Reputation Design is Bullshit

Back in February of this year, I coined a bullshit term: Reputation Design.

You’re free to use it as much as you’d like. I’m going to be using it quite a bit over the next year or so to prove a point. Here’s how I came up with the term.

Earlier this year I was writing marketing collateral for a startup in Chicago. They offered SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and DRM (Digital Reputation Management) services.

I’m going to assume, if you’re reading this, you know what SEO is. Basically, it’s making sure your stuff appears in the first two search results on Google for whatever term you’re building your business or brand around. Although, and I agree with this, I like populating the entire first page for Google and not just the first two positions, even though the majority of the traffic goes to the first position under the advertisements. For me, it’s a good branding exercise. If you’re going to search for “B.J. Mendelson”, I want to be the only B.J. Mendelson on that page. I don’t want my competition to get anywhere close to me.

DRM is a bit trickier to explain. It’s a more extreme form of SEO where you try to kill or bury anything even remotely negative that might come up concerning you or your brand. For example, I once worked on a campaign involving a video game company executive who was sensitive about their image, and it was my job to bury any negative comments or search results there were about that person. DRM is not just search engine optimization though, it includes a lot of social media work, and if you’re smart (or if the people you’re paying to do it are good at what they do), they’ll also include a lot of public relations and content marketing within the overall DRM campaign.

The thing is, there’s no good way to explain a service that includes ALL of that. (All of that being DRM, SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Public Relations, all the things you’d need to do in order to show people how cool you are and own those search results, while also suppressing any bad shit you might have done in the past that you don’t want people to see.) So instead of writing DRM + SEO over and over again on the company’s collateral, I decided to just call that work “Reputation Design.”

It’s a bullshit term. It’s just a new way to describe an old thing, which is something marketers are good at doing. But I realized that it’s one thing to call out marketers for doing stuff like this, and it’s another to prove the point by doing it yourself. So if you see me identified in the years to come as a “Reputation Design” expert — and you see guest posts appearing by me or others about the benefits of “Reputation Design” — I want you to know this is an active, deliberate campaign to spread the term. I want to demonstrate how easy it is to rebrand old crap in a new way and show how people cash in on doing things like that.

If you want to help the cause, feel free to use the term as much as you’d like. I just wanted to put something here to explain what the term meant and why I’m going to be using it. I thought it’d be kind of hilarious to do a presentation and Powerpoint on how I spread this bullshit term around the world when all is said and done, so if things go well, you can expect me to do that in the not too distant future.


Small Businesses: You Have Options Other Than Facebook

It’s almost 2018, so I hope you’ll pardon the frustration here. But. This new piece of research that ran in eMarketer was mildly disturbing.

Ok. I mean I’m not as disturbed as I would be if I went to see “It” this weekend and watched it while high, but I’m disturbed enough to write this short note for small business owners.

Actually, isn’t that everyone these days? We all have side hustles, as much as I hate that term. I have my comic books, you may have a YouTube channel or podcast you’re really excited about.

Anyway, two disturbing points came out of this study:

  1. 24% of the survey’s respondents are going to invest in marketing and advertising. (For fuck’s sake!)
  2. eMarketer speculates that Facebook is so popular for small businesses because of a lack of other options.

These two points together, to me anyway, are hilarious.

On one hand, you have 76% of small businesses saying they’re not going to invest, or prioritize investing, in marketing and advertising. And then in the next breath, you have eMarketer saying the small businesses are going to dump money into Facebook’s slot machine out of a lack of other options.

You have plenty of options. Plenty. Facebook is just one of them, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t depending on what you’re selling, your audience, and how much money you want to dump into the slot machine until it pays out. Sometimes it does, more often than not, it doesn’t.

There’s this disturbing plague of short-term thinking when it comes to marketing and advertising. And you can’t blame my fellow millennials because I’ve seen this plague spread by more Baby Boomers than I have people my age, for what that’s worth.

Everyone wants to “move the needle” or have some other kind of metric they can quantify immediately so they can feel good about their fancy MBA from their fancy school.

The thing is, if you’re thinking short-term and running a business, the odds are good you’re going to fail miserably.  So if you buy a bunch of radio ads, and nothing happens immediately, and then you go, “Well shit I’m not running any more radio ads because it doesn’t work” then you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  This is because radio (and I’m including Spotify and Pandora when I say this), requires repetition. People have to hear/see interact with your brand multiple times before it starts to sink in and becomes a thing to them.

The other side to that argument is that Facebook is less expensive than other media. This is half-true. Facebook starts out being less expensive than anything else, but if you want to see more and better results, you need to put more money into it. The same way the Wheel of Fortune slot Machines in Vegas only pay out if you put more money into it. The longer you use Facebook, the less effective your ads are, which is kind of the opposite of every other media and platform out there.

Small businesses are, still … going into 2018, attracted to Facebook and other social media platforms because they think they’re “free.” I’m not going to bore you with a long thing on opportunity cost here, but I will tell you that free only gets you so far. If Facebook is rewarding longer, high-quality video, with their algorithm, then someone’s gotta make and pay for that. And then you have to pay to promote it because you need interaction quickly to tell Facebook’s free system to pay attention to your new thing. The costs add up quickly.

If this all sounds familiar, it should, because I said this shit five years ago in “Social Media is Bullshit” and it’s only now that the rest of the advertising and marketing world is catching up to me. But I’m not interested in saying “I told you so.”

What I am interested in telling you is that you have plenty of options to promote yourself if you’re a small business. Radio, TV, and the newspaper might seem expensive, but those prices are always negotiable. The salespeople will hate you for it, but their rate cards are the start of the conversation, not the end of it.

If you want to put money into content (which you should, as long as you have a distribution plan for that content), then that’s something worth doing that won’t show immediate results. In fact, you’ll have to wait at least a year on the content front before it really starts to pay off. Unless Google makes some kind of algorithm change that benefits you during that time and starts bringing you traffic.

So, do me and yourself a favor. Facebook ads can be great as long as you have a plan, the budget, and know to watch out for their numerous shenanigans built to get you to put more money into your ads. But don’t go dumping money into Facebook because you don’t know what else to do.

Invest in marketing and advertising, but do so wisely. If you do, you’ll see the results yourself. You just have to wait a while, but we’re talking about your life here. This is not the time for shortsighted bullshit.


These 5 Habits Can Improve Your Life Immediately

(I posted this over on Quora and it blew up, so I thought I’d re-post my answer here for those of you who might have missed it …)

This will be fun … and controversial. So, hold on to your ass. I’m going to tell you five things you can do, right now, to improve your life.

1. Masturbate.

You’ll be less anxious and less stressed if you do.

The best advice I ever got in high school? It came from my driving school instructor on the day before my road test. He was an older Jewish guy who looked and spoke a lot like Jackie Mason. After dropping me off at my house, he said to me, “Go jerk off tonight. It’ll clear your head and you’ll be relaxed for your test tomorrow.”

Now, I’m not saying this is advice you want someone to give you unsolicited, especially from someone you barely know, but … Seriously. It works.

2. Don’t Care So Much.

There are few things I actually care about. I care about the women in my life. I care about my family, even though they drive me up a fucking wall, and I care about helping people as much as I can with the time that I have left on this planet.

Everything else? I don’t care.

I’ll do what I have to do to make a living, but unless I’m doing something that involves any of the above, I’m doing what I need to do to get the job done — and done well, mind you — but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it either. In fact, beyond what I need to do to perform well on my tasks, I’m not going to think twice about it once it’s accomplished.

Put another way: Prioritize everything you do around the things you care about most. Everything else is bullshit.

3. Don’t Work More Than Four Hours a Day

This is sort of related to the above, but has to do with the way we’re wired mentally.

You only have so many hours in a day that you can be productive.

A lot of this has to do with your brain being a goal oriented machine, some of it has to do with the way the modern work day is scheduled.

For example, how many of you find yourselves trying to kill time on any given work day because what you’ve been given to work on won’t fill nine hours? I bet it’s almost all of you.

I’m convinced you can produce more, excellent work, in concentrated bursts of productivity then you can being trapped in an office all day for nine hours because someone somewhere decided that was the mandatory length of time for the average work day.

So, whenever possible, make the most of your four productive hours.

4. Remind yourself that you’re going to die.

I know. That sounds morbid. But if you find yourself losing your shit about something, ask yourself, “If I was dead tomorrow, would this matter?”

9 times out of 10 the answer is a big, fat, NOPE!

Don’t remind yourself to be morbid, do this to remind yourself that time is the most valuable thing that you have, and you shouldn’t waste it on stupid shit that’s not going to matter a day from now or even a week from now.

Take it from me. I almost died when I was 30. Everything I do after that must pass a very specific test, “If I was dead tomorrow, would this matter?” If the answer is no, and as much as possible, I won’t do it.

5. Keep an open mind.

I know. REAL controversial, but seriously. Try something new every day.

Question everything you read and hear.

Try weed.

Sleep with someone of the same sex.

Let the dog take YOU for a walk.

Life is short, do everything you can that’s within the realm of not harming yourself or others.

If you go through life shutting yourself off from everything this world has to offer, you’re going to be real bummed when you die and find there’s no afterlife and not a hell of a lot to do aside from being nothing.

So, live a little, love a lot, and enjoy.

Surprise! I Have a New Book on Privacy Out in October

This might take some explaining.

A couple of years ago, I was up at the University of Buffalo taking graduate classes in Higher Education. Basically, because I was bored, but that’s a different story. While there, a company approached me about writing a short book on privacy. So I said yes, wrote the book, and then the company more or less folded not long after I handed them the manuscript.

At that point, I just assumed the book was dead and, honestly, I forgot it existed. When people ask me how many books I’ve done, I told them two. The one I ghostwrote (which is coming out … eventually), and “Social Media Is Bullshit” that St. Martin’s Press put out. But I’ve actually done three.

That third one is called “The End of Privacy” and you can pre-order it here. The book is about exactly what you think it’s about: You have no privacy. You never had any privacy (since the American government has been violating your privacy since World War 1), and we’ve made it possible for billion dollar companies to form on the back of your data.

“The End of Privacy” is meant to be a brief explainer book on the subject of privacy. It’s only 100 pages, and it’s a quick read.

I’m going to do some media to promote this, but I won’t be blogging about it. Privacy is one of those weird subjects where everyone cares about it, but everyone also knows there’s not much we can do about shit like Equifax. Especially in the United States. Overseas it’s a bit of a different story.

So, that’s why this book is only 100 pages. I tried to condense everything into one place, so you know what’s going on and can knowingly talk about it, but I don’t spend much time getting into the weeds. There’s a bunch of books on privacy that are already out there, and if you read them, you’ll find they really struggle to talk about the issue and fill up a book. A lot of the time you get the author just droning about some tangential shit to fill space, and I’m not that kind of person.

So, I’m now the author of three books. You can check out this book soon, and if you see my dumb face popping up in different media outlets to talk about privacy, you know why.

Why You Should Focus On Doing One Thing

I’m having a frustrating week. Bad for me, good for you. When I’m frustrated, that means I blog. I vent. You learn stuff. Everyone wins.

Proctor & Gamble Says I’m Right … 5 Years Later

This article about Proctor & Gamble taking a stand against a lot of the crap involved with online marketing and advertising was a bit of a kick in the teeth.

I’ve run into people at P&G numerous times throughout the years. This includes during one of my first “Social Media is Bullshit” presentations five years ago.

After I finished, two P&G people came up to me to thank me. They really liked the presentation and agreed with what I had to say. The thing is, they turned their badges around so I couldn’t see who they were at P&G, only saying they worked in the marketing department. Then they added, “You’re absolutely right, but we can’t do anything about it.” This is something I heard a lot over the years, and even just heard recently this Spring involving a very large part of our government you would never think of when you think of being obsessed with social media, but they totally are.

Now, P&G is out there fighting the good fight. They’re more or less saying what I was saying, calling out the fraudsters and bullshit online metrics. I’m not going to lie, this stresses me out.

I’m thrilled! But … I’m also stressed. These days when people hear the title of my book, they laugh and they’re open to learning more about it. But man, it’s easy to forget but I had to eat so much shit when the book first came out. No one wanted to hear it. Not (many) journalists, media outlets, tech companies, VCs, marketing people, advertising agencies, you name it and I had a hard sell to make to all of them.

It’s nice to be proven right; Don’t get me wrong, and the fight is far from over too. Just one more example involving Sherly Sandberg that I saw TODAY: She’s featured in The Drum saying Facebook is going to show that digital ads (re: Facebook ads) “ring the cash register.

Motherfucker! Facebook has been saying that for almost a decade now! 

Yes, Facebook Ads can be useful for a lot of things. I don’t dispute that. For those of you on a budget, they’re less expensive than Google’s Adwords, they’re a good place to test copy, headlines, and image thumbnails, and depending on what you’re selling, you may see results from using them. All true.

But at the same time, Facebook often exaggerates about their numbers and reach.

Not to mention, for those of you who have run Facebook ads, you’ll notice that their system punishes you the longer you run an advertising campaign with them. If you run an advertisement that’s successful, pretty soon you’ll notice the ads are less and less effective and you have to pay more money to get better results for the same ad — Yes, you should change up your copy and call to action, but people do need to see the same brand/ad multiple times before it even sticks in their head.

So if you’re constantly forced to change your ad because Facebook wants you to put more money into their slot machine, it’s a challenge to actually build a brand within Facebook’s system. Unless money is no object, which is all they really care about. Even though most of Facebook’s growth is occurring overseas, the majority of the advertising dollars they need to collect come from the United States and Canada.

Facebook wants agencies and big brands with big budgets that can drop $500k-$1M a month and don’t even care about the results as long as all those soft metrics are reached. Everyone else be damned.

So if you run something that’s successful, pretty soon you’ll notice the ads are less and less effective and you have to pay more money to get better, or even equivalent results to what you were getting when the campaign started.

And then there’s the whole debate about whether or not page views / unique users are actually great results to hang your hat on. Business Insider actually just came out agreeing with me that those numbers, after a certain point, are meaningless.

Growth for growth’s sake is stupid as long as you can pay your bills and turn a nice profit.


You Don’t Get Points For Being First

You don’t get points in life for being right or even being first. That was one of the big lessons I took away from “Social Media is Bullshit.” P&G heard me say stuff that they’re now saying publicly five years ago. I didn’t get a medal — although I think I’d look pretty sweet with one.

There’s a common misconception that you have to be first, but that’s not actually the case. You have to be first in your customer’s mind, not first to market.

YouTube was not the first online video service, it was just way more awesome than the previous one. Dropbox was not the first online hard drive. Nintendo was not the first home video game console maker. Airbnb was not the first peer to peer home sharing service. The New York Times was not the first newspaper in New York City. LinkedIn was not the first business / professional social network. Facebook was not the first social network. Windows and Mac OS were not the first operating systems to use graphics as part of the user interface. Netscape was not the first web browser to use graphics.

This list is pretty extensive, but you get the point.

The difference between the first companies and successful ones I named is that they were so much better than what came before them. Being so much better than the competition allowed them to became the first in their target customer’s head.

Whatever came before that product didn’t matter. So much so that if you ask most people today if Facebook was the first social network, a lot of people would say yes. But they weren’t. They were almost a decade late to the social networking game. They just had a way better product than MySpace.

(If you want to read more about why being first in mind, not first to market, is important, I highly recommend the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. You can see my notes on the book here.)

So, take it from me. I tell you all this because when I hear people say “You gotta be first” my skin crawls. Dude, I was first. I was five years ahead of where the marketing world is now with what P&G is doing. It doesn’t matter if you’re first.

Just be better. 10X better is what the startup people like to say. That comes from Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One, and he’s right. You know what I did wrong that I regret a lot? I could have done a better job with SMIB, but I didn’t. So it made a dent, but it didn’t break open the advertising and marketing industries liked I hoped it would. It wasn’t 10X better than books that came out around it. But you bet your ass that I learned my lesson and the next one sure will be.

Focus On One Thing

Alright. Second thing and this is why I’m actually frustrated. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Good stuff. Positive stuff. But for those of you who freelance, whether it’s consulting or writing, you know there’s a lot of hurry up and wait that goes on.

You have good talks, good ideas, everyone is excited, but what people don’t tell you about freelancing is that you only get to work on your schedule when everything is all set and running. Otherwise, you’re waiting around on other people’s schedules. And while you may think you have the most important thing in the world to do, the odds are good you don’t rate too highly on the to do list of others because they have A TON of more important things to worry about.

(If they didn’t, why would they hire you in the first place?)

So, you wait. And when you wait, you have to keep your attention from wandering. This is where I often get into trouble.

I’m very calm and patient about most things in my life, but when it comes to my career I’m a lot like Bojack Horseman in “Stupid Piece of Shit.” I get that little voice gnawing away at me. I don’t like to wait because there are things I want to do. That little voice has always been there, but it got worse after I almost died (and it’s the reason I see a therapist. Believe me, when you crash and see nothing on the other end, your brain immediately goes, “I want to do ALL THE THINGS” when it comes back on.)

Allow me to let you deeper inside my head for a moment, so you understand what these things are I want to do.

My current goal is to write for Marvel Comics within the next three years. So, what does that mean? It’s seemingly impossible to break into the comics industry, especially if you’re just a writer.

So, you can publish your own comics (check!),  you can go to industry conferences (check!), and you can write for industry publications (almost everyone I used to work with at now works for comic companies like DC.)

And … you can take a major swing for the fences.

You can do what I just did and pitch a self-help book, disguised as a graphic novel, to major publishers and hope one of them picks it up.

Then, if one of the publishers does pick it up, you can hopefully generate enough heat (re: Press and media attention) to the point where the people at other publishers (Image, IDW, Boom, Archie, ect.) will want to work with you.

The way that breaks down, at least in my mind …

  1. Year one: You write, and get paid for, self-help columns for a major media outlet (check!). You pitch a self-help graphic novel to your agent (check) and hopefully, you can sell the darn thing.
  2. Year two: Your graphic novel gets finished and published while you continue writing your self-help column, and then you write for other places and start doing media appearances to promote your stuff. At this point, hopefully, one of the smaller publishers will be happy and receptive to work with you, and they put you on a book like Ghostbusters or Sonic the Hedgehog. Something that’s already pre-sold to the audience because of what the comic is based on so that people are going to take a risk on a “new” comic writer.
  3. Year three: You do a kick-ass job on Ghostbusters to the point where an editor at Marvel is like, “I like your stuff. Pitch me your idea for Deadpool.” (If you’ve read Social Media is Bullshit, you know I’d be AWESOME at writing Deadpool, although I really, really want to write Guardians (the original team, not the movie team …), Darkhawk, X-Men, and New Fantastic Four. In other words, shit I read in the ’90s when I first started reading Marvel.)

I tell you all this because if there’s something you want to do, the odds are good you can (probably) take a shot at doing it. The trick is that you have to think long term and follow the plan, knowing you won’t see immediate results. Shit, if I’m being brutally honest, you might not see results for an entire year. And that’s really hard when you’re impatient.

This, by the way, is also where everyone fucks up. Not just me. Sometimes, it’s for logical reasons. You’ve got the MBAs and data people making so many decisions now, and while those decisions aren’t always bad, they’re almost exclusively made at the detriment of long term thinking and solutions. Sometimes, it’s for illogical reasons, like a voice in your head that’s constantly kicking you to do more better now faster.

Branding is a long term play. Trying to crack into a notoriously difficult industry like Comics is a long term play. The plan I showed you above will take me three years to do. And that assumes everything runs on time.

It may not. It may take longer.

So you have to maintain your focus on this one thing. The second you start trying to do other things is where you mess up.

Like right now? I just sent Peter 9 pages of a new comic while we’re waiting to hear back from my agent. This is what I need to focus on: Comics. But that voice in my head says, “Ok now let’s pitch a TV show! Let’s write a screenplay!”

Every moment of your free time, not dedicated to friends and family, should be dedicated to getting better at the thing you want to do, and being ready for the opportunity when it comes.

The second a comics editor at any of the companies comes to me, I want to be able to show them all these comics. I don’t want to sit there and go, “Uh … I have great ideas!” Shit, we all have great ideas, but too few of us put them into a fixed form.

That’s the way I want you to think. It’s the way I need to think too, so don’t think I’m some guru or anything like that. But it’d be great if we can think like that together.

Wanting to work on a bunch of stuff at once sounds great, but believe me, I’ve tried for years and years trying to spin multiple plates at once, and I found I was ok at most of them, but I could be amazing if I were to focus on just one of them.

So for me, it’s focusing on comic books. For you, it could be doing something else. But the important thing is to not be in a rush.

Don’t worry about being first. Or the guy you worked with getting to write for Marvel before you did. Worry about you and the thing you want to accomplish. And if the thing you’re working on is fantastic, room will be made for you. I very much believe that. And I hope I can get you to as well.