(There’s an audio edition of “Social Media Is Bullshit” in the works. For that reason, I am making the text of the revised audio edition available here, and later, in an e-book. I have one request, if you like what you read, I hope you will buy me a coffee.)
This is one of those things I’m going to repeat a lot because I want you to understand that purchasing a book on marketing can often be pointless. I mean, aside from buying this one, of course. And in my defense, we have dick jokes and fun asides about my love of women’s professional wrestling, and performers like Kris Wolf, Mia Yim, and Diamante. That alone should be worth the small price you paid to get this.
Let’s make it a rule going forward that unless the marketing book does something unique and exciting, you should not buy it.
An example of a great marketing book you could buy, aside from anything written by The Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman, is “Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth” by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. Weinberg is the founder of the DuckDuckGo search engine, which I mentioned in my privacy book. I also really liked “Known” by Mark Schaefer. These books offer a more tactical approach for startups and entrepreneurs, which is uncommon in marketing books. They were not written to get the attention of multibillion-dollar corporations, which we’ll discuss here in this chapter.
An example of what not to buy is anything written by Gary Vaynerchuk, or that has “Growth Hacking” (or some variation of “growth hacking”) in the title. I’m looking at you, “Hacking Growth.” The growth hacking trend has since died down, but you should still be cautious of the term and anyone who uses it. For those of you not familiar with the term “growth hacking”, it became the replacement term for “Social Media Marketing” not long after “Social Media Is Bullshit” first came out.
Also: These days, most of the social media marketers I talked about in this book have gone on to remake themselves into podcasting experts and “Futurists.” Futurists is another bullshit term to look out for. The odds are good most “Futurists” know as much about Artificial Intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, the blockchain, and self-driving cars as Alf. And the odds are good most of you reading this have no idea what Alf is. Let alone that he died in the most gruesome series finale ever aired on a television program meant for children.
Everything, when it comes to marketing, is situational. If you’re working on launching a cryptocurrency, which is what I’m doing as I write this, what you’re going to need to market that product is entirely different from what you’re going to need to launch a comic book. That’s something else I’m working on. So right away you can see that how you market and promote one of your products is going to be completely different from how you promote another one of your products.
A quick example: There is a robust and healthy podcasting community in the comic book world, and so I’ve spent 90% of my efforts on getting booked on geek and nerd culture podcasts to promote my comics. With the cryptocurrency, although I’m signed to an NDA, I can tell you that podcasts don’t fall into the marketing mix at all. Each product requires a different set of skills, tools, and tactics. Seems like common sense, right?
Now, imagine trying to give the same cookie cutter advice that you’d give to someone opening a bake shop in Vermont to someone launching a cryptocurrency, and you’ll see what the problem is with most marketing books.
Bottom line: There’s no way for me or anyone to give you an effective marketing strategy that’s also going to work for the next person who reads or listens to this.
I want to repeat this point because if you’re reading or listening to this, or any marketing book, you’re probably looking for answers to a specific problem. A problem that we, as marketing authors, can’t give you a solution to. Marketing is entirely situational. What worked for me, or what works for you, may not work for your friends, coworkers, or clients. And just for fun, what worked for me today might not work for me tomorrow.
When Social Media Is Bullshit first launched in the Fall of 2012, there was an entire ecosystem of independent bloggers that I could go to get reviews, interviews, and other coverage from. Today, that ecosystem is almost entirely non-existent. The world is continually changing, so the odds are good that even if you do encounter good marketing advice out there, it has a very limited shelf-life. The only honest answer I or anyone can give you in the marketing world is this: “It depends.”
Let’s go back to 2008 for a second. I’m young; I’m scared that I’m going to fuck up this new marriage, and Amanda and I are suffering from the consequences of The Great Recession. If you do what I used to get clients, that is repeating what the big boys and girls in marketing are saying, that may score you some points in attracting clients. But. Parroting what other people are saying will do nothing to keep those clients or make them refer you to others. That’s bad. Referrals are the lifeblood of any consulting business. You can have the best ideas in the world, but if nobody is referring their friends and coworkers to you, you’re screwed.
Can I pause here for a second? I’m only working on the crypto thing because a friend of mine is doing it. I know him, trust him, and believe he will take and act on my advice. I don’t do consulting anymore outside of this project, so please do not contact me about it. That’s something that happened a lot when Social Media Is Bullshit first came out, and I’d like to put a stop to that before it starts again with this revised edition. I’m more than happy to come do a presentation for you, because that’s how I make my living and I have bills to pay like anyone else, but I don’t do the consulting thing anymore. Instead, you should contact Melissa Joy Kong, whom I’ve worked with on and off for the past few years. Everyone that works with Melissa describes her as a force of nature, which is a quality I love. So, don’t contact me to do any consulting, please. I don’t do that anymore. If you want to hire someone, hire Melissa. Like any good millennial, she can be found on Instagram or Twitter at @melissajoykong.
Ok. Let’s resume. So why write this book in the first place? Alternatively, why write any marketing book given everything I’ve shared with you so far? The best any marketing author can do is give you the basics and tell you what they’ve learned. That’s what I’m going to do throughout this book. Unfortunately, almost none of my contemporaries do that. What they do instead is hand out bad advice, often based on little evidence, and then sprinkle some buzzwords and useless theory on top for good measure. Moreover, when they’re done, they’ll try to upsell you on their other services. The blatant upselling is most apparent when the author will spend the entire book explaining why you should use something, but then never tell you how. Of course, they’re not going to tell you how. They want your money!
To most business and marketing authors, the point of writing a book in the first place is to sell you on their services. To others, like me, the end is to share with you our research and what we’ve learned so we can then move on to other topics. I almost died between versions of this book. Do you think I want to talk about marketing for the rest of my life? Fuck no! I want to write comic books and movies. I’m only revising this thing because going into 2019, this is the book I get asked about revising the most. So, I’m just giving the people what they want, you know?
Thanks in no small part to the litany of mistakes I’ve made, enough to fill a whole other book I want to call Astonishing Tales Of Mediocrity, I know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing. Don’t be too impressed. Almost nothing works, or more often than not, works the way you think it will.
Unless you have a multimillion-dollar marketing budget and a healthy offline media presence, almost nothing you do outside of the basics is going to help. How did I come to this conclusion? You name the platform, and I can tell you I’ve used it to promote something and failed horribly and hilariously at doing so. And if you’re reading a book called Social Media Is Bullshit, I’m willing to bet you’ve had a similar experience.
For the record: I’ve also had many successes, but the truth is, failure is the best teacher, and so I choose to focus on those failures throughout this book and in presentations.
One more thing about consulting. The fact that I’m not an active consultant is great because I learned taking your fee out of the equation is the only way to give someone honest advice that’s going to be useful. When you’re In an actual consulting role, you get all of the blame and none of the credit. You can also be guaranteed that your client will only listen to half of what you say, and that’s just if they like what they hear. Although you don’t have to lie to your clients necessarily, you do also have to walk on eggshells with them to make sure they keep paying you.
I also think some of those frustrations with consulting are also why marketing authors focus their books on advice that only works for large corporations like Pepsi. If they know consulting can suck, then they’re going to try to get as much money as they can for the time. However, I’m going to tell you a secret. One that’ll crack this whole marketing nut wide open for everyone.
Most Marketing Advice Is Bullshit Beyond …
1) Make a good product.
The product doesn’t necessarily have to solve a problem, but it probably should because that’s the most natural thing to sell to a stranger.
Remember that the thing most people are interested in is themselves. So solving a problem for them helps to put you and your product on their radar screen. Here’s an example: People know that marketing, both online and off, doesn’t often work the way it’s described in most marketing books. So they have a problem since they’re looking for advice on the marketing front.
The solution is to write a marketing book that not only helps them, but also explains why none of those marketing books, and advice, were helpful in the first place. This way they don’t feel stupid. Sounds silly, right? But this is something I heard from many people while traveling across America to promote this book. People told me they felt stupid and that something was wrong with them because they tried the advice in these other books and found none of it worked. They didn’t say anything or ask for help because they didn’t want to look dumb in front of their peers, so instead, they suffered quietly. You’re not stupid. There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s something wrong with the marketing industry and most of the advice that’s being packaged and sold to you.
2) Make your product easy to open, easy to understand, easy to use, and easy to share.
Not only do people put themselves first, but anything that takes time away from them doing so is dangerous. Even if you do solve a customer’s problem, if the solution isn’t easy to dive into, understand, and act on, you’re going to have an unhappy customer.
That’s why I wrote the privacy book.
The problem was that people were very concerned about their privacy and what’s being done with their data. The solution was to write a book to explain what was going on.
However, here’s the twist: Most privacy books suck.
They’re only good for killing giant bugs and giving your cat something to lay on because, while they do provide a solution, they’re also utterly impenetrable to the average reader. So, the answer has to go a step further and be easy to open, understand, and use in addition to solving the problem. If the product does all those things, it will also be easier to share, because people will be thrilled that you solved their problem so well.
3) Make people get behind your product by giving them a story to invest in.
Oh man. I can write a book and fill it on branding run amok, but here’s the gist of it: Story, like content and brand, is a heavily abused term in the marketing world. However, unlike social media and “content”, “story” is a useful term because it does provide you with a competitive advantage. Most products can, and will, be duplicated and mimicked in some way. Especially the successful ones. In fact, I’ll go a step further and tell you that if you solve someone’s problem and do it well enough that they understand and tell others about it, you can bet your ass someone is going to copy it.
So why should your customer stick with you over someone else? It’s the story. It’s what your product says about the person using it. If you have any doubt about this, look at all the people who go to get coffee at Starbucks when there is a neighboring coffee shop on the same block that has better, cheaper coffee. Alternatively, as much as I dislike using Apple as an example for anything because it’s been beaten to death as one, look at all the people who buy Apple laptops. They do so despite there being better, faster, and less expensive laptops that do the same thing as the ones Apple sells you. The fact is, story matters, whether we like to admit it or not.
4) Make adjustments to improve your product, without sacrificing its identity and losing why people like it in the first place.
Avoid feature creep (or adding features to have them and not because they serve any real purpose.)
This is a problem that occurs once you’re successful. You see people copying you and you want to stay competitive in a changing world. So, the solution is usually to get greedy and alter what works, more often than not, to then watch those alterations blow up in your face. A great example of this is most in-car GPS devices that have had to battle against Google Maps and Apple Maps for your attention. The GPS makers keep cramming in new features to stay ahead and sacrificing usability in the process. Don’t do that. Stick with what works. If you need to change, you launch a new product. You don’t replace the existing one.
Let’s go back to my love of women’s professional wrestling to illustrate this. I can often be seen wearing a Diamante t-shirt during my presentations. I do this for a few reasons. First, because she’s cool as hell. Second, I have a rule about not dressing the way marketing people do, because I think if I wore a suit and tie, that would be incongruous with being the author of a book called “Social Media Is Bullshit.” And finally, Diamante is a great example of launching a new product, or in this case, relaunching yourself. (And yes, you count as a product. When I say product in this book, that word just refers to anything you’re looking to sell, which could include yourself.)
Diamante had wrestled on the independent scene as Angel Rose for a few years. And like most men and women in professional wrestling, she was attractive and good at what she did. Things that are needed to be successful in an industry powered by television. But I don’t think she quite stood out from the crowd under the Angel Rose persona. So a few years later, she reinvented herself as Diamante, the only female member of the tough as nails street gang inspired wrestling group known as LAX. (It would take way, way too long for me to go into the history of LAX and all its members. You just need to know that Diamante is the only girl in the group because her character is that much of a badass.) After the change, Diamante came to the ring holding the Cuban flag and had a bandana obscuring part of her face. It’s visually a great look and something not seen among many, if any, of the active women’s wrestlers today. The talent and the good looks were still there, but in repackaging herself, there was now a persona that stood out from the crowd and could captivate a television audience.
Angel Rose never went away as a character also. But instead of trying to keep up with everyone and over complicate Angel Rose’s presentation to do so, Diamante was launched as a new, distinctive character (or product). And that character became popular and can now be seen every week on Impact Wrestling. So, remember the lesson here of Diamante. If you want to change your product or relaunch it, don’t go messing with what works. Launch something new and keep the other product going as long as it sells. If anything, the contrast between the Diamante character and the Angel Rose character makes the Angel character more interesting. Especially to people that have now invested in the success of the Diamante character. You now want to see the performer succeed at everything she does.
Now Let’s Talk About Your Grandmother … And Pepsi
Think of your Grandmother for a second. Whether or not something is a “good” product is subjective, but if you’re able to explain what your product is to her in a way that she understands (to borrow from Einstein), and if she wants and can use it without your assistance, you’ve done all the marketing you need. Same goes for Grandpa. I’m not singling out your grandmother here. If Grandpa can open your packaging and immediately understand what the product is, what it does, and why it’s useful, you’re in business. Especially if both Grandma and Grandpa like the product so much that they, unprompted by you, go and tell others about it.
Now you know what to say to everyone else when talking about your product. To get to that point, you need to ask questions and make adjustments where needed. Does she understand what the thing is and how to use it? If not, why, and can you address that? Does she think the price you’re offering is reasonable for what you’re selling? If she were to hear a story about what you’re selling on the news, would she be interested in it? That’s the kind of stuff you need to figure out, and that’s the reason almost every marketer falls back on using “The Grandma Rule” to explain how you should approach marketing your products. That’s all marketing is: Making Grandma happy. And unless you’re a fucking monster, you always want to make your grandmother happy.
Here’s something you can try at home: Crispin Porter and Bogusky is an advertising agency that I’ve done some work with in the past. One of the things they used to have their new employees do is write a press release for a product that doesn’t exist yet. The idea being, if you can’t sell the damn thing, why are you making it in the first place? I encourage you to try this with whatever you’re selling. Go online, find a press release template (they’re out there, and there’s plenty of free advice on how to write one, so don’t go paying for anything), and write a press release for the product you want to sell.
When you’re done, give the press release to your grandmother, or if you’re like me and all your grandparents are dead, give it to your parents. See if they would be interested in buying this product. If the answer is no, go back to the drawing board and do this exercise again until you get a yes.
Now let’s talk about Pepsi …
If you could figure out how to pitch your grandmother, the rest is … ok. It’s not easy. There is nothing easy in this line of work except bullshitting. There are millions of other factors involved, a lot of which are things beyond your control like luck, timing, and the continually changing perception and attitudes of your customers. Marketing is more Whac-A-Mole than High Striker. (You know, the game where you hit the thing with the hammer, and if you hit it hard enough, the bell rings and you win a prize? That’s High Striker.)
There’s no way of giving people a sound strategy that will work universally beyond the basics like “If Grandpa gets it, everyone else will too.” And, as mentioned, what might have worked six months ago may or may not work six months later. If marketing authors were honest, they’d tell you there’s nothing you can do about any of that. You just try your best and work with what you have.
The problem is that you can’t sustain an entire industry on something that’s going to be subjective, and frankly, impossible to figure out without knowing the specific context, timing, and millions of other factors that go into getting the word out about whatever it is you’re selling. What’s going to make Grandma happy? I don’t know. As it turns out, there is no ideal Grandma. They’re all different. Some of them might even be racist. There’s a certain level of gut instinct that you will develop the more you study people and marketing tactics. I don’t know how to describe this, and I know it’ll infuriate my quantitative friends, but over time you will develop a gut instinct that can guide you to the right tactics as long as you keep your mind open and talk to your potential customers.
And, I can’t stress this enough, you need to go and talk to people. Everyone you can. Professor Steve Blank at Stanford University refers to this as “Getting out of the building.” And although this idea is so stinking obvious that I rolled my eyes when I first read that line from him, it’s true, and far too few people actually do this. What’s going to make grandma happy? GO ASK HER! Then talk to other people in her age range. Do the work man!
Er, sorry. I feel passionate about how lazy people are when it comes to marketing efforts. It’s probably the single biggest point of failure that’s within your power to control and fix. So I get worked up when people complain their efforts aren’t working and they haven’t even bothered talking to their target customers, to begin with. Especially some of the Internet dipshits out there who think the Internet and its various platforms accurate reflect reality. As we’ll discuss later, it doesn’t.
The thing is, people don’t want to pay for “I don’t know, you figure it out.” Lucky for marketing authors, their audience isn’t people, to begin with. They’re corporations. Some of this is out of necessity. One book publisher, John Wiley & Sons, asks marketing authors to commit to buying a set number of books as part of the book deal with them. If you can’t buy those books, they won’t work with you. This puts many marketing authors in a position where they have to focus their material on corporations because corporations can commit to buying those books in bulk. And bulk book purchasing is a huge deal.
That’s how most marketing books make it onto the New York Times Bestsellers list. Either they bulk purchased thousands of copies of their publication in some way, or a company like Pepsi bulk bought a few thousand books to give to all their employees during the book’s presale stage. When you’re looking at The New York Times Best Sellers list, look carefully for the dagger or any other indication like an asterisk, which the Times uses to indicate this sort of suspected bulk purchasing. Most business and marketing books that proclaim themselves to be New York Times Bestsellers are often total frauds for this reason alone.
For the most part, though, the reason the marketing industry targets the corporations is not a necessity, but greed. So, most marketing advice isn’t geared toward how to make this imaginary grandma happy. It’s geared toward what research-based advisory firm, the Altimeter Group, described as an “enterprise-class corporation”: Businesses with a thousand employees or more.
However, what works for an enterprise-class corporation won’t work for you. You don’t have the investment people make in large companies or their products that come from years, and millions of dollars spent, on marketing and having people hear stories about those products in the media.
Do you remember hearing about the “NASCAR Dads” during the 2004 presidential election? They represented an important base that could have won John Kerry the presidency, and probably did if you want to forget what went down in Ohio with those voting machines. However, the important thing for our purposes is that this group of people was referred to as NASCAR Dads. Not Southern Dads. Not Bubbas. Not Rednecks. NASCAR Dads.
Although not all of them watched NASCAR, it was assumed that most did by the media’s political pundits. There was an implied investment among members of that group in NASCAR that can only come from a considerable amount of time and money invested in the brand. An investment that comes from being exposed to something for a sustained period, knowing other people who are into it, getting invested in the careers of the drivers, or having some other emotional attachment that can’t easily be replicated by a small business, artist, and entrepreneur.
This is important for you to know: Most people like what they like because other people like it. The odds are good that because I told you I like Kris Wolf, Mia Yim, and Diamante at the start of this chapter, that means more than a few of you are going to be inclined to like them as well if you’re into professional wrestling. I called this Nickelback Syndrome in 2012, but you can easily swap out Nickelback with some other thing that’s popular today for no apparent reason. Do you know someone who likes Nickelback? Unless you reside in the year 2002, you probably don’t. However, they’re incredibly popular because we all think everyone else likes them, and so we then pretend to like them to feel accepted.
The most important thing to someone may be themselves, but the second most important thing is what other people think about them. If Nickelback, the Kardashians, or Taylor Swift is popular, you or someone you know is very likely to like that thing too because doing so makes you part of the group. We all want to be part of the group because humans are herd animals. Don’t take my word for it, feel free to consult your local behavioral psychologist if you have any questions about this.
To get people to invest in you and your product the way they do with things like the NFL, that means you need to reach a critical mass that, in most cases, requires a big budget, lots of time, people who know what they’re doing, and media exposure. Little of which you can do on your own successfully, but these are all things that can be easily accomplished by large corporations.
Popular Culture also hasn’t been kind to products that don’t belong to these corporations, thanks in no small part to television shows, movies, and online video, being funded by those very same companies. For example, let’s look at the remaining major Hollywood studios: Universal Studios, Columbia Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures / Touchstone Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, and Warner Brothers Pictures are owned by Comcast, SONY, Disney, News Corp, Viacom, and Time Warner respectively. And at the time of this writing in 2018, Disney had a deal in place to purchase Fox, and AT&T was set to gobble up Time Warner. Verizon is also said to be on the prowl to buy a major media company, and studio as well. Pretty soon we’ll have fewer media companies that are all owned by companies that want to sell you things, all while bashing the things they don’t want you to buy.
All of these studios also rely on other corporations, in part, to fund their products through product placement. Did you ever notice how stuff that isn’t a name brand is treated poorly in most movies? That’s not a coincidence. A ton of money goes into product placement, especially in this day and age where people can quickly skip the commercials. This puts a premium on product integration into the things people do stick around to watch. That’s why the WWE just made a couple of billion dollars with their most recent television deals. New Fox (the remains of Fox that would not be owned by Disney) and Comcast wanted the seemingly millions of hours of live television the WWE produces each week. Regardless of how bad those shows are, and sometimes Raw and Smackdown can be the drizzling shits, at least four million American wrestling fans will tune in to watch WWE live like clockwork each and every week. And wouldn’t you know it, but the thing that’s popping up a lot now on Raw and Smackdown are … You guessed it, product integrations with brands like Kentucky Fried Creature, or whatever it is we’re calling KFC these days.
People get devoted to products with loads of mainstream attention and their corporate owners who have money to buy and amass more and more of that attention. This, in turn, leads to a spillover effect on the Internet with something that accessible through traditional media. It should come as zero surprise to anyone reading this that the most popular videos and personalities on any given Internet platform are usually associated with something that belongs to a major company or is getting hyped in the media. Even Twitch streamers who suddenly become popular overnight are still associating themselves with a hot new game that they didn’t make, and a game that is getting heavily promoted while they do their gameplay stream. There’s no secret to success on the Internet. In some ways, there never was. Before it was good press coverage during the first Dot Com Bubble, now it’s riding the coattails of whatever the media is hyping up.
But here’s the thing. Marketers, can’t just come out and say, “I wrote this book for Pepsi, but buy it anyway because if it sells, I can charge them more as a speaker and consultant.” No one would buy that book. Not even Pepsi. So instead they try to make their book appear like it’s going to be useful to you, which is where all that bad advice originates. Now they need to fill those book pages!
And it’s hard to fill 230 pages when the generic stuff, the stuff that works, takes up less than a chapter or two.
Still, a guy like Malcolm Gladwell, whose books sell ideas that have no relation to your business, or reality, routinely makes between eighty and ninety-thousand dollars for his speeches. Shit, I feel bad charging $8,000, which is what I charge for a presentation these days. I also cover all my travel, lodging, and pay for books for everyone in attendance. I bet you Gladwell doesn’t do that shit! Could you imagine the balls on that guy to charge $90,000 plus to talk about stuff he got wrong and misinterpreted in the first place?
Put another way: Don’t buy books from Malcolm Gladwell. Alternatively, do buy those books, but then do a Google search to find whom he pissed off this time by misinterpreting their work in his new book. The results for The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers are hilarious. Ok. Wait. One more thing on Gladwell. You remember how I was talking about our obsession with credentials?
You might be wondering why he continues to get to write books that are completely wrong about the things they’re about. Gladwell writes for The New Yorker, meaning other members of the media will pay attention to him because he’s been vouched as being part of their tribe. The New Yorker’s credibility allows Gladwell to write, and sell, books through the coverage he gets by virtue of his role there. It’s not fair, but life isn’t fair. That’s just the way the media ecosystem works. And yet another reason why you should be highly suspect of some of the so called “experts” out there. As it turns out, you don’t have to be an expert at anything these days, you just have to work for the right people. For further proof of this, check out how often you see journalists interviewing other journalists instead of people who work in those fields the journalists write about. This is very common when it comes to social media and the Internet.
I don’t have a problem with Gladwell as a person. I think if most people were being honest, and they found a way to exploit a dumb system to make themselves rich, most of us would do the same thing.
Where my problem rests is that other people see what the Gladwell and Vaynerchuks of the world charge, the kind of fawning media coverage they get, and then follow suit, selling their big ideas of questionable value to these corporations. All while pretending to talk about your needs and mine. Their bad advice then trickles down and pollutes our water, causing a lot of people to waste their hard earned time and money. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know too many struggling artists, not-for-profits, or a mom and pop store with millions of dollars to waste on Snapchat to promote themselves. Do you? And yet, here we are. It’s going to be 2019 soon and people are still throwing their money at this stuff.
This isn’t a behavior limited to the marketing world. Do I need to say more than “Cambridge Analytica” to my friends in 2018? There’s a great example of a company that offered nothing new to its clients but dressed itself up in the guise of being data gurus that got Donald Trump elected president. Spoiler Alert: Data didn’t get Donald Trump elected. If data decided the 2016 presidential election alone, Clinton would have won easily given the robust nature of her campaign’s data gathering process. What won Trump the presidency in 2016 was that Clinton, regardless of what you may think of her as a person, was a terrible candidate for America in 2016. One who compounded this problem by not focusing on … You guessed it, the offline stuff. Her entire campaign was “I’m not Donald Trump.” There was no clear message as to what she was going to do once she got into office, other than the same generic soundbites most Democratic presidential nominees dole out in every election cycle. The Clinton campaign, as described by people on the ground working for it, didn’t focus on the stuff that matters when it comes to marketing, specifically in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. And that was the old school, door to door, offline marketing that you need in the first place to get the online stuff working. Had Clinton done so, we would be living in a different world right now. This is fact. And facts are facts, regardless of how screwed up and exploitable our media ecosystem is.
Regardless of the industry, the book deals, TV appearances, six-figure speaking engagements, and high priced consulting fees act as a financial incentive to those looking for a piece of the action to distort reality. This is done by making up data and buzzwords, hopping the bandwagon of emerging platforms without proven results, and flat out lying to companies and customers to get their business. Collectively, this is what Harry G. Frankfurt, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Princeton University, would describe as “bullshit.” “When an honest man speaks,” Frankfurt said, “he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the truth nor the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and the liar are, except insofar in that they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”
Big Data and Social Media Are Bullshit
The general bits of advice I’m going to give you in this book have all been said before. In fact, they’ll be told again and again and again until the anti-christ appears in the form of a six-headed Ryan Reynolds.
This is because marketing books are self-help books for people with money.
And, as a quick aside, self-help books are for people who don’t want to read the Bible.
Fun fact: The entire history of the self-help movement can be traced back to a sort of religious revivalist movement that followed the Civil War among Protestants. So if you ever wondered why some self-help books get all Jesus-y, or the advice sounds like common sense or things you’ve heard before, it’s because you have. Self-help books today, as America and the World have moved more and more away from religion, are mostly the useful parts of the Bible presented in a palpable way for Atheists like me.
It’s true. Remember: One of the things people suck at as a species is predicting the future. We’re also terrible at knowing things. Our expertise only goes so far because we’re distracted and busy with our own shit. So it goes back to that 5% thing I mentioned, which isn’t just right in the marketing world, it’s right for everyone. Only about 5% of humans know what they’re doing, and maybe 4% of those have no interest in helping others out for whatever reason. So we’re dependent on the 1% to fill that gap, but that 1% may be filled with assholes. Just ask all the political pundits covering the 2016 presidential election on both sides too. We’re not as smart as we think we are.
Comedian and podcaster Adam Carolla said it best when he told Marc Maron on “WTF With Marc Maron” that what people need to get things done is someone to get in their face like a Drill Sergeant. As he pointed out earlier in the show, this is because “As human beings were sort of capable of amazing feats and or just rolling around in our filth eating Funions and watching cable. I can do nothing, or I can do anything.” That’s exactly why guys like Gary Vaynerchuck, and Dale Carnegie before him, are so popular. They’re not saying anything new or anything you don’t already know. They’re just providing external validation people need to get things done. However, that doesn’t make everything they say useful. For example, since 2003, when “The Universal Break-Up Card” column went viral, I got emails like the following on a weekly basis:
“In Gary Vaynerchuck’s The Thank You Economy, he said, ‘If you’ve already experimented with social media and it didn’t work, there are only two possible reasons: Your product or service isn’t any good, or you’re doing it wrong.’ I’m doing the rest of the stuff this, and the other marketing books tell me, and it’s still not working. Am I doing it wrong?”
No. He’s just an asshole. You’re not doing it wrong. Marketing, as simple as it is, is also difficult to execute because the ground beneath us is always shifting. The non-general advice, the stuff marketers, pad their books and speeches with after they’ve given you the good generic information and the pat on the back, is wrong.
Once marketers get passed “work hard, network, etcetera, etcetera.” they like to do one of two things to pad their books and speeches. Be specific about using certain tools (which points you to methods that might be wrong for you), or be vague and general to the point where you’re not sure what to use, but you’re sure it’s going to be awesome when you figure it out. Hey, remember when everyone was going to “pivot to video” just because Facebook was rewarding videos posted in its system with more reach? That’s precisely what I’m talking about here. Many marketers doubled down on this advice despite it being dangerous, expensive, and useless for most people to follow. They didn’t care. Why? Because if Pepsi wasted a couple of million on Facebook videos, they can then spin that and call it a win by talking about how “innovative” Facebook is in AdAge.
Back in 2008, I wasted a lot of time and money, mine and others’, on “social media strategies” that I thought worked. It wasn’t until the seventh or eighth time that I realized, “You know what? Maybe it isn’t me. Maybe it’s the tools I’m using. Maybe what these marketers say I can accomplish using them isn’t true?”
So, in following the advice of Steven Blank, I started to ask around. First I spoke to other content creators. Then I began to talk to people who understand the culture of the Web and how things spread. I spoke to the men and women whose aggregators used to be the difference between one hundred YouTube views and a million, and countless others. Within those interviews, my research, and experience utilizing every Web platform and tool that has rolled out since 1998, I started to reach one inescapable conclusion: Social media bullshit. (And so is most forms of marketing too.)
If you’re wondering about advertising and where that all fits in, let me say this: If you throw enough money at anything, like Facebook advertisements, you’re going to see results. The same is true for advertising online and off. So I don’t talk much about advertising for that reason. Advertising is great, if you have money, and it’s something you must do. You have no choice. However, the good news is that, if you’re on a limited budget, there’s a whole bunch of free stuff you can do first before you spend money on advertising. That’s what I focus on here in this book. And as far as Facebook Ads go, the thing I always tell people is that there are probably better, cheaper, and less creepy ways to reach your customers than using Facebook.
So, this book is a funny, honest take on the myth of social media, the people who fuel that myth, and the last marketing book you will ever need to own. Here I’ll explain why social media, as we’ve been lead to understand it by marketers, doesn’t exist. Then we’ll take a look at the machinery that makes this bullshit spread with an examination of The Asshole Based Economy. Finally, we’ll look at the basics everyone needs to know about marketing. I’ve bought hundreds of these books over the years and was pissed after finishing most of them because they managed to say absolutely nothing for 230 pages. This book was engineered to be a different kind of marketing book, one that will tell the truth, save you money, and hopefully make you laugh along the way.
Now that you know everything there is to know about me and why this book exists, let us talk about the myth of social media. Its one thing to declare something to be bullshit and point out the flaws, it’s another to show it doesn’t exist in the first place.