Social Media is Bullshit by B.J. Mendelson makes you think twice about the use of social media as a tool for marketing. On the surface, you can be easily convinced that social media is a useful mechanism in gaining recognition and creating a strong consumer foundation. However, Mendelson argues that this is furthest thing from the truth; it is all a “myth”; social media is not the source of success. He emphasizes that whatever product is being marketed should be able to speak for itself, and that, if it truly is an inventive and useful product, you will reap success without having to try and utilize social media. He makes it a point to say that if you are a small company that does not have much credibility with the mass audience, social media becomes completely useless. The times that social media serves as a beneficial medium for marketing is if it is utilized by the powerful corporations or well-known celebrities. If you are not one of the two, any effort you make with social media will not make a meaningful impact. Instead of focusing on social media sites, small companies should really be putting their attention on creating their own web page, “one that’s clean, simple, easy to navigate, fast to load, and fun” (164). This will serve a much better purpose than any other platform.
We can understand Mendelson’s perspective a bit further by applying the social discourse of new technology as explained in Nancy Baym’s Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Depending on how you look at it, the basis for Social Media is Bullshit can be seen through the discourse of social construction of technology or social shaping. Social construction of technology supports that the people have the power, and that “technology arise[s] from social processes” (Baym, 39). In the marketing perspective, Mendelson is saying that individuals use the technology to serve their purpose: share and make known the news of their product. However, we can also approach the book from a social shaping discourse. Social shaping is the middle ground between technological determinism and social construction of technology; “[f]rom this perspective, the consequences of technologies arise from a mix of “affordances”- the social capabilities technological qualities enable- and then the unexpected and emergent ways that people make use of those affordances” (Baym, 44). Social media is a technological affordance, but only if it is used correctly. Mendelson is saying that for most marketers, they believe that as technology assists them in doing what they need, it also challenges them to think more innovatively and keep up with the rapid change in technological processes. However, in Mendelson’s point of view, the give and take is off balance; the affordance of technology becomes ineffective because it does not successfully bring in the audience to act in order for these marketing companies/individuals to make any kind of profit. Technology may allow marketers to connect with a wide audience, but it does not mean they get anything out of it.
This brings us to discuss how who we know, and who we are connected can heavily influence the potential success of a marketer. In “Public display of connections” by Judith Donath and danah boyd, they discuss the differences between strong ties and weak ties and how they play a role in the way we maintain or foster relationships with other individuals. Strong ties are the relationships people have with their friends or family and serve as social support. On the other hand, weak ties are “the kinds of ties that exist among people one knows in a specific and limited context” and “provide one with access to new knowledge” (Donath and boyd, 80). They state that strong ties limit the network that you can create and will keep you engaged with those who are in the same boat as you. For example, when looking for a job, or trying to get a certain position, strong ties will only get you so far. However, they believe that weak ties broaden the number of individuals that can assist you to getting you where you need. Mendelson’s views go into direct conflict with what Donath and boyd discuss; he makes it a point to say that “offline matters more than online” and that strong ties are significantly more effective than having weak ties. He believes the relationships made online are less trustworthy and will not be of much assistance in your efforts for success.
The way Mendelson has presented his case makes it difficult for the reader not to agree. He has laid it out in such an authentic and straightforward manner that he becomes trustworthy. These past couple months I interned for PR firm that utilized a lot of social media in trying to get people to support and attend certain events, but, more often than not, the turnout would never be as we had expected. Mendelson continually instills that just creating a Twitter account or a Facebook and plopping some information on there is going to result in absolutely nothing. Through this firsthand experience, I agree that social media is, indeed, bullshit when it comes to the marketing realm. However, I do not think Mendelson’s argument is applicable when social media is used make relationships and connections with others on a social level. In an interview, even Mendelson agrees, “You can connect with people… You can make good solid friendships with people online” (Seven Days). Social media is a great tool for communicating and for keeping in touch, but the number of followers you have, or the number of likes you get does not reflect how much profit you are making, or how successful you are. Obviously, you would like for your followers to partake in whatever you are advertising, but “You can’t expect your followers to do stuff like that” (170). Were you one of those people that turned to social media as your foundation for success? Think again.