Calling BS on Social Media Gurus (Video & Slides)

On Tuesday night May 25th I spoke at SMCSeattle, at Hale’s Brewery. They asked me to do a talk based on two posts: questioning gurus, and calling BS on social media.  This was awesome. How many organizations invite outsiders to poke holes in the rhetoric of their field’s experts? Very courageous to do this and I wish more groups did. Kudos to SMCSeattle.



Slightly edited to better reflect what i said without my voice talking over them.

References from the talk, Listed by slide #:

3. Related posts: How to detect BS, Calling BS on a Guru, Calling BS on Social Media

5. Snake Oil drawing, Fast twitter profits (from list of web scams)

6. You too can be a social media guru,

9/10. Guru defined at Wikipedia

11. Buddha quote

12. How to Lie with statistics, Notes on Cognitive Bias

16. BP press releases – Fascinating example of of PR’s function being detached from reality

25. Victorian Internet (amazon)Victorian Internet (Wikipedia)

26. The Strength of Weak ties (PDF) (wish I had a better link, sorry). This paper is often referred to as evidence of social media’s power, but the paper was published in 1983. If you want to claim “radical transformative fundamental shifting blah blah” then you should have recent research as the backbone to your claims. If you don’t, stop with the “radical shifting blah blah” talk.

27. Summary of Dunbar’s number, The  actual paper, and a talk by Dunbar about Facebook

30. What the F**K is social media

31. Social Media Revolution (Refresh), Notion of Hobson’s choice. The video is fun to watch – however there are assumptions suggested by how some facts are presented. And if someone makes misleading claims about the past, I am unlike to trust their claims about the present and the future.

32. Industrial Revolution – My point is if you compare almost anything to the industrial revolution, and you actually look up what the industrial revolution meant to people’s lives, it sounds like hype. But the bet is most people won’t sit down and study the Industrial revolution, so your claim can get people excited, based on their ignorance. Advertising works on these principles, but wise viewers/readers should work to defuse them.

34. Age Distribution of the World’s Population (PPT from the PRB)

35. Age Distrubtion in the U.S. since 1950 (wikipedia)

36-38. NYT chart on U.S. Consumption this century

40. No one has one million followers, Anil Dash

43. Twitter data analysis, and from mashable (General point is there is data twitter usage is much softer than many people assume).

44. Simple language gets shared more on Facebook – My use of this example is that it’s someone claiming science without giving sufficient information for someone else to repeat the study and support the claims. He might be doing science, but we can’t verify based on the limited data he provided. I’m criticizing any expert that reposts this and calls it science, without asking basic questions.  I asked Dan myself and he responded quickly, and he deserve praise for this – he added more details to his posted methodology (See slide 51). But why was I (likely) the first to ask? An expert should both ask this of other experts, and expect them to ask him/her.

47. Empirical Research – My understanding is that science (in part) hinges on repeatability and sharing details – there can’t be secret sauce. If you want to claim secret sauce, don’t call it science.

22 Responses to “Calling BS on Social Media Gurus (Video & Slides)”

  1. Joe McCarthy

    Great slides – greatly enhanced by the references you so kindly provide at the end! I’d registered for the event but was unable to attend, so I’m glad to get a better sense for what I missed.

    Given your emphasis on the value of peer-reviewed research (around slide 47), I wanted to share one recent source I came across: the proceedings of the International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM 2010, or #icwsm2010 on Twitter), held last month in Washington, DC. The conference organizer, AAAI, has generously made the papers available online:

  2. Joseph Davis

    Man, I have been waiting for someone to write something like this for a while! I’m glad you had the guts – and know-how – to call this out.

    You got a new fan!


  3. Percy

    Interesting slides Scott. Any chance you’ll be putting up the video of the talk, assuming it’s available? I’d be interested in listening to the talk as would many of your other readers.

  4. Scott Berkun

    Percy: I believe the talk was livecast, but not sure it was recorded. I’ll find out. I doubt it’d be a great recording anyway – it wasn’t the best venue and we had sound problems.

    Would you want me to do an audio track for the slideshare post? I’m pretty sure it lets you (well, me) do that sort of thing.

  5. Omar Alam

    Gotta love it when BS is called out. Pretty cool and refreshing when it does happen, though also a little bit of a challenge when dealing with clients.

    I do work similar to these “gurus”, but think I am way too undereducated and don’t have the products that these “experts” and “gurus” have. But what I do have is clients and people that trust in me, connect to me, and get advice that actually works and is also a bit unorthodox. Did I mention they actually see and talk to me in person?

    But I do like seeing the horrible quality products put out by these folks, and then seeing the same identical product and content being pushed under a different name. Oh well, can’t hate them for trying to hustle. Just maybe don’t make it so obvious.

  6. Mark

    This is great stuff. Thanks for sharing, Scott.

    I second Percy’s request. I’d love an audio track for the slideshare post if it’s not too much trouble.

  7. Kim Obbink

    Love this deck Scott! Sorry I missed this talk – Social Media Bullshit is one of my favorite topics to rant about these days… and I’m going to need to borrow “It’s easier to get dumb people to click on dumb things.”

    Brilliantly true.

  8. Dan Zarrella

    I love that at the top of this post you say you’re not a social media expert, but on your about page: “I have a wide range of topics, challenges and subjects of expertise…”

    Are you actually doing any research or “science” (in your limited version of the term) about any of your vast range of “subjects of expertise?” Or is it all just “wisdom” from your books?

    Also, if you’re not a social media expert, what is your basis, motivation and goal in “calling” out people in a field that according to your words you have no part of? Is it going to be another trove of wisdom in your range of subjects of expertise?

  9. Elisabeth Bucci

    Hmmm. I’m not sure what to think.
    I agree that there are hucksters out there trying to make a fast buck on supposedly helping one get more followers, more Friends, more blog subscribers. I have ignored that silliness and found that when you focus simply on using these tools, you have more interesting conversations with smarter people. Like here, for example. ;)
    I don’t agree with your statement that someone who uses the word “game changer” and “paradigm-shifting” should have their eyes poked out. Well then, poke mine out.
    I do think that social-media-like communication can bring out fundamental change in the way we work. It just has happened yet. I don’t know why. I’m still figuring that part out.
    By the way, your reference to the telegraph is bang on. The telegraph is one of the four elements of the perfect storm that brought on the Second Industrial Revolution in the 1840s or so. I tell that story here:
    The rest of the story I am still working on is why social-media-like communication tools still haven’t brought on the next revolution in how we work. (It should have, it hasn’t.) Hence the permission for you to poke my eyes out…
    One final point: like the others, I’d like the audio. Pleeeeease.

  10. Percy

    Sorry for the delayed response to your comment Scott. I had meant to check up on this post but it slipped my mind. Thanks for posting the video of the talk. Much appreciated.

  11. Sark

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing with us.

    One incredibly minor point in case you want to revise the slide (unless you’re using it in some different way and I missed it) “empirical” is spelled incorrectly (emperical) on one of your slides and in note #47.

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