Social Media is Bullshit. The title says it all. B.J. Mendelson argues that the “get rich quick” scheme that has been attached to social media is not all it’s cracked up to be. While it seems that all we hear about is how social media networks are the miracle solution to a startup’s success, he says success has little to do with a company’s presence on social media networks, but instead, success for smaller companies comes from a good idea or product and a little luck. His argument is that social media is most useful for celebrities and big companies who have already established their success because they have the greatest reach and the largest amount of followers and fans prior to using social media. While he makes a compelling argument about how social media as a sole marketing tool is “bullshit,” I think his argument could be updated if we looked at how social media networks are used for social purposes because their role in building and engaging communities is far from bullshit.
From the very beginning of the book, Mendelson establishes that he is making both an authentic and differentiated taste statement based on Liu’s classification system. He is authentic in that he starts out with his own personal story about creating “The Island,” his first website, to talk about how it went viral within his given network. He also provides his phone number, which as we learned based on Dana’s conversation with him, is his real phone number. He also differentiates himself by saying that unlike most authors writing about social media in the marketing world, he will not be telling you how to get your product out there using these networks, but instead, he will argue just the opposite. The book goes through a plethora of examples of how the majority of social media successes are within larger corporations, and the smaller startups that have success are not “doing media correctly,” but instead, they either have a great product, or are simply lucky. Clearly, his target audience is the small business community who would typically attempt to market themselves through social media platforms. For this reason, each section of the book is laid out to address this community and discuss ways in which larger corporations have a monopoly over social media networks, just as they do television networks, radio stations, etc.
A lot of what Mendelson has to say about social media and marketing can be examined through the lens of the readings we’ve done in class. For example, he states that “appearing to have an audience establishes credibility.” This is prime example of one’s “Public Displays of Connections.” While he would agree that one’s network helps build a reputation, one point of contention between what he believes and what Donath and boyd state is that he believes that weak ties have little real-life relevance, whereas they argue that weak ties can give you some of the strongest connections in the business community. On page 160, he states that “offline matters more than online,” showing that he would argue that strong ties would be the most beneficial when it comes to business relationships, but this doesn’t acknowledge the potential for online connections to entire the offline world. Sometimes, business connections can start off as weak ties online and develop into strong ties offline.
The one major problem I have with Mendelson’s argument is that his claim, “Social Media is Bullshit” is very one-sided, as he only examines things from a marketing perspective in terms of monetary gain. While he makes a compelling argument that social media networks are not the miracle solution many start up companies are looking for, he fails to acknowledge the fact that for other purposes, social media is far from bullshit. In fact, as our course readings point out, they can be essential to establishing communities, and empowering marginalized groups. For example, as Sarah Banet-Weiser points out in “Branding of the Post-Feminist Self,” women are empowered by the use of social networks. Mendelson fails to recognize that empowered communities, especially on the internet, can make for educated consumers. Additionally, Larry Gross points out that sexual minorities, as well, are empowered by online networks. To update Mendelson’s argument, brands wishing to target marginalized communities may be able to use the website to reach out to those who would not publicly identify with their product, but may be more inclined to do so in an online medium, such as closeted gay individuals who may not be accepted in their offline communities as homosexual, as Gross points out.
Additionally, Mendelson argues that real media masters will advise you which SNS will work best for you, not how to utilize all of them (127), implying that establishing a multi-platform empire doesn’t work for small businesses, but I argue that a strong online presence has the potential to reach a greater audience. Different demographics use different platforms and by only using one you may miss out on a group that only uses a platform you chose to ignore.
Mendelson has convinced me to choose a marketing strategy wisely when it comes to social media, but I don’t plan to write it off entirely. Some of the best professional advice I had been given was to start my own blog and get my name out there, which has helped with my own credibility, and helped land me the job that I currently have writing for a dietitian and running her social media accounts. So, while I agree with Mendelson that marketing on social networks has a lot of luck and strong persuasion involved, I like to think the work I do isn’t total bullshit.