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Brandon Mendelson. Photo: Matthew Farenell
Brandon Mendelson. Photo: Matthew Farenell

Former marketing consultant calls social media "B.S."

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There's no avoiding social media these days--even if you're not on the internet, TV commercials urge you to like companies on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, newscasters read influential people's tweets on the air, and if you're not on Facebook, well, you're in for a lot of funny looks.

If you run a business or an organization, pressure to have an active social media "presence" can be intense--but the benefits you actually get from that presence may not be anywhere near as huge as what you were led to expect.

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SUNY Potsdam graduate student, author and former marketing consultant Brandon Mendelson says that's no surprise.  

In his book "Social Media is B.S"—not its real name—Mendelson argues that more "likes" don't necessarily translate into more sales or donations, and that companies with supposedly-successful social media strategies often aren't making any money off them either.

Mendelson told Nora Flaherty that social media are just a part—and not necessarily the most important part—of marketing.

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It very well could be the case, if you live like up here in St. Lawrence County it’s very much print and radio. I would tell you flat out that Twitter is useless up here, and Facebook too to a larger extent, but that’s because it’s the kind of area we live in.

One thing you do talk about a lot is that although social media is billed as sort of being an equalizer, like a way for little guys or little companies to make it big by getting their names out, that it is really not how it works, it favors big players, just like the cooperate media does.

It’s kind of like the Donald Trump example I like to give people where we pay attention to Donald Trump not because he has anything interesting to say but because he is wealthy.  That is the sole purpose of anything he does, and why we talk about him. Like during the election Brian Williams was reading his tweets on the air, and it was because he was a rich guy. I mean you look at Conan O’Brien, back when he had his big blow up with Leno, you know people point at it and go "well that’s social media taking off and being awesome", and no.

Conan was in the center of a huge media storm, and so you have all of the eyes on you, these tools work great. But if you don’t have that, and most of us don’t, then whether or not they work for you all comes down to the research.

I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about this. We just had an election as you may know, and there's been a lot of talk about the role that social media has played in this election. Tell me what your take is on that?

Overrated. Way back during the Republican nomination process, and that was a circus if there ever was one, the CEO of Twitter got on stage at this tech conference and he said the candidate who engages the most on Twitter will win the nomination. 

And if you look at who won, Mitt Romney, who did virtually nothing. As apposed to the candidate who was actually on there, borrowing peoples accounts to send out status updates, getting people to use hashtags, live tweeting the debates, which was Governor Buddy Roemer. Roemer wasn’t even a factor; he was a total non-factor.

So as somebody with a fairly dry perspective on social media, where do see it going over the next few years? Clearly it’s here to stay, what do you see happening in the near future?

The big thing that alarms me now are sites like Klout, which go and collect information about you, without your permission, and then they grade you on totally arbitrary standards which no one knows except for the scientists that they have there. And then that information is out there about you on the web.

I’m getting stories, since the book as come out, I’m getting phone calls and emails from upset people, who have all said "I have applied for a job, and I have been turned down, because of my Klout score."

It strikes me that there are sort of a lot of fads in the world of marketing, and self-branding, and what have you, it does seem like there is a possibility that this, this sort of less relevant stuff, the less important stuff, the less substantive stuff, like Klout, might sort of fade over time. Do you not see that happening?

I hope it does, I really truly hope it does. But if you look at how Americans have behaved with Facebook, Facebook has been public enemy number one in terms of sharing your data with advertisers. But also, they’ve had massive data breaches with all people’s information leaking out there.

And every time Facebook does something like this, we kind of go "oh well…", and maybe there’s some people that are mad about it, but then we kind of role over. And I feel like, I feel like it it’s a larger cultural thing where we don’t fight back anymore against these big corporations. We’re now kind of just "That’s how it is" and we embrace it after like a brief month of complaining. So I don’t see it going away, I really want it to, but I feel like that’s just going to keep on happening to us, and we’re just going to kind of keep taking it.

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