Social Media: Transcript of B.J. Mendelson’s Canada Now Appearance with Jeff Sammut

(The following is the full transcript of my appearance on Canada Now with Jeff Sammut over on SiriusXM radio station. You can listen to my awesome interview with Jeff here as an mp3. The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and ease of reading.)

Jeff Sammut: He’s a keynote speaker and author. One of his books is called Social Media is BS. B.J. Mendelson joins Canada now, and B.J., I don’t think the title of your book accurately explains what you actually think about social media. Can you expand on that? (laughs)

B.J. Mendelson:  (laughs) Sure.

Jeff Sammut: (laughs)

B.J. Mendelson: Jeez, where do I start?

Jeff Sammut:  (laughs) I’ll help you.

B.J. Mendelson:  I mean, I’m …

Jeff Sammut: Well, I’ll help you. You had built … Let’s start with this, you’d built an unsuccessful national breast cancer outreach tour-

B.J. Mendelson: Yeah.

Jeff Sammut: … Around the advice given by prominent social media marketers. Then, success the following year doing the same tour again, and doing the exact opposite of their advice. So take us back to then. What happened there?

B.J. Mendelson: Sure. Uh, so everyone you could think of, like, a Gary Vaynerchuk or Chris Brogan or whatever, I read all those books. I was a true believer in social media. I was like, “Oh, my God, this stuff is amazing and wonderful.” And so I built this entire breast cancer outreach tour, built entirely around, like, Twitter and Facebook, and thinking, “Oh, my God, that’ll be the best thing ever,” ’cause at the time I had about 900,000+ followers on Twitter. And so I was like, “Okay, well, if each of those people donated a dollar this thing is a success before we even start.”

B.J. Mendelson: So we go out, we’re traveling around the country. It’s my ex-wife and I. And nobody’s coming out to see us. And we’re like, “Wait a second. You know, isn’t social media supposed to bring us closer together? Isn’t Twitter supposed to be, like, that thing that connects us to these other people?” So we were traveling around, no one was coming out to see us, and — let me ask you, how much money do you think we raised when we stopped and started asking people to donate to charity?

Jeff Sammut: Hmm, given how many followers you had? Uh …

B.J. Mendelson: Yeah.

Jeff Sammut: I’ll guess 100,000.

B.J. Mendelson: Lower.

Jeff Sammut:  50.

B.J. Mendelson: Lower.

Jeff Sammut: 10.

B.J. Mendelson: Lower.

Jeff Sammut: Five!

B.J. Mendelson: A dollar.

Jeff Sammut:  Get out of here! I was-

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs)

Jeff Sammut:  (laughs) I wasn’t that far off.

B.J. Mendelson: Yeah, I mean, like, you and everyone else. ‘Cause I always tell that story, and they’re- they’re like, “Oh, you raised over a million dollars!” But like, nope! (laughs) Not even close.

Jeff Sammut: Yeah.

B.J. Mendelson: And I saw that same thing again years later, with my book, where when- when Social Media is BS came out, I was like, “All right, well, you know, maybe they just weren’t charity people, you know, like maybe they, it was the wrong audience. So all right, well, here’s this cool book, and all these people think I’m relatively funny, I think, or I hope …”

Jeff Sammut: (laughs)

B.J. Mendelson: Uh, so how many of them do you think purchased the book.

Jeff Sammut:  Hmm. One!

B.J. Mendelson:  (laughs)

Jeff Sammut:  I’m gonna say one. I’m gonna, I’m gonna go with the other answer.

B.J. Mendelson: You’re off, you’re off by 27. (laughs)

Jeff Sammut:  (laughs) That’s- that’s not that much. (laughs) Uh, if you say that … that- that- that isn’t that much.

B.J. Mendelson:  No.

Jeff Sammut:  But obviously you’ve sold, uh, more books than that.

B.J. Mendelson:  Yes.

Jeff Sammut:  Yeah.

B.J. Mendelson: I sold about 7,000 or so copies in the United States. It did, it did pretty well in Canada. For whatever reason, I have a large Canadian audience.

Jeff Sammut:  Hmm.

B.J. Mendelson:  I- I don’t quite know why, but I- I love every second of it. So yeah, the book went on to do very well. And the reason why is because … when I went and did the tour again, I was like, “All right, what do I know actually works?” And that all boils down to word of mouth marketing, which is just getting people to go out and do the advertising for you. And that could include social media, so like, that doesn’t rule out necessarily the platforms, but it’s people doing the pushing for you, as opposed to you running around trying to get everyone to do, uh, to buy your stuff.

Jeff Sammut: Well, would this be a lesson in balance, like, not putting all your eggs into the social media basket?

B.J. Mendelson: It would be. I think that you can’t take any of the tools off the table. And that’s- that’s what I’ve been telling people for the past … Oh, jeez, I think it’s going on six years (laughs) now that I’ve been doing this.

And it’s not to say that Facebook is bad, or YouTube is bad. It’s just the way we think about it has traditionally been bad. And it’s only recently now, in the United States especially where that’s starting to turn a bit, and people are like, “Oh, wait. Uh, you mean if I have 100,000 Twitter followers, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be the next big thing? Oh, crap, what do I do?” (laughs)

B.J. Mendelson: And so what you do is, you know, a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B, and you just hustle. And I- I hate saying that, ’cause it sounds so empty and vague, but the people that work their butt off are the people that are getting the most successful, regardless of the medium that they choose to use.

Jeff Sammut:  Yeah. What’s … what’s the backlash been like from social media experts?

B.J. Mendelson: You know, it’s funny that … Uh, there’s a quote, and I’m gonna, I’m gonna mess it up, but it- it’s one of those, like, “At first they laugh at you, and then they fight you, uh, then you win.” It- it’s something like that.

Jeff Sammut: (laughs)

B.J. Mendelson: And that’s basically what happened, where the book came out, and people were, like, taking pictures of themselves giving me the middle finger, uh, holding the book.

Jeff Sammut:  Oh, really!

B.J. Mendelson:  (laughs) yeah, it was …

Jeff Sammut: Those are good ads for the book. (laughs)

B.J. Mendelson:  Yeah! I thought that was great.

Jeff Sammut:  (laughs)

B.J. Mendelson: There was one person who put it in the garbage. There was another who lit it on fire. So um, there was a pretty (laughs) pretty big reaction to the book when it first came out, among that crowd, that was negative. But then as the years went on, I found more and more, those people were quoting me.

Jeff Sammut: Hmm.

B.J. Mendelson: But they weren’t attributing me or my book. So they were, like, lifting lines wholesale from Social Media is BS and putting it in their stuff, which is fine. Uh, but that’s- that’s sort of what he response was, you know, they’ve got … First they- they didn’t want to believe it, ’cause the book was early, you know, that’s something people don’t realize is the book was written in 2011, so when you say “Social media is BS,” today in 2018, they go, “Duh, you know, of course.”

Jeff Sammut:  Yeah.

B.J. Mendelson: But when you, when you were saying what I was saying back in 2011, 2012, people just didn’t want to hear it. They thought it was magic.

Jeff Sammut:  Yeah. Well, what are some of the biggest myths about social media?

B.J. Mendelson: So the biggest thing is that you have an equal voice that’s equivalent to, like, a CNN. I don’t know if anyone, it’s- it’s going back a while now, but it, uh, there was three people racing CNN to a million followers on Twitter.

Jeff Sammut: (laughs)

B.J. Mendelson: One of them was Ashton Kutcher, another one was Oprah, and then I was number three behind that. Uh, so it’s a little historical footnote. (laughs)

Jeff Sammut:  Wow!

B.J. Mendelson: Yeah, that gets lost in that shuffle. I guess I’m not as cool as Ashton.

Jeff Sammut: (laughs)

B.J. Mendelson: But you know, he was on TV, uh, and I’m not as good looking, of course, but-

Jeff Sammut: No, not even close.

B.J. Mendelson: … so he was on TV … No, not even, it’s not even, like, I’m- I’m tall and gangly, and it’s- it’s kind of a horror show

Jeff Sammut: Oh, no, I meant-

B.J. Mendelson:  Oh.

Jeff Sammut:  … no, I meant the, I meant, I mean the other way. I meant you’ve got him beat.

B.J. Mendelson:  Oh, well, thank you. (laughs)

Jeff Sammut:  (laughs)

B.J. Mendelson: So yeah, he was out there telling people, “Look, if you start, uh, a blog or a podcast or- or any of these things online, then that gives you an equal voice to, like, a CBC or a BBC or a CBS.” And a lot of people thought that was true for really a long time.

And then that translates, like the Huffington Post telling people, “Hey, if you contribute to the Huffington Post for free, uh, we’ll give you the same kind of coverage and attention that, like, Alec Baldwin gets when he writes for us.” So a lot of people really bought into that myth, and it turns out that all that did was enrich companies like AOL and Arianna Huffington, and other people that were using like a sharecropper model, almost, of having people blog and tweet for free on their behalf in exchange for exposure. Uh, and the exposure just wasn’t there. So that’s- that’s like the biggest myth.

B.J. Mendelson: The second myth is- is just that people thought, “If I’m a small business, I put all my eggs in one basket and buy Facebook ads, that I’m going to save my business and get people through the door.” And Facebook ads can work, but not always, and there are less creepy ways to do it. And so a lot of people wasted billions of dollars on- on social media ads, and often found little to no results.

Jeff Sammut:  Hmm. But so why has it become so important in the marketing field?

B.J. Mendelson: l, I can’t swear on here so … (laughs) The honest answer is just that people don’t … it- it’s either that people are evil or people are greedy, and I’ll- I’ll leave it up to the audience to decide which is which.

But in advertising since the 1880s, when this first became a field, nobody really had any idea of what worked and what didn’t. And so you’re going way over 100 years where we’re still in the situation of, “I- I don’t know what works.” I mean, there is no agency in the world that will tell you with a straight face that Snapchat advertising works. Like, that they can prove 100% that that works.

Jeff Sammut:  Hmm.

B.J. Mendelson: And so it’s a whole lot of, “All right, well, if I go into a meeting …” Uh, let me give you an example. So a very large broadcast network in the United States was launching this- this show which turned out to be pretty popular. And they came to me and they’re like, “Hey, can you give us a strategy to launch the show? Like, what can you do to really got some buzz on?” And so I came up with this whole thing with, uh, back … using AR technology, back before AR was a buzzword. And they were like, “No no no no no, we just want Snapchat. Snapchat is this big amazing thing. Everyone thinks it works, so that’s what we want.”

B.J. Mendelson: So you get a lot of people who do things because other people are doing things, without necessarily understanding, if you want to assume that they don’t know any better, that the stuff doesn’t work the way they think it does.

Or if they’re greedy, that they just don’t want to turn down the billions and billions of dollars that they get from the large brand and companies, who were told to spend their marketing budget, because if they don’t spend it, they’re not gonna get that money to spend next year.

Jeff Sammut:  Hmm. So what does … one basically have to know about using the internet to expand their business, and to grow their brand, and to connect with customers?

B.J. Mendelson: Yeah, I mean, it sounds … I- I hate giving this advice, ’cause it sounds so simple, and then people are like, “Well, duh, that’s obvious.” But it, just keep it simple.

And I’ll give you a great example. Like, right now … So I’m doing reach-out for my new book, you know, “The End of Privacy”, which people could find at yourprivacybook.com. And as I’m going through these lists, I have like thousands of people to reach out to, and a lot of them are like, “All right, well, we got this podcast, and the podcast is a little bit of geek culture, but it’s also about art history and classical music,” and it’s like, “Whoa, um, which one are you? What are you trying to cover? Like, you’re doing too many things.”

And that’s sort of what the biggest problem is that everyone encounters on the internet, is they’re trying to do way too much and it confuses potential audience members.

B.J. Mendelson: And I have this rule, where if your grandmother and grandfather don’t understand what you do, and you … that means you haven’t explained it to them properly. And if your grandmother and grandfather get it, great, then you can go out and tell the public what it is that you do. But if they don’t get it you need to stop and go back to square one. And a lot of us just skip that step, where we just come out guns blazing, we’ve got all this crazy stuff going on, and it’s hard because people are very busy. Like, people, we have the attention span of a gnat, you know? So-

Jeff Sammut:  Yeah.

B.J. Mendelson: For us, on the internet, to really pay attention to what you’re doing, you have to boil it down and make it so simple. Like, for with the privacy book, I made the pitch very simple. “Facebook is getting billions of dollars for your data. Why aren’t you getting a cut of that?” it’s a very simple pitch. And- and a lot of people don’t do that. So I- if, I know again it sounds basic, but that’s the best advice I can possibly give you, is if it’s simple and people like it, they will pass it on on their own. But you gotta keep it simple.

Jeff Sammut: Well, I- I think that’s a great idea, because very often I’ll have an idea, and if I can’t explain to my mom, um, then she’s, then I forget about it, because … you know.

B.J. Mendelson: Right.

Jeff Sammut:  (laughs)

B.J. Mendelson: And- and who’s gonna be a better advocate for you than your mom?

Jeff Sammut:  That’s right. That’s right. So if she’s not gonna sell it on my part, then how am I gonna get everybody else to buy into it? So I think that’s, that- that’s fantastic advice.

Go to bjmendelson.com, while you’re at it, author of Social Media is BS. B.J. Mendelson. B.J., I really appreciate this. Thanks for reaching out, and I’m glad we had you, and uh, we’ll talk again.

B.J. Mendelson: Yeah, it was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Jeff Sammut:  Thank you very much.