Debunking Some of the Social Media BS [UPDATED]

At PandoDaily, B.J. Mendelson (author of Social Media is Bullshit, natch) pokes holes in the myth of social media ROI (that’s “return on investment” if you don’t speak marketing-ese). It’s not that social media ROI doesn’t exist; it’s just not what you think. When social media does pay off, it’s usually not the result of hitting the organic social media viral jackpot. It’s usually the result of hard work and lots of money, just like regular marketing.

But what about those famous social media success stories — the from-out-of-nowhere viral blockbusters? Mendelson breaks a couple down. Let’s take PSY.

If you’re like me, PSY’s “Gangnam Style” video seemed truly viral, a sensation that came from nowhere to take the Internet by storm. The truth, according to Mendelson, is that the success of “Gangnam Style” was deliberately engineered at great cost. PSY was promoted (through non-social-media ads) at Dodger Stadium a month before the song came out. He — or rather his big label’s marketing team — bought pageviews and comments to trick YouTube’s algorithm. He manipulated the system to buy his own virality, which only kicked in once big websites picked it up to bring the pageviews. Here’s Mendelson:

Stuff doesn’t “go viral” because people are sharing it, stuff often “goes viral” because of companies like College Humor, Buzzfeed, Uproxx, AOL, and others that latch onto videos and content they think will bring them page views; then they all post about it so as not to lose out on potential page views.

The point, according to Mendelson, is that social media is just marketing. It takes time, money, and strategy. There are few organic viral successes.

Social media gurus, ninjas, rock stars, and Jedi are selling a myth: that by paying them a little (or a lot of) money and crossing your fingers, you can be the next Old Spice guy or PSY. It’s just not true. Or, at least, it’s extremely unlikely. Most social media hits happen because expensive (often, talented) teams of marketing professionals make them happen. 99% of the social media “rock stars” marketing themselves to lawyers are just washed-up lawyers or mommy/daddy bloggers looking to pull in some extra cash from a pool of Luddite suckers.

(There’s nothing wrong with being a washed-up lawyer, by the way. There is something wrong with trumpeting your law degree as if it somehow validates your new career as a social media marketing ninja.)

What’s more, as a lawyer, I don’t think PSY or Old Spice are a valid model for success. You aren’t selling K-pop or men’s deodorant, after all. Law firms seeing any kind of ROI from social media are seeing it because they are willing to invest a significant amount of time and effort.

If you want to use social media, do. It’s great fun, and occasionally quite satisfying. It can even be a valid way to market legal services. Just don’t expect miracles if you aren’t willing to pay for them.

Update: Here’s a video of Mendelson on a panel debating the bullshittiness of social media with a couple of social media marketers:


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