Editor’s Note: We thought it would be nice to hear from a panelist at this year’s SXSWi conference, so we asked Social Media Is Bullshit (St. Martin’s Press) author B.J. Mendelson, who spoke on the ”marketing is bullshit” panel, to write us a post. “Nice” isn’t quite the right word to describe what he sent us. Enjoy!
I promised I would document some thoughts on my first South By South West (SXSW), but I can’t say my opinion is different leaving Austin than it was going in. And I know this will SHOCK YOU, coming from the guy who wrote Social Media Is Bullshit, but I tried to bring an open mind.
It, and when I say it or SXSW I mean exclusively the Interactive portion of SXSW, is a total clusterf$3k. There is no other word available in the English dictionary to describe it.
Believe me. I looked.
Picture all of the people and companies you hate … and now imagine them all in one place, jawing about their latest apps (re: toys for white people) and going to one panel after another featuring wormy presenters who got to present in the convention center because they figured out a long time ago that it’s easy to game the SXSW Panel Picker system. Now imagine them hanging out with you at the bar for hours after. Hell, right? Right.
(ProTip: Want to game the SXSW Panel Picker for 2014? 1. Propose a panel, not a solo presentation. 2. Get celebrities or notable figures in your industry to commit to being on that panel. 3. Get them to tell their network about that panel. 4. Get some media coverage, because really it should be easy to do so with the right people on your panel. 5. Watch the votes roll in!)
That’s not to say that everybody at SXSW sucks, but those cool people are outnumbered by the douchebags.
You know the ratio of humans to zombies in “The Walking Dead”? At SXSW, the zombies are the douchebags.
This brings me to @MitsubishiHvac and Colleen Hatman (@miss_Colleen). I did a panel at SXSW, and everyone was having a good time until the party took a turn for the douche (to borrow from Garfunkle and Oates.)
Now, every time I do a presentation or panel that involves Social Media Is Bullshit, there’s always one cowardly social media marketer who will go, “B.J. Mendelson is totally wrong and I have proof!” And of course, they don’t. They never do. This is because they haven’t read the book, and so they’re trying to disprove something they haven’t even read which … shouldn’t really come as a shock because we’re talking about social media marketers here.
That doesn’t stop them from trolling me though. But what was unusual here was that the smankers at these things are smart about not outing their brand when they try to fight with me.
I’ve been at conferences where people will actively turn their name badges around to argue with me, or more often than not, to tell me I’m right but that “they’ll get fired” for agreeing with me.
This time it was Colleen Hartman who wanted to try to PROVE ME WRONG about EVERYTHING! And she decided to throw the full weight of the Mitsubishi corporation behind her. Ok. Not the whole corporation. Just the one that makes air conditioners. Because hell hath no fury like an air conditioner division’s social media manager scorned … I guess.
And by doing this, in trying to disprove a book she hadn’t read, with evidence she failed to provide to people who asked and to me (after I called her out on it numerous times in the days following her trolling), embodied everything that’s wrong with SXSW.
Because now not only do I now associate Mitsubishi as a brand with her trolling, but that’s something I’m going to go and tell my friends about. I will never buy anything with the Mitsubishi name on it.
No matter what the outcome here is now, Mitsubishi looks really bad. Either for encouraging their employees to be trolls, or for employing incompetent people who can put their brand in jeopardy because they got butthurt over something that, in the end, is pretty asinine.
And let’s be clear, this is an asinine argument because most people have figured out that I’m deliberately grandstanding to generate discussion and debate and break up the cult like “social media is awesome” religious fervor that exists out there.
You can’t fight a cult with logic, you fight them by being just as crazy and stupid as they are.
What do you think I’ve been doing for the past six months?!
And to be clear YOU DO NOT WANT THIS SORT OF THING TO HAPPEN TO YOUR COMPANY AT SXSW! In fact, you don’t want this to happen ever because there’s a high probability that the person you were a douche to just now has a blog. Or writes for a place like SocialTimes. (Note: Whether or not people READ that blog is a different story, but when it involves a big brand, you can’t be dumb enough to make mistakes like this.)
Even though the interactive portion of the festival is mostly filled with alcoholic douchebags, a potential viral hotbed does form that increases the probability that something could (although rarely does) take off. So if you’re going to go to this festival, and I don’t think you should, but whatever, you should really be on your best behavior. Because when it comes to viral marketing, we can’t tell you with any certainty that something will or won’t go viral, but we can tell you what the probability is, and associating your brand with empty, moronic statements and empty promises as Colleen did for Mitsubishi has a high probability of spreading and damaging their reputation.
Plus when you factor in that I don’t back down from a fight until I win or cause that person to have a nervous breakdown, and Mitsubishi is a major brand, that increases the probability that others are going to jump in to the discussion if they smell page views, which in turn spreads the awareness of your douchery.
This is a lose-lose for Mitsubishi, and really, it’s not their fault for getting sucked up into this, it’s their employee’s SXSW douchery. Because now either Mitsubishi doesn’t release a case study PROVING ME WRONG and make their employees look like assholes, or they do, and they find that really they’re just proving me right because they don’t know what they’re trying to disprove in the first place. Also: I don’t really care. I’m a professional troll.
So what’s that have to do with SXSW? EVERYTHING! Really all Colleen did was prove my point that most of the people who go to SXSW are douchebags, which is why we’re talking about this in the first place. I had a run-in with a douchebag, which was totally expected.
So here’s the big lesson for SXSW that I learned and you should know: Don’t be a douche at SXSW because people will notice and they’re going to talk about it.
I know a lot of you are forced to go to SXSW, or just go to catch up with friends and don’t bother with the conference at all. Don’t worry! I’m not lobbying you in with the $h1t sandwich of douches that is SXSW. I get it. You get it (from the many people I talked to in this group). I’m not talking about you. I’m talking, mostly, about the social media crowd who is unemployed virtually all year round (or knows their job is constantly on the brink of extinction) who go to these things to pat each other on the back and talk about how great they’re allegedly doing.
You could say going to SXSW is like going to church for these people. They’re almost obligated to do so. But unlike Church, you’re only responsible to yourself. And if you’re going to be there, you have to be able to take responsibility for what or who you represent (if anyone). So if you’re representing a big brand like Mitsubishi, and you then make them look like crap because either A) You don’t want to be unemployed because of my book, or B) Your ego is just so big that you have to prove the people are wrong on stage for your own benefit, you should be aware of the consequences. If your company sells products like Mitsubishi does, and you make empty promises publicly, which you then fail to deliver (as Colleen has), that’s a credibility killer like no other. Especially when you do it at a place that increases the probability that people will know about it tenfold.
See what happens when you act like a douche?
So do what I’m going to do the next time SXSW rolls around: don’t go. Unless you REALLY have to, and if you do, don’t be a douche.
B.J. Mendelson has sold 7,000 copies of his book on zero budget, helped get a television show into 40 million homes on ABC, and lives in and out of hotels across America.