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RE: Social Media Is Bullshit

BJ Mendelson wrote a book. He called it Social Media is Bullshit so people would buy it and those who didn’t would get his point anyway. This isn’t a review of the book. You can read lots of those. Instead, this is a note-style post about stuff from BJ’s book that come up in my research (and teaching). When I quote the book, I’m quoting the Kindle Edition and giving you Kindle locations in (): Mendelson, B.J. (2012-09-04). Social Media Is Bullshit . Macmillan. Kindle Edition. If you make it to the end of the post, you’ll get a little insight into my own work. This is a draft post and may change when I have time to edit.

Even today it’s debatable how popular Twitter actually is (992)…Just because people know what Twitter is thanks to the media hype11 doesn’t actually mean they use it (995-997).

Agreed. Even before making sure we mean the same thing by “popular” and “use,” I can agree. Between these quotes he sort of dismissing listening on Twitter as a legitimate use, but I’ll save my “readers are users” rant for another day. You can see some variations on the theme from other researchers already (e.g., Judd Antin and Coye Cheshire). Even in my work, where I see crazy Twitter adoption rates among the U.S. Congress, I have to remember that just because I’m steeped in Twitter all day doesn’t mean everyone else is.

And, as Buddy Roemer reminds us, politicians don’t want to be on Twitter anyway (1016); the news media ignored him and made him do it. In watching press videos for Pitch Perfect (Stop reading and go see it right now. I’ll wait.), I learned that Anna Kendrick didn’t want to be on Twitter either, but someone impersonated her effectively so she signed up. So, at least some of these “influencers” who were already influential through their celebrity or political position didn’t hop on social media because they thought it was awesome. They thought it sucked and did it anyway. Sound familiar?

But it didn’t take an electronic recreation by Dr. Watts to see how flawed the Six Degrees study was. In looking through Milgram’s notes on the experiment, University of Alaska-Fairbanks professor Judith Kleinfeld found something disturbing. (1038-1040)

Yes! That six degrees is whack, and even my first semester social network analysis students can spot the flaws.

I can assure you: The people who have real knowledge when it comes to social networks, their demographics, and their use aren’t going to walk into a room and tell you that you need to post twice a day on Facebook, have a Twitter account, post videos on YouTube, and check in often on foursquare. The people who say that are bullshitting you. The knowledgeable people 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. You can tell the difference by asking a lot of questions about the stuff they claim to be knowledgeable of. (1830-1835)

This is completely true. Though, people take my class (“Social Networks”) because they think I’m going to tell them step-by-step what to do to become a social media sensation or to make millions for their brand. I can’t give them substance, so I will likely let them down. If I had the bullshit gene, I could quit my day job actually investigating what’s happening on Twitter and make a lot more money claiming I already knew. But, I don’t have that gene. That’s why I’m in academia and not “industry”. My main takeaway from the book is essentially that I’m in the right field for me, but that marketing is much, much worse than I thought.

Twitter sucks at a lot of things. For example, they want everyone to use the service from Twitter.com, but organizing and managing your friends on there is only slightly preferable to being water-boarded. (1894-1896)

Yes! Too bad Twitter keeps changing their TOS to make it even harder to de-suck the services they do provide. We’re working on a couple projects in the CaSM Lab to help make sense of the politicians’ conversation on Twitter, but that’s about transparency and not about trying to sell you something or get you connected.

That’s it for stuff I’m going to comment directly on from BJ’s book. Now it’s reflection time. As my inner circle knows, I’ve been stressing lately about my research. I study politicians and celebrities using social media. I picked those groups for a number of reasons, including that I wouldn’t have to make false claims about the rest of us, and that I recognize they have influence already and I wondered how that changed (or didn’t) with Twitter use. I also picked social media because I don’t have tenure, and it’s important that I study things that can get published in time to get me tenure. Social media moves fast. I’ve done qualitative interview studies in the past, and getting good data that way takes a lot more time. A bunch of BJ’s least favorite words apply to my work – “big data”, “social media” – but, like the marketers he criticizes, I’m trying to make a buck. Luckily, I don’t need Twitter to be more popular or influential than it is for it to provide a bunch of interesting data. It’s popular enough for me to ask whether it provides an alternate route to power for new politicians (short answer is no; paper’s under review). It’s popular enough for me to see how we make snap judgments about sexuality (stay tuned for my #gayzzoli work). I’m starting to think of myself as an informationist of Twitter. It’s like being an urban historian or internet sociologist. I recommend Twitter no more than Sudhir Venktatesh recommends joining a gang. I should stop now since the internet is permanent. I’m happy to talk offline about academic study of social media and how its beasts differ from the ones BJ identifies about marketing. His book is entertaining and digs into a lot of the issues that frustrate me, so of course I recommend it.

So, what do you think ?

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