Q&A: Author BJ Mendelson Explains His Beef with Cyber-Hipsters, Social Media

At one point, BJ Mendelson had one million followers on his Twitter account, @BJMendelson. “I didn’t earn them,” he said.  So how did he end up on Twitter’s original suggested-user list? Mendelson explains this and other mysteries in his book, “Social Media is Bullshit,” which was published in September by St. Martin’s Press. A veteran of the marketing world since 2001, he is currently pursuing a master’s degree in organizational leadership and plans to work toward a Ph.D. in American History. He has worked with MTVU to develop a 24/7 multimedia channel/event space, the High Five Tour for Wounded Warriors Family Support, and other projects. He has contributed to numerous publications, including The Huffington PostMTV’s O Music AwardsMashableForbesComicsAlliance. SocialTimes had a few questions for him. Here are the highlights:

The title of your book is Social Media is Bullshit. Explain what you mean by that – why is social media bullshit?

There are a couple of things going on with the title. In a literal sense, the term “social media” is bullshit. It’s a lot like “new media” and “Web 2.0″ before it. The term doesn’t really mean anything, but it’s a term created by marketers, journalists, analysts, cyber-hipsters, and others who participate in what I call the “asshole-based economy.” Essentially, the asshole-based economy comes up with new terms for old things, in this case the Web and the Internet, for the sole purpose of misleading people and making themselves rich. So, I’m not suggesting that the tools and platforms that we collectively refer to as “social media” are bullshit, but that we’ve allowed certain parties to enrich themselves by misleading and deceiving others, and in that process, destroying the credibility of those platforms and what the Internet and Web can legitimately do for others.

That said, I do think some of these tools and platforms are overhyped.

For example, Facebook is awesome for connecting with friends and family, but now they’re more or less shoehorning a business model on top of a thing that wasn’t made for one. That’s not to say Facebook can’t work for you, but where I start to have problems –and I lay this out in the book, specifically with the Kia case study — is that there’s so much misinformation out there, and in many cases, what works for you won’t work for the person sitting next to you.

Please provide a few examples of recent social media trends that are “bullshit.”

I’m really bothered by Klout. Since the book came out, I’ve got calls and emails from people talking about how they were fired or did not get a job because of their Klout score. It’s a totally arbitrary metric being created via vague means, and it saddens me that there are people out there talking about how important it is. It’s not.

The problem though is that people in the marketing and PR field are overwhelmed by all the noise generated by these platforms, and they need something to help them figure out whom to focus their efforts on. So I understand the need for something like Klout, but I think the concept of measuring “influence” is futile once you get beyond traditional celebrities and the odd few who managed to make a name for themselves before the volume went up.

Nick Bilton of The New York Times Bits Blog said something incredibly stupid recently.

I’m paraphrasing, but essentially it was “in 2008 we tweeted about what was on television, in 2012 television is talking about what we’re tweeting,” and it struck me as this navel-gazing “golly jee whiz wow” thing that a lot of journalists are doing when it comes to “social media.” It’s also incredibly unfair, misleading, and although I guess it isn’t a total surprise coming from The New York Times (they’re not exactly known for being on top of Internet trends), I was really bothered by that statement.

I don’t know Nick. So I don’t want to speak to his character; he could be a really awesome guy. I’m just addressing the statement, and to me, that kind of statement, made by someone at the New York Times, is incredibly dangerous because it’s acting as this sort of validation for what’s being said on Twitter as having a lot of meaning. It doesn’t. It’s Twitter. You shouldn’t take it too seriously.

I’m a fan of Twitter, I use the service, but I’m very aware of its limitations, and that is: it’s occupied by journalists, celebrities, comedians, and media outlets, so you’re not exactly getting a fresh perspective on the world or hearing from your average person.

And remember, as far back as 1997 there is the 1 percent rule that’s been proven time and time again as being true for every Internet platform. Essentially, people who comment on the Internet generally make up 1 percent of the audience consuming that content. So it’s the fringe doing a lot of the talking.

I think at this point, now that the hysteria has died down, people realize that while the Internet played a role in the Arab Spring, there was so much more to the story, and that the people who were out there implying that the Internet was the thing responsible for all that upheaval were mostly out to line their own pockets. Remember Wael “Egypt Above All” Ghonim? You know, the guy who gave an impassioned speech where he said “Egypt above all” and then literally that night he was on CNN peddling an idea for a book? Where’s that guy now?

The Arab Spring was so much more complex than that, but the Western media, run by some of those large corporations I just mentioned, made numerous cutbacks and, in a lot of cases, didn’t have people on the ground in Egypt, so they just grabbed on to the first and easiest narrative that they could: That “social media” was fueling these revolutions.

Please provide a concrete example of this: “All you have to do is write something knocking “social media” or any of these tech companies and individuals, and you’ll see ‘Attack & Distract’ play out for yourself.”

Go ahead and disagree with Robert Scoble or post something over at Mashable.com in the comments section that puts down “social media.” Seriously. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Not concrete enough? How about these two links:

http://bjmendelson.com/2012/09/06/a-textbook-example-of-attack-and-distract-thanks-to-new-best-friend-dave-copeland/

http://bjmendelson.com/2012/09/24/dear-journalists-dont-be-shitty/

Do you use social media? If so, what platforms are you on and for what purposes do you use them?

Because I like to write jokes, and as mentioned in the book, being a humorist and creating funny material is really what I want to be doing with my life. So Twitter, with its 140-character limit, forces me to write better jokes by making me think critically about the placement of words and whether or not I’m writing in a clear, succinct language, which is the holy grail of all copywriting and advertising, in addition to being really funny.

I also kept my Twitter account to illustrate something I said in the book. At one point, I had a million followers at @BJMendelson. I didn’t earn them. I was on Twitter’s original suggested user list, the only non-brand, non-celebrity, non-media outlet to appear there. I was there for good reason, I was using Twitter to operate a cross-country breast cancer awareness tour, but the follower count I have was inflated from my presence there, and by keeping the account, I can tell people about how the corporations that dominate the Web can pick and choose winners and losers.

Also Read: Viewers Are Following the Debates on Twitter Even When They’re Not

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