B.J. Mendelson’s book Social Media is Bullshit highlights how the ‘myth’ of social media, as a vehicle for growing/driving a business, is nothing but a hollow farce. Mendelson shares this information after “wasting a lot of time, money, and others’ money on social media strategies” that he himself had been inclined to believe would help promote his humor columns (Mendelson, 16). He bought a shovel to dig for gold, and followed in the footsteps of everyone who wanted to find that gold, but the only people making any money were those selling the shovels. This analogy is how he introduces the ‘myth’ of social media people have been so quick to believe and buy into.
The very term ‘social media,’ according to Mendelson, is just another buzzword that has been made up by marketers to sell the same old information under a new name. “In the late 90s marketers peddled ‘search engine optimization’ (SEO), early 2000s it was ‘new media’ then ‘blogging,’” since 2007 the flavor of the month has been ‘social media’ (Mendelson, 26). ‘Social media’ came around at about the same time the economy collapsed; it offered a place for everybody and anybody to generate their own content, and with little risk involved, the perfect get-rich-quick scheme for marketers to build off of.
Mendelson’s book can be understood in terms of Nancy Baym’s discourse on the social construction of new technology. She proclaims that technology under the discourse of social construction arises from a predetermined social need, and assumes that the technology can have no effect on us because we created the technology, and thus, how we interact with it. Social Media is Bullshit does not deny that social media platforms are a technological affordance that have the potential to be useful in all aspects of our lives, however, that is only if people use them correctly; the problem today is that people are not using them correctly. Marketers are selling this idea that, in order to make it as an artist, entrepreneur, small business etc., you need to have a presence on every single platform, and spend all your time managing those sites, to build awareness and gain engagement around what you do or are trying to sell. This, according to Mendelson, is bullshit. “Most of what you see packaged and sold as expertise is guesswork;” there is no way of telling what the outcome of using a social media platform will be for each individual, however, marketers are using this uncertainty to prey on small businesses, entrepreneurs, artists, etc, and sell their books (Mendelson, 162). According to Mendelson, “you don’t need to use any of these platforms…the only thing you need is a Web site…any and all traffic should go to that” because you own it and it’ll always be there (Mendelson, 164). He says that small businesses, entrepreneurs, etc. should only turn to a social media platform if they have a point behind using one, and even then, save resources and don’t expand beyond one because “if people like what you do, they’ll do the work of sharing it for you” (Mendelson, 165). The knowledgeable people, aka those who aren’t pushing information that may sound good on paper, but only works if you’re a large corporation with a ton of resources and money at your disposal, are going to “tell you which platform, if any, might be a good fit for you and your audience and figure out a way to best integrate it into what you do” (Mendelson, 127). Large corporations and marketers are playing off each other’s bullshit to maintain power/ dominance on user-generated platforms. By exposing the processes behind the bullshit getting created, spread, believed and bought, Mendelson is attempting to re-equalize the power dynamics between the corporations and small businesses, entrepreneurs, and artists on social media platforms.
A lot of what Mendelson argues against has to do with Donath and Boyd’s concept of weak ties. Donath and Boyd explain weak ties as “ties that exist among people one knows in a specific and limited context…bridge disparate clusters, providing one with access to new knowledge.” Weak ties serve as a means for networking as they provide opportunities that you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise. Mendelson disagrees with the notion that “weak ties increase one’s support and information flow”. In regards to the idea that social media has provided a means for everyone’s ideas to have a chance, Mendelson argues that “ninety-nine percent of the things that are often referred to as ‘viral’ are driven by offline forces: real-world connections, legitimate celebrities, corporate spending” (Mendelson, 161). What is more important, according to Social Media is Bullshit, is being in the right place at the right time while using the right key words, and luck. Additionally, Mendelson believes that social media, and its ability to unite a large group of people through friends of friends of friends, weak ties, in activism, is “overhyped” and “distorted.” Though Donath and Boyd say “the technologies that expand one’s social network will primarily result in an increase in available information and opportunities,” Mendelson claims that “while the Web creates ‘weak ties,’ offline ties that are useful, strong, and organized are needed for anything to really happen (Mendelson, 114). So weak ties may offer some affordance, but offline connections are ultimately the only connections that are able to get the wheels moving.
Mendelson writes an unconventional approach to social media. He epitomizes Liu’s differentiation taste statement. The approach Mendelson takes avoids identification with other marketing books toward social media as it offers ‘true’ advice through disproving all of the others on the market. Though his book is catalogued under ‘sales and marketing’ in a bookstore, Mendelson’s title immediately differentiates itself from the rest by making a statement, Social Media is Bullshit, completely contradictory and unique in comparison to the rest. In Mendelson’s eyes, all the other social media marketing books are trying to sell you on a game, that is rigged, and he one of the few determined to expose the farce in using these platforms to ‘make your dreams come true.’