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Interview With BJ Mendelson
Hey there people! I met B.J. Mendelson quite sometime ago and thought he was funny and insightful. When I found out that BJ was coming out with a book that was virtually and expose on the truths behind social media; I just had to interview him; here is said interview. (Warning: This interview is not for the faint of heart)
About BJ Mendelson
B.J. Mendelson is a former marketer turned journalist, author, and entrepreneur. B.J. started his first business in the fifth grade at North Main Elementary School, selling Mortal Kombat 2 strategy guides on the playground for $5. B.J. would later open his first official business, Earth’s Temporary Solution, in his Mackenzie North dorm room at Alfred State College. The business was founded a week after the events of September 11th to encourage volunteerism and social service while promoting entertainment events that also served as fundraisers for local charities. Today B.J. draws on years of experience trying to use every new platform that emerged on the Internet since the ’90s to make enough money to retire at 30, and failing horribly, to educate and entertain audiences online and around the world.
GB: What inspired you to write your book?
BJ: I spent pretty much all of my twenties trying, and failing, to apply all the tips, advice, and strategies that the marketers peddle about the Internet to make myself enough money to retire at 30. In that pursuit, I more or less lost everything, time, friends, even my ex-wife to some extent.
So in August of 2010, after successfully putting together the High Five Tour for Wounded Warriors Family Support, a tour they still operate to this day and last year brought in over a million dollars with, I started to do some research. What I found is that it wasn't just me who was having these issues and wasting a lot of money and time in the process. It was a lot of small businesses, artists, and entrepreneurs. And in talking to them, that lead to me wanting to create this book.
It's often said by guys like Gary Vaynerchuck that if you're "social media" efforts aren't working, your product sucks or you're doing it wrong. As it turns out, it's the platforms that suck.
GB: How did you come up with the name?
BJ: Originally I was working on a book called "Dracula And Kittens" and before we got to the pitch phase, I was in my agent's office talking about how much bullshit there is that's involved with self-publishing a book using the Internet. And at one point I said to him in frustration, "Social Media Is Bullshit" and he looked at me and said, "That's the book."
GB: Can you explain how Social Media is B.S. or what bought you to that conclusion?
BJ: There are a lot of reasons, all of which I laid out in the book, but the big one is that 99.9% of people, when they say "social media" are just referring to the Internet. But then there's that .1%, which are marketers and other members of the Dishonest ABE, whom are preying on most Americans lack of understanding of how stuff works online. And they're doing this by selling them bullshit and myths that don't hold up to even the slightest scrutiny, but for whatever reason, the media and other people don't stop and call out these myths.
So we've developed this vicious cycle where every few years the Dishonest ABE "rebrands" the Internet (first with Web 2.0, then Social Media, now the Mobile Web) and they keep selling the same old stuff that's been said as far back as 1937, and no one tries to stop them.
GB: During a recent CNBC interview you said Twitter "GAVE YOU" followers; please elaborate on what you mean and how that came about.
BJ: In 2007 Twitter used to have what they called a Public Timeline. It was pretty much everyone using the service's posts. They had a box on the top right where they would promote accounts, guys like Agent M at Marvel (how do you think he got all his followers?), and at one point, an account I had called College Sheet.
In 2008, I was getting ready to go out on the road with my ex-wife to promote the early detection and prevention of breast cancer at colleges across America. So, I wrote to them and said, "Hey, you promoted my account last year, would you be willing to do it again?" And they did.
I became the most followed non-brand, non-celebrity, non-media outlet on Twitter, with at one point, a million followers. All but 3,000 of which came from the Twitter Suggested User List which my account was promoted on.
GB: What is the objective of your book?
BJ: To make sure that what happened to me doesn't happen to anyone else.
GB: During that same CNBC interview one of the anchors (I use that term lightly) differentiated between Google and social media a point you seemed to disagree with. Is there a difference?
BJ: Since when people say "social media", they just mean the Internet, I usually assume they're including Google. That's not always the case, but it's rare.
I include Google because the Web and Internet are now dominated by these powerful corporations, and they pick and choose the winners and losers. Google+ has a Suggested User List, YouTube used to feature many different videos on the front page, and it was that front page suggestion that created so many of the "YouTube Stars" that people often point to as "social media success stories".
And of course, their algorithm rewards bullshit like The Huffington Post, Forbes, Fast Company, Business Insider, and Mashable, so the Web and the Internet ain't exactly the level playing field Google likes to claim it is.
GB: You Called Google a monopoly (a point I really wanted you to elaborate on during the CNBC interview but you couldn't) please explain.
BJ: They're currently being investigated by the Senate and the FTC for unfair practices such as ranking their products and services higher than their competitors. On top of that, so much of the Web's traffic flows through Google, it's something like 80% according to advertising materials they gave me a couple of years back.
Google claims their market share is under the anti-trust threshold and says that people have a choice in their search engines, but Google dwarfs Bing in terms of overall traffic and time spent on the site, and once people get familiar with a brand, it's extremely hard for them to go elsewhere. There are two great books about this. One is called "The Paradox of Choice" and the other is "The Art of Choosing". Both lay out, without identifying them specifically, that the claim Google makes that people have a choice in their search engines is an entirely superficial one.
GB: What is next for you/what is your ultimate goal?
BJ: For a long time I wanted to retire at 30, but really I just need a long vacation. I'd really like to move in the direction Kevin Smith went to. He (more or less) does stand-up at all sorts of colleges, he makes movies, he acts in those movies, and as long as he doesn't lose people money, he gets to keep doing what he's doing. I'd very much like to do that.
GB: Who benefits the most from Social media and how?
BJ: The myth of social media benefits members of the Dishonest ABE, so that's the media who does little to no fact checking about things that "go viral", marketers selling these B.S. myths to people to make some money, analysts who sell this nonsense to corporations at outrageously marked up fees, the corporations who own these platforms who need you to use them because that's what makes them valuable (Facebook has no value on its own, it's valuable to advertisers because you use it.) Those are the groups that benefit. You and me? Although it's not impossible, it's not likely you'll get rich using this stuff.
GB: How can the average person/business owner/entrepreneur benefit from Social Media?
BJ: Every small business, artist, entrepreneur, is different. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, all of those different platforms are very different from each other, with very different groups of people using them. So it's entirely possible that you don't need to use any of them. You have to find out and do some research, and on top of that, you gotta be comfortable with whichever one you choose. You don't need to use any of them. I use Twitter because I like to write jokes, and the character restriction makes those jokes better. So it works for me and I'm comfortable with using it. But it all comes down to you, your resources, your time, and your audience.
You also have to have reasonable expectations. I use Twitter with no expectations. I know it's not going to be the thing that gets me to where I want to go. So I'm using it because it makes me a better writer. That's an internal goal, not an external one. None of these platforms are going to make you famous, but if you have the time and desire, and your audience is using them, then do it for the fun of it. If you don't enjoy using them? Don't worry. As long as you have a website, you're good.
GB: Where can people pick up a copy of your book?
BJ: It's out across the U.S., U.K., and Canada, and if people want to check out a sample chapter and order it online, they can go tohttp://www.socialmediaisbullshit.com