Fun with OCD

Fun with OCD

You wouldn’t know it unless I told you, but I’ve written over five thousand words today and deleted all of it. I’d like to think that makes me a great writer. Like Ernest Hemingway who once said, “I write one page of masterpiece to 91 pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” But that’s not the case with me. I take the shit, and the masterpiece, to the nearest incinerator and watch it burn. You see, I have OCD.

And because I have this wonderfully annoying condition, I have a lot of anxiety and the kind of crippling self-doubt I wouldn’t wish on anyone. So I delete what I’m working on and try again. And again. And again. And maybe, I produce something worth sharing. But more often than not I don’t think so, and the cycle repeats until I lose interest and go and do something else.

If you’re wondering why it’s taking me so long to write another book, now you know.

Well, technically, I DID write another book, but it was a ghostwritten thing, so it doesn’t count. It’s good. You should read it. I’m convinced you’ll hear about it in the not too distant future if the release isn’t botched, but that’s not in my hands.

Anyway, for years I’ve joked about having OCD, but it was never officially diagnosed, and I didn’t want to do anything to treat it out of fear it’d keep me from being funny. Because make no mistake, there’s no secret to writing jokes. You just keep sharpening the idea that you have until it’s just right and then you go test it out, tweaking what you need to until it’s gold. OCD is handy there.

But OCD isn’t handy for much else, and my personal life has been a mess for an extraordinarily long time. Definitely since 2012 when I got divorced and used traveling around the world and living out of hotel rooms as an excuse to not deal with my shit, but if I’m honest, my personal life has been a disaster since forever.

Put me in a professional setting, whether it’s onstage talking to thousands of people or in a conference room with one, and I’m awesome. Put me out on a date, or with someone that I don’t need to sell anything to? Forget it. Can’t do it. I’m completely withdrawn.

This year (March 2016 to now) has not been good. Some of it is my fault, some of it is not, but in life one of the things you figure out real fast is that you can’t waste time thinking about things beyond your control. You can work to mitigate potential problems or engineer things to increase the odds of your success, but after a certain point, you can only do so much, and it’s up to other people. And other people can be dumb and irrational.

So, I’ve decided to work on the things I can control.

I’ve been using Talkspace for almost six months now. It’s an app that lets you text a therapist and even do a weekly video chat with them depending on what plan you have. The video chat feature is nice, except it immediately cuts you and your therapist off at 30 minutes, even if something important is going on. So that can be deeply frustrating because you’re spending as much time talking and listening as you are watching the clock and hoping it won’t cut you off. A good therapist won’t do that to you in person. They’ll know when to stop the session, but they’ll at least finish the thought or discussion before closing things down. The Talkspace app doesn’t do that because it was built by “tech people” and tech people don’t care about how we interact with each other as humans. They only care about scale and efficiency.

Despite that technical annoyance, I like the therapist I have, and honestly, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to have health insurance, so TalkSpace is a pretty good solution for me at the moment. Even if I think I need to see someone in person regularly (and I think I do. So does the therapist.)

So at the therapist’s urging, I finally did make an in-person appointment with a psychiatrist just recently. She confirmed that I do in fact have OCD, so it’s no longer just a running joke. She also recommended I take something for it, which I’ve been doing. It’s been a week, and I know it takes like a month to see a difference, so I’m optimistic. I’m not so thrilled about the side effects, but given that dating is off the table while I’m stranded in upstate New York, that’s fine. I’m not going to sweat it.

Why am I telling you all this?

I believe that talking about depression and mental health is important. The odds are good that someone you know is affected by it in some way.

But I also think this has been a huge problem for me over the years. This condition has harmed my writing and ability to produce a much-demanded follow-up to “Social Media is Bullshit,” and my relationships with a lot of people. So, you should know what the deal is.

I’m not going to lie to you. I was at a Barnes & Noble in Union Square on Thursday, and I saw multiple books from people who had released their first book after mine came out in 2012. This was deeply frustrating. I’d like to write more, but I’ve got this problem I’m trying to solve.

I also had wanted to write about depression and startups here on this blog, but I’m honestly not feeling so hot about startups and tech people these days. It’s going to take an extreme amount of convincing to get me even to consider working with another tech company again.

That means if I want to talk about depression and OCD, talking from the perspective of startups or a startup founder isn’t something that appeals to me anymore.

But talking about it from the viewpoint of someone whose new book leans hard into self-help / self-guidance while giving marketing advice, then it does make sense to share all this here with you. Because we’re now at the point where I’m going to (attempt) to write and post ideas and concepts found in the new book so I can test them out and see what sticks.

I also believe that posting about this stuff could be helpful to you, because if I can, with help, get past whatever obstacles I’m facing and put out the second book, given the complete and total lack of resources that I have at my disposal presently, then there’s no excuse for you, you know? You can do the same.

So, let’s do it together.

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Need To Focus? Try This One Simple Trick

Need To Focus? Try This One Simple Trick

There are a lot of things I’m pretty bad at. Dating is one of them. Making sure I stay focused and on task is another. But wouldn’t you know it, while out on a date with this awesome woman, I learned something from her that’s gone a long way to keeping me focused and on task.

Now, fair warning, there are a ton of tips out there about how to be better at getting things done. It’s the best kind of click bait. Who doesn’t want to believe that by adjusting the order in which you do certain tasks or waking up one hour earlier you could quadruple your income or guarantee yourself a date with Ryan Reynolds?

We’ve all fallen under the spell of the productivity content genre. I have! Do you have any idea how many Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday books I’ve read? (Spoiler alert: All of them.) So for that reason, I’m not going to bore you with a lot of that sort of content here at Roosterly. I also don’t want you to take this advice as anything more than something cool I observed in the wild that I thought was smart and useful to my fellow mammals. Results may vary. Buyer beware. Yadda yadda yadda.

So What’s The Trick?

The productivity tip that has helped me most is simply remembering to be productive — with the aid of a regular productivity alarm. I know, I know. Something else to beep at you and make you crazy throughout the day, but hear me out.

On my date, I noticed that at the top of each hour, her phone would go off. The first time it happened I didn’t think anything of it because when you’re out with someone who checks every box on your future partner wish list, you’re oblivious to everything. The second time though I made a joke and asked if that was her escape from bad dates. She laughed and told me that it was an alarm that she has on her phone, set for the top of every hour that serves as a reminder to keep her productive.

That is genius.

Think about how often throughout the day you get sidetracked by something not related to what you’re supposed to be doing. Or something you want to be doing, but then complain later that you don’t have time to get to it. It happens to all of us. That’s the world we live in now. It’s nobody’s fault, but in the rush of notifications and things to distract ourselves with, there isn’t often something set up to remind us, “Hey, you probably should be productive right now and not watch six more hours of “The Shield” on Hulu.”

After the date, I went home and tried it out.

The Productivity Alarm

If you have a smartphone, and the odds are good you do if you’re visiting us at Roosterly, all you need is the default clock app that comes with your phone. Using the alarm feature on my iPhone’s Clock app; I then set the alarm for the top of the hour from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (I’m usually in bed around 11 and like the last two hours of the day to be completely unstructured, so I don’t set the hourly alarm for 9 p.m., 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.)

The real power of the alarm is that it helps build a habit of following through and doing what you say you will. It got you out of your head and focused on tasks by providing a friendly little shove when you need it most. Of course, you have to let it work. It’s one thing to set all those alarms and then flake on them and not follow through on what the alarm is reminding you to do, but I encourage you to give this a try and see how it works.

I’ve already seen the results. In addition to my work for Roosterly, I’m also writing a comic book and working on a fiction novel. There’s no way I’d be able to do all three, let alone trying to find Wife #2 and read the disgusting mountain of unread books that’s slowly beginning to take over my room if I didn’t have something keeping me on task. And since I have trouble with people telling me what to do, the phone isn’t a person. In a lot of ways, our smartphones have become extensions of ourselves, so I don’t greet its alarms and reminders to stay on task the same way I would if it was another person. (You might not want to admit it, but I suspect this may be true for a lot of us reading this.)

15 Minutes with B.J. Mendelson: Mike Sacks

15 Minutes with B.J. Mendelson: Mike Sacks

Hey

 

The podcast took a week off because I was in Chicago, but we’re back today with Mike Sacks. Mike is one of my favorite writers on the Internet, a fellow author, and an editor over at Vanity Fair. Naturally, we didn’t talk about any of that, because this podcast is 15 Minutes or less and we only focus on the best advice someone has ever received (and the best advice they want to share.)

So, hopefully you’ll enjoy it regardless. There are three more episodes in the works and then I’ll start recording the next batch soon. Given that I’m currently out of work, I have nothing but time on my hands.

Show Notes

One major thing to point out: The sound quality via Skype is not great. So at some point I’m going to upgrade back to Zoom.Us and record these, but for now, hang with me since these first six episodes are meant to be an experiment. And when you experiment, you tend not to want to spend a bunch of money on things. (Also: I recorded them all already so … too late now to fix it.)

You can listen to previous episodes of the podcast here. 

You can also check out Mike here over on his website and here on Twitter at @MichaelBSacks

Mike is responsible for the creation of two books I absolutely love, “And Here’s The Kicker” and “Poking the Dead Frog”. I think you should buy both and I hope you get as much value from them as I did in learning from all the comedy legends Mike interviews in both books. The first book, “And Here’s The Kicker” is one of very few books I kept from my old life back in Glens Falls, New Yorker. I must have donated a couple of hundred books, if not more, and “And Here’s The Kicker” was one of very few I retained.

Mike Sacks on the Importance of Showing Up On Time

B.J. Mendelson: What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever gotten?

Mike Sacks: Well, I would say two pieces of advice. One is, I used to work at a record store for in suburban Maryland and Virginia calledKemp Mill Records. It was a small chain, a local chain, in that area. And I worked there for when I was, from 15 to 25 off and on for Christmases, holiday, summer vacation, and such. And the best boss I ever had was someone whom I worked with there. His name is, is Bruce Lee. He was not Asian, he was a black man and he later became a very good friend.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs)

Mike Sacks: But he was the best boss I ever had. He gave me a lot of incredible advice that I later used when I went outside of retail into the professional world. And one piece of advice that he gave me that I thought in retrospect, I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but in retrospect I thought was great was that I … He was a stickler for people arriving on time. And the store opened at 10 o’clock and he wanted you there at 9:55. And I got there, I … Literally at 9:56 or 9:57 and he said, “You’re late.” And I said “No. I, I’m here on time.”

He, he said, “I asked you to come here at 9:55. It’s 9:57 right now.” And I said, “Yeah, but Bruce, that’s only two minutes.” He goes, “That may be the case but you’re late, and I don’t want it to happen again.” But, so what he was doing and showing me was that the respect you have to show for others and the respect you have to show for yourself and for your job is such that, even if it is a retail job in Maryland, you need to show up on time and you need to do what is necessary for the job.

And that’s something that I’ve, I hopefully have brought to writing and to everything else. If something is due on September 1st, I’m not gonna hand it in on September 2nd. I’m gonna hand it in on, either on August 31st or on September 1st. So it’s just showing people that you work with, and even now extending out to readers a respect that I think, I don’t wanna say it’s missing necessarily in a lot of jobs, but I do think that any job deserves respect. And by showing respect to the jobs and to yourself, that’s really the only way you’re going to grow and improve yourself in your position in employment and in a working world.

B.J. Mendelson: Now, let me ask you. Is that, is that hard to apply as a writer? Do you find sometimes that there’s, there’s either writer’s block or just a struggle that takes place where it’s kinda like, “Oh, I can, I could just write whenever”? So, do you …

Mike Sacks: Right, well that’s a good point. I mean, I, I do think that a common mistake among writers is, they look at themselves as being sort of like Emily Dickinson where they can work on a poem or a piece for as long as they want until it’s right.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs) Right.

Mike Sacks: But if you, if you’re writing professionally, you have to pull the trigger. And it’s, it’s never gonna be perfect. It’s never gonna be as good as you want it, but at a certain point, you have to turn that in. Someone is waiting for that piece. And I think that’s a good lesson in not only putting through that piece, but then moving onto another piece. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked with in writing where I haven’t seen them in a year or so. I ask them about what they’re working on, they’re working on the same exact thing that I had heard about the last time I was with them. I think it’s very important if you want to make a career in writing, to produce and to move forward, and not to stagnate and circle the drain.

Full Transcript

(You can listen to the whole show by clicking play. The transcript below has been lightly edited for readability purposes.)

B.J. Mendelson: Hey Mike, how you doing?

Mike Sacks: Hello?

B.J. Mendelson: Hey, can you hear me?

Mike Sacks: I can, yes.

B.J. Mendelson: Okay. (laughs) I just get a little nervous with Skype, you know. There’s always, like, that, is it gonna work this time feeling that I have. Uh, but so far, so good. (laughs)

Mike Sacks: Yeah, there’s always a wrinkle with Skype.

B.J. Mendelson: You know, it, it gets the job done and it’s cheap. So … (laughs)

Mike Sacks: Yeah, that’s my motto.

B.J. Mendelson: So, hey, why don’t you introduce yourself to our audience and tell us a little about yourself?

Mike Sacks: All right. My name is Mike Sacks. I work at Vanity Fair full time and I write books, articles. I have my own podcast called Doin’ it with Mike Sacks. That can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and most places where you can find podcasts. My last book is Poking a Dead Frog, Interviews with Comedy Writers. And my next book will be out in about two months. It’s a humor book.

B.J. Mendelson: That’s fantastic. What’s the title of that book?

Mike Sacks: I’d rather not say just yet, actually.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs)

Mike Sacks: But it, it’s sort of a … it takes place in the 1970s. I can say that.

B.J. Mendelson: That’s awesome. Are you of any … So this is, this is a tangent but, like, I’m sort of struggling right now with naming my next book.

Mike Sacks: Yeah.
B.J. Mendelson: I want to call it The Internet is Magic. But I’m having trouble, like … You know, I, I feel like a better title’s going to come along. Is at that sort of situation? Or are you just, are you using his title as, like, a PR thing?

Mike Sacks: No, it … The, the title’s definitely what it is.

B.J. Mendelson: Cool.

Mike Sacks: But I think the title would sort of give it away, and … I mean, I guess I could say it, but I- I’d rather just wait until the two months release. What’s your book about?

B.J. Mendelson: So, I’ve been traveling around for about five years and I keep getting the same two questions which is, “Okay, smart ass. Now what do I do?” And then other is where it’s like, “All right, well let’s say I work for a large magazine or I, I work for a radio station, and my boss loves social media and I have to use it. What should I do then?” So its just stuff that’s kinda been lingering in the back of my head and, keeps coming up. But, enough about me-

Mike Sacks: Well, do you find that a lot of people who aren’t familiar with media feel they have to use it just because it’s the in thing?

B.J. Mendelson: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I mean, I had this lady come up to me at a book signing, like, in tears because she opened a small business in Burlington and she put all of her money in social media.

Mike Sacks: Oh, no.

B.J. Mendelson: Yeah, because she thought that was the thing and so she was like, “You know, I’m really happy that you’re here ’cause I, I had all these doubts and everyone kept telling me this is the thing to do, and now you’re telling me I was right.” You know, so it was kinda bittersweet. But, I get that a lot. Like, it’s not just-

Mike Sacks: Well how, how does she put all her money in social me-, how does that work?

B.J. Mendelson: Well, that’s a good question. But, she decided that all of her dollars that she was gonna spend on advertising and promotion went to Facebook and Twitter and all that, and just didn’t, did not go well. But that, that story’s incredibly common. Like, I encounter that quite a bit on the road.

Mike Sacks: I encounter it all the time, too. And I hear about it from a lot of marketing types, publishers that, that are always saying, “You need to push on, on social media,” or say, “I won’t accept anyone as a client who doesn’t have 10,000 followers on Twitter.”
But it really doesn’t it doesn’t really break through for you as a writer, you know. It … Just because you have 10,000 followers doesn’t mean you’re gonna have 10,000 sales.

B.J. Mendelson: Right. Well, you know, I always give, I always give this example. I have about 700,000 Twitter followers, and I did a test when my first book came out. I wanted to see how many of them would actually buy the book through, through a direct link on Twitter. And the answer is 28.

Mike Sacks: Oh my god.

B.J. Mendelson: So …

Mike Sacks: That is horrifying. I mean, the-, what percentage is that, .02?

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs) Just, something a little, a little less than zero is how I like to describe it. But, yeah. No, so I, I use that example all the time, where it’s like, you know, ’cause I hear that. I hear a lot of friends of mine who are musicians who won’t get signed because they don’t have x amount of followers on, like, Snapchat and Instagram. And it’s just, it’s insane. But, let me, I mean, we could always, we could always chat about this a little later. I want to focus on you and some of the great advice that you might have. So, let me ask you, it’s the same three questions I ask everyone else.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever gotten?

Mike Sacks: Well, I would say two pieces of advice. One is, I used to work at a record store for in suburban Maryland and Virginia called Kentmo Records. It was a small chain, a local chain, in that area. And I worked there for when I was, from 15 to 25 off and on for Christmases, holiday, summer vacation, and such. And the best boss I ever had was someone whom I worked with there. His name is, is Bruce Lee. He was not Asian, he was a black man and he later became a very good friend.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs)

Mike Sacks: But he was the best boss I ever had. He gave me a lot of incredible advice that I later used when I went outside of retail into the professional world. And one piece of advice that he gave me that I thought in retrospect, I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but in retrospect I thought was great was that I … He was a stickler for people arriving on time. And the store opened at 10 o’clock and he wanted you there at 9:55. And I got there, I … Literally at 9:56 or 9:57 and he said, “You’re late.” And I said “No. I, I’m here on time.”
He, he said, “I asked you to come here at 9:55. It’s 9:57 right now.” And I said, “Yeah, but Bruce, that’s only two minutes.” He goes, “That may be the case but you’re late, and I don’t want it to happen again.” But, so what he was doing and showing me was that the respect you have to show for others and the respect you have to show for yourself and for your job is such that, even if it is a retail job in Maryland, you need to show up on time and you need to do what is necessary for the job.

And that’s something that I’ve, I hopefully have brought to writing and to everything else. If something is due on September 1st, I’m not gonna hand it in on September 2nd. I’m gonna hand it in on, either on August 31st or on September 1st. So it’s just showing people that you work with, and even now extending out to readers a respect that I think, I don’t wanna say it’s missing necessarily in a lot of jobs, but I do think that any job deserves respect. And by showing respect to the jobs and to yourself, that’s really the only way you’re going to grow and improve yourself in your position in employment and in a working world.

B.J. Mendelson: Now, let me ask you. Is that, is that hard to apply as a writer? Do you find sometimes that there’s, there’s either writer’s block or just a struggle that takes place where it’s kinda like, “Oh, I can, I could just write whenever”? So, do you …

Mike Sacks: Right, well that’s a good point. I mean, I, I do think that a common mistake among writers is, they look at themselves as being sort of like Emily Dickinson where they can work on a poem or a piece for as long as they want until it’s right.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs) Right.

Mike Sacks: But if you, if you’re writing professionally, you have to pull the trigger. And it’s, it’s never gonna be perfect. It’s never gonna be as good as you want it, but at a certain point, you have to turn that in. Someone is waiting for that piece. And I think that’s a good lesson in not only putting through that piece, but then moving onto another piece. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked with in writing where I haven’t seen them in a year or so. I ask them about what they’re working on, they’re working on the same exact thing that I had heard about the last time I was with them. I think it’s very important if you want to make a career in writing, to produce and to move forward, and not to stagnate and circle the drain.

B.J. Mendelson: I agree. I mean, it’s something that I really struggled with over the years. So that’s, you know, 2017 I was kind of like, “Alright. I’m recommitted. We’re, we’re getting this book out and it’s, it’s happening.” (laughs) So, that’s, that’s fantastic advice. Now, let me ask you, so, if you had one thing you wanted to impart on the people listening to this, what would it be? What would be the advice you’d want to share with them?

Mike Sacks: Well, this is something I taught myself and that is what I would want to tell others is that in the end, you have to, you rely on no one but yourself. There’s gonna be no teachers who are going to walk you through life. In the end, you have to teach yourself, and you have to improve yourself. And there’s no rule book, there’s no writing book, there’s no course. There’s no online course, there’s nothing that is as important as you teaching yourself what works and what doesn’t work. Both in business and in the creative aspect of writing. And it really comes down to just sitting down and doing it, and experiencing as much life as possible. Because all these rules that you see about certain writers, like Hemingway would only write from 6:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and then go for a swim, then come back.

That worked for him. That’s not going to work for you, necessarily. There’s no magic elixir that’s going to make you a better writer, except figuring out and wending your way through this world by yourself. And it, it’s hard to do. It’s hard to create and forge your own path, but only you can do it. You cannot rely on anyone else. It’s a lonely feeling in a sense, but at the same time, you’re not relying on others and there is a freedom. You don’t have to rely on a boss. You don’t have to rely on this person or that person. It’s all on you, which is … There is a lot of pressure in that, but there’s also a lot of freedom in that it’s a valuable position to be in, and not everyone gets to be in that position.

B.J. Mendelson: I think it’s great, and it’s fantastic advice for writers. I mean, the thing I’m … The thing I struggle with right now is I’m looking at Tools of Titans from Tim Ferriss, and I’m just … And it’s exactly that. It’s like, all these different rules and things that these people have done, and I’m just thinking this, yeah. It, it works for you but it’s insane to, to say to someone, “Oh yeah, you should just ditch everything and go hiking through the mountains of Peru.” (laughs) You know, like, that’s …

Mike Sacks: Well, I think usually, if someone is teaching you that, it’s usually someone who can’t make a career of what they’re teaching. You know, I, I took a lot of lessons, courses right after college, taught by writers who couldn’t make a living at what they were teaching, whether it was TV writing or comedy writing or what have you. So you have to be very leery about taking advice. And in the end, what you’ll hear from successful writers across the board is, “Well, I don’t know what’ll work for you, but this worked for me.” And basically, what’s that, what that’s saying is that I had to figure this out on my own. No one else could tell me it. And in the end, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own. No one is going to give you … This is not a math equation where A plus B is going to equal C. It’s very murky and very nebulous, and you have to sort of wend your way through it.

B.J. Mendelson: I think that’s, I think that’s perfect. I think that’s great advice for us to kind of leave it there. So let me ask you, where can we find you online?

Mike Sacks: Okay, mikesacks.com, and then on Twitter, michaelbsacks, I think. And then Facebook, and I guess, anywhere that social media is used, and used for absolutely no reason.

B.J. Mendelson: (laughs) All right, I love it. Thank you so much, Mike.
Mike Sacks: All right. Well, thank you. I really appreciate it.

B.J. Mendelson: Yep. Catch you soon. Bye bye.

Mike Sacks: Thank you.

Why Most Stuff Online Sounds Exactly The Same

Why Most Stuff Online Sounds Exactly The Same

Do you ever find yourself reading something online that sounds a lot like other stuff you just read? Like the tone, sentence structure and tempo are completely indistinguishable from each other? I notice this A LOT. Sometimes I think I’m on “The Truman Show” and people are just regurgitating stuff because we all know Jim Carey can’t read. Of course, he can’t! All of his fellow students in that movie were actors pretending to be interested in him, and all his teachers ever did was tell him he’d die if he left town. You wouldn’t want to read either!

Then I remember that, although this universe very well could be a simulation, I’m not on “The Truman Show.” This is depressing because that means that the sameness is not my imagination. A lot of things published on the internet all look and sound the same. And it’s not just restricted to Geek Culture websites that I read every day. Although I swear to God if I see another video of some writer for a Geek Culture site wearing colorful sneakers, cargo shorts, a graphic tee, and a beard, I’m going to have to rethink how I dress. Seriously white guys in our thirties, get it together. If we all look the same while trying to be different, we ain’t different.

The media, mainstream and otherwise, also suffers from the same homogeneity problem, so don’t think I’m flinging feces exclusively at my fellow geeks and marketers, it’s a problem system wide across the internet. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is think back to the 2016 presidential election and how wrong the media was on Trump. The reporters are creating the news for us just didn’t pick up on key trends and attitudes. Why? Because they’re all pretty much the same — coming from the same parts of the country (NYC, LA, SF, D.C.) with similar socioeconomic backgrounds and degrees from the same Ivy League institutions. I joke about this a lot, but it’s true, for most people who live in New York City (and this includes a whole lot of journalists and media outlets), the world ends at the Lincoln Tunnel.

And so the content produced by those people looks and sounds the same. Another example: Marketing blogs and think pieces written by marketers. I dare you to read any marketing blog, or even the latest guest column in Adweek, and not look at who wrote it. Believe me, man or woman, you’re going to think it’s the same one or two people writing all those columns.

This is hilarious to me because marketing is about standing out from the crowd, and here we have an entire industry of people who sound like they’re all the same. How does that even work?

OK. OK. One more example. A lot of you might not care about marketers and journalists/bloggers. I know, because every time I pitch a book about those people I get the “Who gives a shit?” response from my agent, and he’s right! So here’s an example you will care about: YouTube Voice. Check out a lot of the stuff uploaded to YouTube by YouTube creators and close your eyes. The voices themselves may differ, but how they speak won’t. I’m not the only one to observe this. Linguistics professor Naomi Baron analyzed the properties of YouTube voice in a great piece in The Atlantic little ways back. “YouTube Voice” is essentially the overemphasis of words that hold people’s attention. And now that I’ve told you this, you won’t be able to unhear it. I’m not sorry.

It’s time to declare war on sameness

I’ve believed that smart marketing and using internet platforms effectively can bring you to a certain point of success, but you don’t need me to tell you there’s a glass ceiling you’ll eventually bump into after that. The odds are good most of you have smacked into that ceiling by now. Cracking the damn thing is going to take a lot more than one blog post, but I can give you a bit of advice here to get you started. And that advice is that you can’t sound, look or present like everyone else. The second you do that, what’s the point? You’re just another startup with some dumb corporate looking “me too” blog, you’re just another brand copying someone else’s gimmick, or you’re just running around shouting “me too” in some other way.

So “Don’t do what Donny Don’t Does.” Or if we’re pulling from the ‘90s well of confusing slogans, “Genesis does what Nintendon’t.”

The thing that sets people and brands apart are personality, and yes, brands should have personality. Don’t listen to the echo chamber of marketers who are all intent on building upon only what works instead of taking risks and encouraging uniqueness. (See: The ongoing discussion from marketers telling other marketers that the way Wendy handles their Twitter account is bad and you shouldn’t copy it.)

And don’t listen to the risk averse MBA and alleged startup gurus who don’t know how to quantify personality and marketing, and therefore want no part of it. History has proven again and again and again that multi-billion dollar companies, both in and out of tech, become multi-billion dollar companies because of great marketing and great PR. Uber, Amazon, Apple, Airbnb, Snapchat, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Nintendo, all say otherwise, and the list goes on. This “We don’t spend any money on advertising” / “marketing is stupid because we can’t quantify it” thing needs to die. I’m convinced this belief is why so many tech companies and startups tend to wipe out or just get bought by someone else as the end to their run, but again, that’s a different blog post. Maybe even a book. Or maybe a book I ghostwrote that’s coming out soon. Hint hint.

Now let’s say you’re not a company, but a person. What example can I give you? Take a look at Brain Pickings. The website is a masterpiece. But conceptually, few marketers would endorse the idea of a site that analyzes and curates from classical literature and philosophy. “No one has a concentration span for that,” they’d say. Don’t believe me? Just remember that the “conventional wisdom” from marketers is that nobody reads long articles. Or that nobody reads. Wrong.

On Brain Pickings, articles on the website often go way over the standard 500-800 words — The site has a strong following and has received several accolades, including being added to the Library of Congress permanent web archive. It’s decidedly not like anything else on the internet. It’s an honest reflection of the work and evolution of its author Maria Popova. In an interview on the podcast OnBeing, Popova said, the site “is really a record of my becoming who I am. And I started so early in my 20s.”

Only Popova can become who she is, which is why the website has such a fresh voice and feel, and really we are all better off when content is a true reflection of who we are and what we’re becoming. It doesn’t matter if you’re a person or a company. Bland business (and bland marketing) spells death. The content should be emotional and real (which often means NOT SAFE) because anything else is soul-crushing. It doesn’t help the reader, and it’s not elevating the content creators. So what’s the point?

There isn’t one! If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you’re wasting your time, and that’s the most valuable resource that you have. So stop doing that and follow Maria’s lead.

How Do I Make My App Go Viral?

How Do I Make My App Go Viral?

I’ve always liked Quora. It’s not sexy. Nobody talks about it much these days, but it’s a useful place to do some research. Or at the very least, start your research. I don’t think (like Wikipedia) that a visit to Quora should be the only research you do. But if you’re looking for a place to start? Quora isn’t a bad place to go. You can even find me on there answering a question every weekday morning.

I have this dumb morning routine that I do. Ear drops, mouthwash, stretch, say some affirmations in the mirror while trying not to feel like a douchebag for doing so,  use Headspace, read a comic (Currently it’s Marvel’s “Power Man and Iron Fist”), and answer a question on Quora.

All of those things are done with specific reasons behind them. I used to go to the gym regularly in the morning instead of this routine, but the gym here in Monroe is overrun by high school douchebags. The kind of steroid using high school football types that will get into their Mom’s truck and follow you to a gas station just so that they can yell “fag” at you from their window. (True story.)

Anyway, I try to write an answer every weekday morning on Quora in part to get my brain going, and also in part to help me work out some of the things I want to say in “The Internet is Magic.”

While I’m working on the book notes for “Start with Why” and this week’s podcast, I thought I’d post one of those answers here since it might be useful to you. Plus it’s a nice update to the post I did yesterday.

How Do I Make My App Go Viral?

This is one of those answers that probably would take a book to answer in such a way that you’d be satisfied with. That being said, I’ll give you the cliff notes version while encouraging you to read up on word-of-mouth marketing.

To get you started, these are my notes on “The Passion Conversation,” which is typically the starter book that I recommend on word-of-mouth.

OK, that said, here’s the least you need to know …

Most people quickly abandon an app either after they download it, or not long after. (Sometimes they delete it, sometimes it just lives cold and unloved on the phone’s home screen.)

So before you even go further ask yourself: Do I / Should I be working on an app, or is this better to do on another platform? This matters a lot because people are reluctant to share something that has barriers to entry. Even if your app is free, they still have to either find the thing or follow a link, download it, wait for it to load, then play with it. The fewer hoops people have to jump through, the more likely they are to A) Like something and B) Share it with others.

Let’s say they’ve jumped through the hoops. The next thing is: Is the app any good? You might think it’s good, but if it’s just “good,” nobody is going to share it. NOBODY. It has to be awesome. By awesome I mean, it has to give people an answer to the question, “Why the fuck do I care about this?” So you have to have a good story either baked into the app or around the app and you have to make sure the app is easy to understand, easy to use and easier to share. (All easier said than done. How do you answer these questions? THAT is the easy part: Talk to your customers and listen to their feedback. You won’t believe how few people actually ask questions of their customers in this day and age of our global obsession with data and metrics.)

So let’s assume your app is GREAT and you’ve given people a reason to care about it. Good news, people should now be passing it on. (That’s how you know it’s GREAT. If you see it organically being passed around, then you have a “viral” app. You might not have the numbers in your head that we associate with “viral,” but you’re halfway to where you want to be.

Now here’s the bad news. Most things you think of when you say “viral” really aren’t “viral.” Usually, there’s a lot of money or horse-trading going on behind the scenes to give something momentum and the appearance of “viral,” which leads to a little bit of a PR frenzy among media outlets which in turn push the product to the point of appearing like a viral phenomenon. There’s also the algorithms to contend with, so let’s talk about that, and then I’ll double back to this point.

Good news: Platforms are dumb and have algorithms that can easily be abused/manipulated. I say abused/manipulated because this view changes depending on how big of an asshole you are. The key takeaway though is that a lot of activity around your app, assuming that activity is legit or not an obvious attempt at manipulating the system, will activate a lot of the different platforms we have out there today, and when that happens, your product is pushed out more and more to other people.

(Caveat: What works today might not work tomorrow. Eventually, these systems will get smarter, but at the moment if you have significant traction among real people and inbound links/shares stemming from press coverage, it still seems to “lift” the product” in the way I’m describing.)

Here’s The Deal …

Here’s the deal: If you don’t have money to spend, the odds are good you’re not going to go viral in the way that you want. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you utilize all the connections you have, partner up with people and companies who can boost the presence of your app, and arrange for a lot of press, you raise your probability of success. Especially if all that stuff hits as soon as the app goes live (which is tricky sometimes because of Apple and Android doing things on their own schedule.)

PR and those strategic alliances are the keys to success. Nobody wants to admit it because it’s not “cool” among the tech crowd because it’s a thing they can’t quantify, but that’s how you “go viral,” assuming you’ve done everything else I’ve talked about here.

Going viral is just a lazy way to describe good PR because the constant coverage and mentions of the product are what’s driving that viral growth, more often than not.

Sometimes, something comes out of left field, and it goes viral in a truly organic sense, but nine times out of ten it’s either:

  1. Someone is spending a lot of money behind the scenes to make this thing look viral
  2. Someone has a lot of relationships they’re leveraging to get mentions, PR coverage, and people spreading their product for them.
  3. There’s an offline network driving the thing that you and I don’t know about. (Remember: Online influence is usually bullshit, but offline influence? That’s a whole other story depending on domain and context.

Do what I described here, and with some luck, you’ll have something actually go viral, just make sure you set your expectations accordingly given the resources you have to work with.

Tl;Dr kids: Tell a good story, make sure your product doesn’t suck, and do shit that doesn’t scale. Then tell the MBAs and Ivy League douchebags to take a hike. It’s time for the people who actually know what they’re doing to take over.

***

You can get answers from me almost every morning on Quora here.

A Reply To A VC-Funded San Francisco Based Startup

A Reply To A VC-Funded San Francisco Based Startup

I’ve been on the road this week. So while I work on getting the new podcast and book notes online, I thought I would post this in the interim.

Occasionally I get pitched to promote things for startups and tech companies, and even though it could be extra money for me, I don’t (usually) do it because I feel like I’m taking advantage of them.

So last night, when I got an email that had the subject line, “SF startup about to launch. Want to pay you $1,500 to try our app and tweet about us”, I decided to respond. This is the email (mostly) verbatim. I just took out any identifying details of the startup because I’m not posting this to poke fun at them. I’m posting it to illustrate a larger problem regarding how startups and tech companies want to promote themselves and the same mistakes (almost) all of them continue to make for the reasons I touch on here. I also made some tweaks to my reply, but nothing major.

Tl;Dr Despite the fact that 3 out of 4 startups fail, the tech world continues to be fixated with Ivy League douchebags, growth hacks, MBAs, and engineers who are all obsessed with doing things that they can measure so they can feel better about their small dicks and fragile egos. Going into 2017 and beyond, if these companies (and others who like to copy the tech world) want to succeed, they’re going to need to make some serious changes.

Their Letter

Hi BJ,

My name is ________ and I’m the director of strategy at _______________ , a VC-funded startup

We’re about to launch our product (… Use your imagination here.)

I’m reaching out because I’d love to hire you to try out the app and post a tweet about us during launch week, including a link to our app store pages.

If you’re interested, I would be thrilled to get on the phone this week and nail down the details.

We’re only about a week from launch so would love to connect as soon as you’re available. Please let me know if/when you have the time to talk.

All the best,
_____________

My Response

Hey ___________

This is a longer response than necessary, but I appreciate the offer and that you took the time to reach out. So, this is entirely unsolicited advice on my part. Do with it what you will, but I hope you find some of it useful …

I’m happy to take your money. $1,500 is nothing to sneeze at. I have to admit, though, I’m burnt out on dealing with tech people. I’m tired of interacting with Ivy League douchebags and individuals who think that marketing and advertising are something they don’t need to bother with. (Or don’t want to bother with because they’re not able to measure it in a way that appeases their fragile little egos.)

I don’t fault them for this belief. It comes, to a great extent, because they’ve been lied to by an assorted group of schmucks who have decided to retell the stories of how a lot of the Unicorns (past and present) got to where they are by conveniently leaving out the actual reasons they succeeded.

Spoiler alert: With a few exceptions, the rest of them got to where they are through marketing, networking, and PR. You know, things that don’t scale and therefore no one puts any effort into? Yeah. That’s how tech companies fucking win, but nobody sees that because they’re too busy letting pricks with MBAs and engineers fill their minds with concerns about scale and social media numbers instead of actual metrics that matter like, you know, customers and revenue.
If I were you? I wouldn’t do a big fuck all launch. I’d start small in a test market, see what people think, and if they like it, figure out a way to empower those people to do the marketing for you. And then launch in another market, and then another, and another, repeating the process. A big splash might get you some notice in TechCrunch, and I totally get that, but the coverage and subsequent bump aren’t going to matter much regarding getting your investors their money back.

If you’re a week away from launch and you’re just now doing Influencer outreach, you’re going to be in for a bumpy ride. Sure, you might score a quick win here or there to impress your investors and other assholes who think an MBA is all they need to make decisions for the rest of us, but this sort of outreach should be done way sooner. You want to build a relationship with people, not do this spray and pray thing. People buy you, they don’t buy the product. It’s hard to buy into you or anyone new to them with an ask in such a short amount of time, you know?

Sure my Tweet might send a signal to Google to index your site, and then it may also trigger Apple’s algorithm within iTunes if people download the thing, but your bigger concern should be getting rave reviews and a lot of sustained downloads and traffic from larger sources (see: the media) over a sustained period of time.

And then there’s this:  Internet-based Influencers don’t often have the ability to drive traffic and conversions the way a lot of people think they do. I’ve worked with a ton of ad agencies that will all tell you this same thing. My click-through ratio on Twitter is NOT great, but I get better results than other alleged Internet-based influencers for a simple reason: I boost my post as an advertisement whenever I do one of these things.

I’ll let you in on another secret. I wouldn’t lead with being a San Francisco-based startup that’s VC funded. That time is over. Now San Francisco tech companies are seen as greedy assholes who are making their city unaffordable and talking about saving the world in the same tone and sincerity that Trump uses when he says he wants to make America great again.

That might be totally unfair, but that’s the perception, and companies like Uber are not doing you any favors right now to change that.

These days people know that getting funded doesn’t mean shit since 9 out of 10 startups fail. You want to lead with the product and why it’s awesome, and _________ sounds awesome.

(Although you should know there was a (company with a similar name) that got big, briefly, by abusing/spamming Facebook’s algorithm and later got crushed when Facebook put a stop to that loophole they were exploiting. So … That’s awkward.)

The product should be so awesome; others WANT to share it with their friends and family. Lead with that. Lead with something that makes a deep emotional connection with someone. Silicon Valley does that, but not in a positive way outside of the valley.

This email sounds douchey, and it’s not meant to. I want you to succeed, I do. So if you’re a week away and looking to make this huge splash, I want to do my part as a complete and total stranger to encourage you to take a step back. Evaluate what you’re doing (and why), and then ask yourself if there’s a better path toward a bigger, more successful (and far more sustainable) future.

The answer is yes.

But hey, I’m also not going to say no to $1,500 either. Have you seen the size of the rats in Chicago? Trying to fight them off of the garbage can you’ve been eyeing to eat out of is a challenging task.

Book Notes: The Face-to-Face Book

Book Notes: The Face-to-Face Book

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.

Book Notes

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.

womma-2012-dave-kerpen-meltsdown

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.