statistical advantage to getting your book on that list. So, this can’t be emphasized enough: If you can get on that list by hook or by crook, it’s the difference maker between your book doing “well” and a book doing “awesome” like any number of others.
Dave then asked me not to say anything about the bulk purchases to anyone because “this is not public knowledge”. I say, “Sure. No problem”. At that point, I had no reason to mention it to anyone.
I think the bulk buying is shitty because I want the world to work in the way that it should, not how it does. In other words: Good books sell well organically, bad books don’t. But. I’ve since been told by numerous marketers, particularly those in the social media space, that bulk buying your book is standard practice. Of course, there’s a huge difference between doing this transparently, and doing it and then lying about why your book did as well as it did, which is what Dave Kerpen had been doing.
As I said in the book, if you have a good product, it’ll spread on its own given a strong enough push. So if you gave out even a few thousand copies, I think that’d be a strong enough push to generate serious sales; however, there’s a huge difference between seeding the market (giving copies away) and orchestrating bulk purchases to cheat the best sellers lists so you can charge more money as a speaker.
So, the bulk buying isn’t the issue here, it’s the lying, and in any other business, faking your success and then selling people the myth you made up about that success would be called something worse. It’d be called fraud.
Then the debate was set …
In the run-up to November’s debate, this bulk purchasing issue came up a few times, as in “I am not allowed to bring it up”. I was pretty uncomfortable with this because as you know, I am a practitioner of a modified form of radical honesty. It’s just not in me to lie, so now I had this big secret I had to keep, all the while watching Dave tell people, without mentioning the bulk purchases, that he used “social media” to get his first book on the New York Times Best Sellers list. If you go back on Twitter and look at the WOMMA debate he and I did, you can see him very clearly peddling the “social media was the reason my first book was a best seller” lie.
Just before we started the debate, I talked to the moderator, John Moore, and we discussed this issue. Basically I was told, “Don’t bring it up that Dave Kerpen did it but you can mention that other marketing authors cheat the system in doing this, the same way they buy fake Amazon reviews”. I then told Dave backstage, “I’m not going to mention your bulk purchases” because I keep my word and I had more than enough to bury Dave with on stage.
Which you would see, if Dave wasn’t actively trying to bury the video.
So, fast forward to the debate, wherein I play crazy because I’ve watched way too much professional wrestling to do otherwise the second someone gives me a microphone. I even did the Ric Flair strut onto the stage. Dave, texting in the middle of the debate like an asshole (he says it “adds value” I call it “being an asshole”), is getting his ass kicked. Probably because he’s too busy texting and has nothing really to go on besides some vague reference to magical New Jersey-based dentists that have access to 500 million customers because Facebook has 500 million people who use it.
Seriously. He said that. We also, both the moderator and I, tried to press him for legitimate examples but got nothing but vague generalities. You see see our frustration in the following photo:
We get to an opportunity for me to mention how marketing authors, particularly social media authors, cheat the system and then cite social media as the source of their success. I mentioned how Gary Vaynerchuck did this by being represented by a major Hollywood agency (CAA since 2007), despite getting on national television and having reporters bill him as a self-made “social media success story”. I also mentioned the fake reviews and bulk purchases.
I didn’t say Dave bulk purchased his books, but … he immediately proceeded to out himself, and then all hell broke loose.
Kerpen Outed As Liar In Front Of Thousands
If you see the video, you can see Dave out himself as having bulk purchased his book, and then you can see me turn to the moderator with a look that said, “Well … now what do we do because he was pretty adamant I don’t say he did it”, and then after he did, Dave had to defend himself. A lot.
It was literally the first question the large audience asked when they had the chance to do so, and Dave chose to not answer it directly. (The question was, “Without the bulk purchases, do you think your book would have been a NYT best seller?” Every single one of you reading this know that answer is no. The sales of Dave’s second book prove this.)
Needless to say, Dave was pissed after the debate. He avoided me the rest of the night, this in spite of several people informing him that I wanted to apologize if he mistook my schtick for being a legit jerk, even though I told him backstage that I would be playing a character because what I do on stage is mostly schtick designed to get people to laugh and remember what I said.
Less than an hour later, I got angry tweets from Dave’s wife and employee. Both claiming that Dave has been transparent about the bulk sales, which makes absolutely no sense given that this was such a big issue that he wanted to keep quiet for months. Then the next day, between 6am and about 10:30am pacific time (I know this because I was flying to Portland), Dave Kerpen had a full on meltdown on Twitter.
To emphasize: The guy who sells social media advice for a living, which includes managing your reputation and making you “likable” on Twitter, had a Twitter meltdown.
A meltdown wherein he said that he had always been honest about the bulk sales, and that I was “nasty” and “mean”. (He also announced that he was going to block and unfollow me … because apparently that’s the appropriate response to being caught pretty publicly in a lie.)
What Does This Have To Do With “Social Media Is Bullshit”?
I learned two things at the WOMMA summit, which was actually the first marketing conference I ever went to: There are many nice people who work in the social media industry, and many of them are legitamately trying to do cool things to help people. Buzzwords aside, I totally support that.
This is because we’re now all living in a giant mess created by members of the Asshole Based Economy, like Dave Kerpen, and it’s not going to be cleaned up any time soon, so some of these people are doing what they can to help us navigate the disaster.
The other thing I learned, and this is a lesson from Dave Kerpen and perhaps many of the other snakeoil salesman who give the nice people in the social media industry a bad reputation: When you’re outed as a liar and have no response, especially right after you talked about the importance of transparency on stage in front of a room of very influential and wealthy people (re: potential clients for Dave’s services), the go to thing to do is say “you’re mean”.
If you work in PR, you already know how big of a mistake that is. And if you don’t, let me assure you: This is by far the worst thing you can possibly do, next to having a full on Twitter meltdown at six in the morning with a guy who was already moving on to the next thing. Bonus points are given when, as Dave did, you actively try to sabotage that person’s next event. Don’t think Dave’s meltdown was limited to the Internet over an event he since has claimed he “won” and “never happened”.
If Dave “won”, then why did he call Jason Falls, the guy I debated in Portland the next day, and tried to get the event cancelled? That’s how unhinged “the winner” got over a mistake he made.
What Dave should have done is said, “You know what? In the past I said some things that weren’t true, and I should have been upfront with you about how I became a New York Times Best Selling Author. In the future, I promise to live up to what I said on stage about being fully transparent because I believe social media can create best sellers if given the right push.”
And then he should have left it alone. Instead he became a child. And that should raise concerns, I think, for people considering hiring Dave’s company to handle their reputation and making then “likable”.
How can you be “likable” when the guy who is making that happen for you isn’t?
How do I feel about all this? Well, if telling the truth is mean, I guess I’m the baddest man on the planet. And I’m totally cool with that. I get on stage because it’s fun. I do these debates because I enjoy them, not necessarily because it sells books. So to me, it doesn’t matter what I said because I know what I said was right and factually accurate, and based on the number of times someone pulled me aside at WOMMA and said, “I totally agree with you, but if I agree with you publicly, I’d be fired”, they know I’m right too.
So, why post something about this at all?
Because this is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about in the book. Here we have a social media marketer caught in the act of lying, on stage, in front of hundreds in attendance and thousands on the Web, and then proceeding to have a social media meltdown of his own. And why did Dave have to resort to lying? Because, as you would see in the debate if the video ever surfaces, you’ll see he had nothing to stand on. Numerous times he was asked to back up his claims and he had nothing. And this was coming from a guy who went into the debate claiming to have all sorts of “proof” I was wrong.
This is a living, breathing example of all the things I talked about in “Social Media Is Bullshit“. All I need to do now is just tell people about this incident when they don’t believe me that social media marketers say ridiculous and untrue things to drum up business.
If anything, I should thank Dave. Because it’s not often someone serves up living proof of something you claim so easily. So thank you Dave. I really appreciate it.
On 2.2.13 I received a call from Dave Kerpen stating he wanted to “catch up”. After being informed from multiple parties that he, and allegedly, WOMMA, were threatening legal action against people passing links on to this post, I didn’t answer.
Instead I wrote a detailed email wherein I listed all the things he’s lied about, and continues to lie about, and stated I do not do business with dishonest men. I also stated I will not alter or edit this post in any way and I do not wish to have any sort of contact with him. My attorney was copied on this email. He has requested I not share it with you.
However: What I can share with you is that the next day, 2.3.13, Kerpen posted a response to this blog post. A post I should point out, is now four months old, originally being posted on November 14th.
Each of his FAQs respond to a point I made in my email to him. So although I can’t share that email with you, you basically know what was said if you read his post.
I will not link to that post because I don’t link to bullshit. You can find it with a quick Google search.