Before We Get Started
- Pardon the typos, spelling errors, and lack of AP formatting. These are just notes and presented as is. Rants and tangents included.
- If you like what I’m doing here, you can support it by buying a USED copy of Social Media is Bullshit (this should not cost you more than $12, including shipping, in most cases.) Please donate that copy to your local library or share it with a friend after you’re done reading it. Or keep it. I don’t know. I’m not the boss of you.
Like “The Passion Conversation”, one of the co-authors, Brad Fay, handed me a copy of this book when I was at the Word of Mouth Marketing Summit back in 2012. Home to “the incident” …
I should probably acknowledge that briefly, huh? So, check out the bonus section at the end of this post for more on “The Incident.”
I have two thoughts worth sharing on this book:
1) I wish I was aware of it while I was writing “Social Media is Bullshit”. Their book came out a little earlier than mine in the same year, and they cover a lot of the same ground. My book is way funnier and probably more accessible for a general audience though. “The Face to Face Book” is clearly written for the corporate crowd.
2. I wish I had read this before I read “The Passion Conversation”, because “The Passion Conversation” is almost basically the same book as this one, but shorter. In fact “The Passion Conversation” pulls from “The Face To Face Book” a lot. That’s not a criticism, but having read “The Passion Conversation” first just made this book harder for me to get through.
So, for that reason, this book summary is probably going to be shorter than some of the other ones because I don’t want to repeat anything I’ve already said when I did the book notes for “The Passion Conversation”, which you can check out here.
P.4 “Good marketing starts conversations, and chiefly because of those conversations people make decisions that ultimately determine with brands are successful and which fail.”
I want to point out what I think has become a reoccurring theme in these notes: You notice this statement says nothing about metrics. It’s dead simple and focused on the end, which is getting someone to buy something. The only metric that matters if people are actually buying shit. Nothing else. That MBAs don’t understand this, and it makes them crazy. So they “hate” marketing because they can’t quantify it. And then (as revealed later in this book) people SAY marketing doesn’t work on them, but that’s not at all what the data suggests. So we have this weird, dumb bubble where people are saying marketing is dumb and doesn’t work and then you’ve got these data-obsessed idiots running things and telling people marketing doesn’t work because you can’t quantify it and … It’s just mad. Like neither of these statements are true, but everyone believes them and repeats them.
There’s no other way to say it. I’m tired of typing this in every summary, so check this out instead:
P.8 So, as someone who sometimes attends Al-Anon because I grew up with an alcoholic / drug addicted mother, I’ve always been fascinated by the mechanics of what makes groups like that work. (Or not work. There’s a lot of people who are not big fans of AA and programs like it for a whole bunch of reasons, but I think it works if you let it.)
One answer is that we’re incredibly social animals, and having people around to reinforce something, a belief, the desire to not drink, to lose weight, to go to the gym and keep going back, helps to achieve this. Pulled from the book, “Join The Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform The World”, Keller and Fay points out how that author’s research (Tina Rosenberg) showed the “social cure” can work “when people consciously and voluntarily choose to participate. […] The resulting changes in our lifestyle occur because we have made a conscious decision to make the change, and in our minds, the supportive community merely helps to achieve what is a highly personal goal.”
P.S. Referring back to The Console Wars, Sega deliberately targeted teenagers with ads that poked fun at their parents with the idea being that Sega would be seen as cool, a belief that would be reinforced by fellow teenagers while simultaneously attracting the attention of younger kids who liked playing Nintendo. The idea being, hey, if their older siblings are playing Sega because it’s cool, why wouldn’t they (the younger kids) want to as well? Those ads worked really well and helped practically erase Nintendo’s monopoly on the video game market. So beyond AA, the “social cure” idea stretches well beyond the self-help world and into the marketing and word of mouth world.
P. 23 I thought it was hilarious that even Facebook’s own executives (in this case, Paul Adams) was telling people back in 2011: “You need to reorient your business around people, not technology. Don’t have a ‘Facebook Strategy’, or a ‘Twitter Strategy’, or a ‘Foursquare Strategy’. Map to human behavior and not to technology.” Think about that.
That’s Facebook as they geared up to go public saying that, all the while the social media marketing idiots kept saying otherwise, and a lot of us believed them.
P.28 Also relating back to Sega, and Ray Kroc’s vision for McDonalds, “… Contrary to many assumptions we all make about how people view marketing, social experiences aren’t interrupted by brands or products but rather improved by them. As such, marketers can take advantage of the inherently social qualities of life without fear that consumers will balk, provided they tread carefully.”
So, playing Sega with your siblings in the ‘90s, playing the Wii with the family in the late ‘00s. Going to Burger King (or eating Burger King together every Saturday, which is what my family did when I was growing up because we were broke), going to Starbucks. We interact with brands in a personal way, solo or in groups, all the time, and nobody gets shitty about it. I mean unless you live in Brooklyn or San Francisco and you’re trying to convince people how unique you are, but you never want to be that person. Don’t be too cool for McDonalds. It’s not a good look. You don’t have to eat there, but don’t throw shade at people who eat there, is what I’m saying.
P.30 We’re five book summaries in, and so by now you know I hate the “It doesn’t scale, so we’re not going to do it” MBA types that permeate the tech world. But the “advertising is dead / doesn’t work” BS is everywhere too. Not just in tech. That’s why it’s worth pointing out, yet again: “The simple fact is, the more a brand advertises, the more visible it is, and that visibility, in turn, makes it more likely it will be talked about – and ultimately purchased.”
This harkens back to Ray Kroc, sharing my protests, against the people who didn’t want him spending money on advertising for McDonalds and his attitude being that he’d make that money back. Same deal with Sega. Sega spent a fuckton of money on marketing and advertising. They didn’t have the resources Nintendo did, but they used what they had to make sure they were as present as possible among their target audience.
P.33 This book came out in 2012, but the myths they were trying to address about Word of Mouth persist to this day, so the following two points are worth repeating. First, people think word of mouth is limited only to the latest thing. Nope. Not true. People share things through word of mouth because “word-of-mouth success is about communicating solutions; providing answers that consumers want to pass along to others, find easy to talk about, and feel good about sharing.” The stuff the tech crowd likes. Being “innovative”? Or how about Hollywood with things being “entertaining?” Nope. It’s not that those points are totally ineffective, but they are not as likely to be the reason people share things as you’d think. Same deal when it comes to gimmicks and stunts. Not ineffective, but not as effective as you’d think. “the leading motivations for engaging in word of mouth are product-related-specifically, to learn about products and share those insights with others.”
P.35 Back in 2012, a month before my book came out, Francisco Dao wrote this great post for PandoDaily. I don’t want to link to it directly because Pando sucks. So instead I’m going to link to Lifehacker’s coverage of that post, and you can find the original from there. Anyway, the post was great because Francisco was talking about how he asked himself, “Why the fuck would I do that?” Before committing to anything. That same philosophy extends to word of mouth and how to market whatever it is that you’re working on. In other words, if you can’t answer why the fuck anyone should care about what you’re working on, you shouldn’t be working on it.
Keller and Fay put it in nicer terms, but that’s because their book was made for the corporate crowd: “To our way of thinking this is where word-of-mouth strategy needs to begin: What is a brand’s story and why should someone want to talk about it? Only then does it make sense to focus on who will tell the story and ‘the how’ (the channels through which the word will spread.”
P.40 I was originally going to skip this, but then I saw this thread on Quora where someone was asking why negative word of mouth / PR works so well. It’s 2017! And people were arguing it does. For fucks sake … I don’t think it does. Neither does Keller and Fay (and the numerous other authors like Dr. Jonah Berger and the NYT’s David Brooks that they pull from.) Positive word of mouth is more “viral” (their words) than negative word of mouth. You might hear negative things slightly more but that 1) Doesn’t mean they’re effective as you think because 2) Those negative things are sometimes fueled by factors marketing experts like to conveniently forget exist in order to further their own narratives.
P.56 This is something we still see repeated today, but this book also does what I did and stop to point out that the digital marketing efforts by the 2008 Obama campaign was completely overblown by the media. Instead Obama staffers interviewed for this book echoed what I’ve been told by 2008 staffers who said that the offline stuff, tapping into people’s personal networks and empowering those people to influence others and get them out to vote is what made the difference. (Also, this was copied from the Bush campaign’s playbook that was followed in 2004.)
I’m not sure how long it’ll be before I get to the Duncan Watts books, but he talks about this concept that influence and power is completely subjective and depends on the context and situation that we’re talking about. So your priest could be supremely influential while you’re in church, for example, but if he runs over your dog, it’s a totally different story. So the Bush (and Obama) campaign worked to find people who were influential within a specific context (Community involvement, for example) and targeted them specifically.
If this sounds familiar, later we’ll get to the book “Viral Loop”, and that book covers how Tupperware basically did the same thing to grow out of obscurity and into a multi-billion dollar enterprise.
It’s the same shit, just sixty years (or so) later. Also: I sometimes wonder when people use elections as an example for anything if they would still be using that election had the other party won. For example, let’s say McCain ran like he cared, he didn’t, and chose Lieberman as his VP pick to do the “United Party” thing he originally had wanted to do before picking a psycho hose beast instead. Would we still be talking about the online marketing narrative? Probably not!
P.61 Keller and Fay try to expand on this concept of influence being subjective and dependent on context by providing their own test, based on the research they and others have done. Someone is influential if the answer is yes to the following: “Does the individual have the means, the motive, and the opportunity to influence other people?”
By means, they mean does that person interact with a lot of people? (Think, Community Organizer as one example.) By motive they mean the desire to want to know things that they can share with others. I think most of us fall into this bucket, but where there’s a difference is whether or not the things we know we want to proactively share with others. Some of us do. Some of us are assholes. And lastly, opportunity. To Keller and Fay that means do others come to these allegedly helpful people and ask them for advice. If so, they got the opportunity.
Hey, just a quick clarifying point: We’re talking people with real influence. Not these dumb asshole Internet celebrities and agencies like Vayner Media (and others) who hype up those goobers in order to extract money from dumb and otherwise well-meaning brands and companies.
Rachel Bloom aside, and she’s a fucking national treasure and I’ll fist fight anyone who says otherwise, go ahead and name for me an Internet celebrity that is success beyond the Internet platform that they exist on. (Remember kids: New York Times Best Sellers don’t count because you can fake that shit, as you’ll see below. Neither do live “tours” of Internet Celebrities because those things are dependent on getting a bunch of them in one place and you can also fudge those ticket numbers easily. I’m talking can that individual star live and succeed on another platform over an extended period of time? Even with Rachel Bloom, the ratings for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are not great. The fact that this wonderful show has been renewed (twice now) is nothing less than an act of God.
(I doubt she’ll read this, but Laura, you’re completely wrong. THIS is the best song from that show.)
P. 82 People will tell you marketing and advertising don’t work, but the research says that as someone gets closer to making their purchase, marketing and advertising matter more than they’d ever admit. (Which, unfortunately fuels that whole “Marketing is stupid” bullshit from the MBAs.)
P.85 I’ve seen these growth hacking assholes (remember them?) claim this idea as their own, but it’s something Crispin Porter came up with and that I love: When someone gets an assignment at CP+B, they have to write a mock press release for their pitch to promote that product. That’s fucking genius and you should steal that shit immediately. Because it goes back to Francisco Dao’s point, “Why the fuck would I do that?” Well, if you craft a press release that the media will ignore, then you don’t have something worth pitching. It’s as simple as that.
P.87 Ernest Dichter, as he does in “The Passion Conversation” gets name-checked here. In fact, it’s rare you find a Word of Mouth Marketing book / viral marketing book that doesn’t mention him. That’s because, like Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill, he was first, and his advice and findings from almost a century ago at this point still hold up today. One of them here being that “advertising must change from its traditional role of “a salesman who tries to get rid of merchandise,” to a new role of “a friend who recommends a tried and true product.” Damn straight, but sadly, a lesson that most of us STILL have failed to learn.
P.96 I said something really similar in “Social Media is Bullshit”, but I think this is worth repeating: “The right ad, at the right time with the right message can spark word of mouth, regardless of category.” You tell’em guys! (But my book was funnier.)
P.99 “This we believe should be the new measure of success for all advertising and marketing: Does it provoke and support productive conversations? If so, it’s likely to help propel brand growth; if not, it is probably not worth paying for.”
No follow-up comment on my part needed. That’s just excellent advice all of us should be following.
P.104 This is a drum I often find myself pounding. (Man, I had to try so hard to not make a masturbation joke just now.) But you’re going to have better luck and more success getting the most that you can from your current fans and your customers than you are chasing around new customers who have no idea who the fuck you are. Let your current customers do the marketing for you.
Yes, I know. “It doesn’t scale”. Jesus I hate those people. I really do. Like the worst thing we ever did in this country and in society at large is let the measurement geeks and the shareholders that empower them take over everything with their short term thinking and demand that we do things that scale in order to increase profits and save money.
You want to know why so many people are going to lose their job because of automation? It’s going to be because of these fucking people, looking at the bottom line and efficiency and not the human element and art that’s involved. Ray Kroc warned against this. He said it himself, he could easily have automated McDonalds and replaced the people behind the counter, but he didn’t do it because having someone behind the counter for you to interact with was part of the experience and reason for going to McDonalds in the first place.
There’s a big fight coming. I really do believe it, between people who want to automate everything and people like me who think all because you CAN automate something doesn’t mean you should. Fuck the robots and these short-term thinking, self-interested assholes.
Anyway, Keller and Fay suggest something great here: Advertisers should focus on real life, honest to god influencers (not those bullshit Internet assholes) and current customers by providing them the best possible experience possible, so much so that they’ll do the marketing for you.
Sounds easier said than done, and it is, but that’s great advice.
The Incident (Bonus Section)
I get asked about “The Incident” often enough because it was allegedly the basis for a WSJ story, so here’s what happened. I’m including the story here because it heavily overlaps with “The Face to Face Book.”
Life’s too short to deal with weasels
At the end of “Social Media is Bullshit,” I talked a big game about never writing about this stuff again. My plan was to go into stand-up comedy and write funny books with titles like, “Astonishing Tales of Mediocrity,” “Turbulence in the Airplane Bathroom” and everyone’s favorite “People Are Assholes.” The way I saw it back in 2011? I said everything I needed to say about social media and the depressing state of our digital frontier. But then, just over a year after I turned in the manuscript to St. Martin’s Press, something really stupid happened.
Let me take you back to the summer of 2012. Facebook just went public. The Avengers was out in theaters. And I’m at my parent’s house in Monroe, New York. Amanda and I are in the process of getting divorced. It’s for the best. I’m a work-obsessed person with OCD and a lot of ambition. She’s a family focused person who saw what she had in life and thought, correctly, that what she had was enough to have a happy life. A lot of the problems we had in that relationship stemmed from the fact that I’m driven by one simple goal: To be famous for being funny. Spending the rest of my life in Glens Falls was not exactly conducive to achieving that goal. It’s sort of like using a flamethrower to build an igloo. Sure you’re enthusiastic about giving it a shot, but you know you’ll never get the job done. This sounds incredibly shallow. Or at the very least, I sound like your typical Millennial, depending on how old you are when you read this; but I challenge you to look at that goal from my perspective: This world sucks. If I can make a lot of people laugh and get paid while doing it? Shit, who wouldn’t want to do that?
But back in 2012, I was having some doubts about my abilities to entertain and inform. We were just a few months away from launch, and I had no idea how “Social Media is Bullshit” would do once it hit stores. None of us did. It was a controversial book from a first-time author with no money and no platform to speak of. It would be a miracle if the thing sold more than 250 copies, which at the time (according to Publishers Weekly) was the most copies a nonfiction book usually sold in its first year. (Most books don’t sell more than three thousand copies in their lifetime.) I did, however, know I’m wildly successful at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. So, I created a Plan B. If the book flopped, and I suspected it would, then I wasn’t going to get trapped at my parent’s house for the rest of my life and be just another generational stereotype.
My backup plan looked like this: I made arrangements to return to the State University of New York at Potsdam. I finished my undergrad there and had started work on a graduate degree back in 2007 while waiting around for Amanda to finished her bachelor’s. Now, regardless of whatever happened with “Social Media is Bullshit,” I would go back to Potsdam, finish my degree in Organizational Leadership, and then get a “real job.” Ideally, one that I would use to get my ass out to Los Angeles and keep some money coming in while I start climbing the slippery rungs of the entertainment industry ladder. Because if you can’t achieve your goal one way, you should always try to approach it from another. The “real job” would at least get me where I need to be, or so the theory went anyway.
(If you follow Rosie’s advice from the second episode of the podcast, you’ll know this was a terrible plan. A lesson I didn’t learn because I tried following this plan twice. Once at Potsdam in 2012 and later at Buffalo in 2015.)
As I’m processing life without my wife, two cats, and AHL hockey just steps from my door, It’s at this point I’m already getting people approaching me about “Social Media is Bullshit.” The first? The United Nations. I’m not kidding. They were like the first email I got out of the gate. Maybe that should have been a sign to cancel my plans to go back to school. Others also approached me as the summer went on. There were requests to do consulting, speaking engagements and interviews. All for a book that wasn’t even out yet. And to be clear, for those of you who read the first book, I’ve always had my own business, going back to 2002. But it was wildly inconsistent. Some years were excellent; others have me fighting off raccoons while looking inside of garbage cans for sustenance. And in the summer of 2012, I was getting ready to shut it all down, just like I said I was going to.
Like some of you, I came of age during the Dot-com Crash and had now just lived through the Great Recession. As exciting as running my company could be, money was the thing Amanda and I fought over the most. These occasional consulting gigs, as well paying as they were, just did not have the consistency of “a real job.” So, I was passing on these new consulting offers that summer. I meant what I said in “Social Media is Bullshit.” Working in the marketing field is not something I wanted to do any longer, and even today I struggle with getting excited about anything marketing related unless it somehow helps me meet the goal I shared with you here.
I mention this because as the summer rolled on, I did not; however, pass on the interviews and speaking gigs that came my way. In my mind, the speaking engagements took me one step closer to doing stand-up comedy full time. Presentations, unless the organization putting it together is puritanical, really is the same sort of deal as doing standup. Except there isn’t a two drink minimum for people to see you present … That I know of. And it was there, in saying yes to these speaking engagements, where the trouble started.
Boy Meets Dolphin
One of the people who contacted me that summer was a seedy social media marketer that we’re going to call Flipper. Not because I’m worried about Flipper suing me, but because there’s no such thing as bad publicity. If you doubt this, I encourage you to look up who the 45th president of the United States is. So, if I tell you Flipper’s name, the name of his lousy book filled with pleasantries and deceitful garbage, and the name of his stupid company, I’m just giving the guy more attention than he deserves. (You can see who Flipper is by watching the video above, but for SEO reasons, I’m not placing it here.)
What I did not know at the time was that Flipper was a paying member of this organization WOMMA, which Ed Keller, the co-author of The Face-to-Face Book, was a former president of. WOMMA is great. I was a judge on and off for them for a few years after “The Incident” with their annual awards, and the people there have always been awesome to me. So none of this reflects on them.
Flipper though … This guy was just a douche.
What I found out later was that WOMMA had wanted me to do a presentation for them at their annual event. It’s a big deal in the marketing industry. One with people who could pump a lot of money into a fledgling or mid-sized agency that doesn’t have the cachet of something like a BBDO, or a Sterling Cooper, Draper Price. (One of those agency names is a joke name. The other is not.) For Flipper, events like this are a bonanza. He ran (runs?) a mid-sized agency and wanted to make sure he got featured at the event so he can get in front of all those companies and sell some books, consulting services and get future speaking engagements. I once was able to give a talk for the president of Subaru America and his executive staff by the fact that one of his staff members saw me speak at one of those big conferences. So the benefits of doing these things, and being center stage, can’t be stressed enough for my story here. (Fun fact: Not long after I gave my talk, Subaru fired their CMO, who had been a big believer in social media. They then went on to have their best year ever. So … You’re welcome?)
Flipper found out that they had wanted me to speak and so he calls me out of the blue while I was at my parent’s house. On the phone, he challenged me to debate at WOMMA 2012. This was super weird and uncomfortable for a lot of reasons.
First, I had no idea who he was. Who the organization was that he claimed to be calling me on behalf off, and frankly, I was really depressed. Here I am sitting there and thinking, “Man, I was in a relationship for six years, and now I’m back at home surrounded by two mentally disabled brothers, a drug addict mother, my unhelpful other siblings, my poor Dad trying to keep that all together, and this guy is on the phone with me like ‘OHMYGODVEGAS!YOUGOTTADOITYOUGOTTAGOTTAGOTTA” I already didn’t like him.
Then there’s the other thing: I’m not a confrontational guy. It’s not in my nature to want to throw down with random people. My tendency is to just not deal with people that become obstacles, and that’s not healthy. I’m working on this. I have OCD, you know? I want what I want and how I want it but I’m not going to use that as an excuse to step on people. So doing a debate is something I’m uncomfortable with for that reason. I don’t play well with others.
So although I’ve done the debate format, including at the United Nations, I rarely say yes and actively avoid those situations like the plague. If given a choice between binge watching all the awful DC Entertainment films or doing one of these debates, I’d be the first in line to watch Batman v. Superman and pledge not to complain about a single thing in it. A seemingly impossible task.
Flipper said he would talk about how great social media is, and I would talk about how useless social media is. This also struck me as really odd because
1) My book wasn’t out yet and
2) My book was never about how social media was dumb and you shouldn’t use any of it. The only people who came away with that impression either didn’t read the damn thing or were like this old guy who met me at a book signing in Albany, New York. There I was, minding my own business at a book signing, and this guy strolls into Barnes & Noble like he owns the place. He looks around at all the different shelves filled with things he probably won’t buy, and then his eyes fix on my table. He approached the table, picked up my book and turned and looked at his son. His son had come in behind him and looked to be about my age. The guy then shouts to his kid while holding my book over his head like a trophy, “See? I told you!.” Luckily for me, he bought a copy, which I did indeed sign. On the inside, the front page of his copy now says, “He fucking told you! Hugs and kisses, B.J. Mendelson”).
Flipper continued to push. There was no room for nuance with him. Nobody wants careful thought and research; they wanted big dumb statements. It was this conversation where I realized how much I regretted not having some kind of subtitle on my book’s cover. “Social Media is Bullshit” is an excellent title for a book, but it also falls into the “big dumb statements” bucket. Realizing this, I agreed to debate Flipper. The way I saw it? I made a big, stupid statement, and now needed to expand on it. This debate seemed like a perfect place to do it.
(Tangent related to the book notes above: Remember how people tell you negativity and negative press spreads as well, or better, than positivity? I think my book is an example of how that’s wrong. With a better, more positive title, and one without a swear word, it would have sold way more copies.)
‘I Cannot Tell a Lie’ … Except for That One. Because I Never Actually Said That – George Washington. Maybe.
Before he got off the phone, there were two things Flipper stated that I want you to take note of. The first is that Flipper, and yes, I mean it like the dolphin, had told me he thought social media was bullshit. This is deeply troubling and problematic. First, because the guy is telling people he’s this huge success through “the power of social media”.
Second, because if you go back through the archive of ANY of the big marketing personalities that are out there today, you’ll see they are always playing this game of twisting the truth, contradicting themselves and just flat out lying. (Vaynerchuk is my favorite example, but I don’t want to pick on just him, most of them do the same thing.) And then when they get caught in their lies, they’ll just downplay it and talk about “how fast things change.”
Seriously. Take some time out of your day, find your favorite internet marketing personality, and go through their stuff. You remember how I pointed out Chris Brogan was “nuts for Google Plus” in “Social Media is Bullshit”? Well, guess what book you now can’t find too easily that he put out? You guessed it, the book he did on Google Plus. And I don’t want to pick on him either. I don’t want to pick on any of them anymore. Because if I do, this new book could quickly degenerate into two-hundred pages of me just saying, “I told you so” while listing everything that’s happened to prove me right since the first book came out. I don’t want to do that. There’s no value in that. That’s a colossal waste of your time, and it’s a colossal waste of my time.
Putting a book together is hard. I can’t speak for other authors, but I average three years to do a book. 2009, 2010, and 2011 to do “Social Media is Bullshit,” and 2014, 2015, and 2016 to do the ghostwritten book that we’ll identify here as “Don’t Be Evil.” So the last thing you want to do is spend three years sharpening the knife and using it to get even with people, no matter how many of them may deserve it. What we need is brightness, hope, laughter and fun. That’s also part of the reason I’m calling this guy Flipper. Beyond not wanting to get him any attention, I’m also telling you this story to illustrate a point, not to bury him. I don’t like the dude, but I’m not out to get him either.
The second thing was that he said to me, “Do you want to know how to be a New York Times Best Selling Author” and like any author, I said yes. Of course, I’d like to know that. There’s a real lack of people with solid marketing backgrounds giving advice to aspiring authors. Of course I’d like to know how.
Flipper told me that most of the big marketing authors bulk purchase copies of their book. They, the authors, may swear and flat out lie to reporters that this is not the case, but they do. They use companies to make the bulk purchases, along with other shady tactics, and they’d do everything they can to cheat the Times system. I don’t want to give The New York Times another excuse not to cover my books. (Their excuse for not including “Social Media is Bullshit” was that the book had a swear word in the title. I’m not kidding.), So I’m not going to elaborate on how to cheat their system specifically, but even today, it can still easily be done. (And in their defense, The Wall Street Journal and Amazon may tell you their lists are more reliable and less prone to douchebaggery, but it’s not true. It’s just a little harder to mess with both than it is with the Times. But when you’ve got $25k, or more, to throw around, you’d be shocked at how easy it is to get what you want. Or maybe not, see also the 45th president of the United States.)
Flipper gave me the name of the company he used to bulk purchase his book and told me it’d cost $25,000. As he got off the phone, I looked out into the dining room in my family’s house. Barely furnished. A table that was approaching a hundred years old, if it wasn’t older, stained carpets, and assorted items inherited from my grandparents. In the other room was a family that includes the previously mentioned two mentally disabled children, a drug addict, a sister who just acts like she’s disabled, and my poor Dad stuck managing this nonsense. To say nothing of a house that was never meant to be lived in (it was the model home for a new development that came so cheap, the builder later killed himself after taking a bath on the project), and was quickly falling apart. I had just handed to Amanda, voluntarily for whatever that’s worth, all of the money that we had. So I didn’t have $25,000 just floating around to blow on bulk purchasing books to game the system for a newspaper that’s always made its bones by catering to the elite. I don’t even think I had five dollars to my name at that point.
A month goes by …
WOMMA contacts me. They are surprised, and I would learn later, pissed, that Flipper had reached out to me without their knowledge and permission, only to contact them saying the debate was all set. They ask me if I want to do the debate still, and I say yes. I had no idea Flipper wasn’t supposed to contact me, or that he had gone out of his way to set this all up just to worm his way onto the stage at this event. Had I known, I would have told him to fuck off. Life’s too short to deal with weasels.
(And as it turns out, Keller and Fay talk about the WOMMA code of ethics in The Face-to-Face Book. As you might be SHOCKED to discover, Flipper was not following those rules. )
Soon, my book comes out, and I quickly learn that going back to school was a bad idea. For one thing, I’m living on campus, surrounded by 19 year-olds because I couldn’t afford to live off campus. Potsdam, New York, is not known for many things, but price gouging the area’s 12,000 or so college students is certainly one of them given the poor condition and short supply of student housing in the region. For another, I spend every moment that I’m not in class using my student loan money to do book signings and media appearances. Go on CNN, go on CNBC, run all over the country basically, to promote my book. I’m even doing interviews in my dorm room. You can even see me being interviewed by TechCrunch in my dorm room on the SUNY Potsdam campus.
During the time that I’m in my dorm room, trying desperately to watch superheroine-in-peril porn and always getting distracted by A) My roommate and B) you know, having a fucking book come out that people are reading and that you have to promote, I agree to do a “Twitter Debate.” It’s going to be Flipper versus B.J. on Twitter to promote the upcoming debate.
Flipper and I go at it on Twitter, and I realized real quick that this guy really has nothing to say. He keeps going back to the “fact” that his book is a New York Times best-seller. And how he tells people the book got that way was because of, and I shit you not, “the power of social media.” Now, I don’t know about you, but if you’ve picked up one thing from me, I have zero filters and give no fucks about what anyone thinks. Hence why I can joke about the kind of porn I’m into and not even think twice about it. And because of all that, I can’t stand liars. I totally get a white lie. “No, Amanda, I’m sure eating an entire package of Oreo cookies will have no long-term ramifications on the kind of smells you will emit for the rest of the evening.” (She’s never going to read this, so I have no problem making that joke.)
White lies, or to be very specific, things that are said not to hurt someone else’s feelings are fine. My mom is a drug addict; she is NOT a functional adult, but I have to pretend she’s a functional adult all the time. That’s the kind of lie that I’m OK with. I go along with that for my Dad. But where I have real problems are with lies designed to hurt and manipulate people, and that’s what Flipper was doing. He was telling the audience on Twitter, his clients and whomever else he could that “the power of social media” made him a New York Times Best Selling Author, and not the $25k he dropped to bulk purchase his book in such a way that manipulated the system the Times uses. (A pretty clear violation of the WOMMA Code of Ethics that are provided in “The Face to Face Book”.)
That means his new clients are going to think this guy is some genius, and they’re going to waste a lot of money on him until they find out otherwise. I can’t abide by things like that. You shouldn’t either. That’s the kind of lie that helped create the first dot-com bubble. No joke. Marketing companies and other entities like them were gouging startups and tech companies flushed with cash and bleeding them dry, which helped cause a lot of them to fail.
If this lie sounds familiar to you in 2017, it should. Because It’s also the kind of lie, we continue to see to this day in the tech and marketing world. We also see it in politics and other walks of life. “Social media did X for us” when in reality, “social media” may have played no role in X at all, as The Face to Face Book points out with the 2008 Obama campaign.It’s just an easier story to say otherwise.
Given that I have OCD and no filter, I called Flipper out on his lies on Twitter, and he freaked out. As soon as the online debate ended, I then got a call from WOMMA saying he was very upset, and that the bulk purchasing of his books, while true, was not something Flipper wanted other people to know about. Flipper called me up asking me to please not tell anyone about the bulk purchasing, and I said fine, with one catch: He can’t tell people that social media made his book a New York Times best-seller at the actual debate, because if he did, I would tell people that he was lying.
He agreed, and I thought that was the end of it. I thought wrong.
The Thrilla in Manila
I arrive in Vegas. It’s my first time here since the failed breast cancer tour. You know, the one that triggered my research for “Social Media is Bullshit” and talked about in the closing chapter of that book? A lot of you that I’ve met over the years are big believers in things happening for a reason. I don’t share that belief, but given what’s about to happen, I can see how people would think that. Once I’m at the hotel where the debate is taking place, I meet Wonder Woman, who worked for WOMMA at the time, and do my best not to get on my knee and propose to her immediately. (With her help, I’m able to piece this whole back story together in the following months.)
Backstage before the debate, I’m talking with the moderator, John Moore, who co-wrote “The Passion Conversation”. We spoke of the bulk purchasing extensively. I promised not to bring it up. Flipper was adamant to everyone in the organization that I don’t bring it up as well.
So as I walk out onstage, I’m thinking, “OK. We’re going to have some fun and put this other nonsense behind us.” I even asked the sound guys if they could play Hulk Hogan’s WWE theme song as I get on the stage so I can make a total ass of myself and do all his poses. That’s the level of seriousness I had going into this debate. All that’s going through my head is how many jokes I can tell. And soon, I have the crowd laughing. But Flipper isn’t having any fun.
He’s sweating, making up crazy stuff. I’m poking him a little bit in, what I had said to him before the debate would be in a playful way, and then … It happens. I kept my promise. I didn’t bring up bulk purchasing his book to cheat the Times. He did. Completely unprompted. There’s an audible gasp in the room. The moderator looks at me, and I look at him like, “Well fuck. Now, what do we do?” Actually, here’s the picture from that exact moment where Flipper spilled the beans and we couldn’t believe it. I think the picture really says it all.
At that point, all hell breaks loose. Because as we move to wrap up the debate and go into the Q&A session that was scheduled to follow, all anyone wanted to know was the answer to one single question: “If you had not bulk purchased your book, would social media alone had made you a New York Times Bestselling Author?”
Flipper stormed off stage. He vanished the rest of the night. The next day, at 4 a.m., he has a full on Twitter meltdown saying I’m mean and not nice and that WOMMA was out to get him. (For real. This happened. The only reason I know it was happening at 4am was because I was in a cab on my way to the airport and seeing it happen live. He then went and called Jason Falls, my first guest on the podcast, trashing me and asking that Jason cancel the event he and I were doing together.
So Flipper became completely unhinged at this point. Hilariously, he also wrecked my Wikipedia page through his agency because this incident was discussed on there. The page used to be way longer, but after he tried getting it deleted, it survived but got neutered pretty hard. He showed me!
Some months later, I write a blog post about this experience, dubbing it “The Incident”. Fairly often, when I’m at a marketing function, people bring it up as well. Like the story has taken on some epic legendary status in the marketing community.
In my initial write-up about “The Incident”, I used his real name and the company he used to cheat the list. In response, Flipper puts up a FAQ page on his website, complete with more lies. Both links go viral (organically, just like I talked about in my book) among the marketing community and both soon find their way to Jeff at The Wall Street Journal who writes about the company Flipper had used to cheat the list. That bulk purchasing company then goes dark, and as far as I can tell, so does Flipper’s career.
Or so I thought. Remember: We live in the world of President Trump. You can suck at a lot of things and still, as Kevin Smith is often quoted as saying, “fail upwards”.
Three years later: Flipper got himself a book deal and a book with a major publisher.
Your parents were wrong, cheaters do prosper.