BOTW # 4: Trust Me, I'm Lying Review

Can you trust everything you read in blogs and in the news anymore? The answer is definitely not and “Trust Me, I’m Lying” answers why that is. Ryan Holiday is a self-proclaimed media manipulator that has conjured up news stories that have gone viral for American Apparel and many of his clients. It is just so easy to manipulate the media system in the world of a million different blogs that all have the same desire. That desire is views, engagement and traffic. Blogs have become the news source of the mass media making them the newswire. 

How Ryan defines a blog is “a vehicle where mass media reporters or your friends use to discover and borrow the news.” The way he is able to manipulate the media is the result of the current ecosystem of the media. First off bloggers for small and massive sites like Huffington Posts get paid by the amount of traffic they generate to their posts on the website. This has created a digital sweatshop as their main goal is to pump out as much stories as humanly possible to scrape by. Traffic and profit are therefore more important than the truth. Even if they are wrong they just write a response or another blog post to explain, which generates even more page views so there is no incentive to report on the truth. Every post they write is a conflict of interest, weathermen used to be the only people who got paid for being wrong but that title has now been taken over by bloggers.

 "Getting it right is expensive, getting it first is cheap” – Michael Arrington, TechCrunch

The media is hopelessly interdependent and there is so much demand for news with 24/7 updated on demand information that the big mass media channels are grasping for anything they can report on so they do their “research” online. These are the two main drivers that enable media manipulators to trade up the chain, which is the strategy that Ryan coins in this book. Trading up the chain has a total of 3 stages:

  1.  The Entry Point – local blogs that pick up local news and have a reputation to be truthful. 
  2. Legacy Media – Helps the story gain momentum when they find out about it from the entry point. These are the bigger blogs and some are affiliated with big mass media i.e. Wired.
  3. National Media – The big players now get a lot of their sources from blogs and report on them while usually not doing in depth research to find out if it’s legitimate.

It’s a seller’s market and with services like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) it makes it that much easier to get your bullsh*t story up to the 6’o clock news. With all of these tools you still need a story that spreads in order to climb the chain to get to the National Media. 

“If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead” – Henry Jenkins

So what kind of stories spread? The stories that can generate the right emotions that include anger, fear, excitement or laughter will spread. Some examples of this are the American Apparel ads that Ryan was in charge of creating. They didn’t have the massive advertising dollars that the other big brands had so they had to get creative. American Apparel ads in the past were known for being controversial, which led to free publicity and marketing for them as blogs picked them up and traded up the chain. They “advertised their advertising” by creating content that bloggers themselves talked about and spread since what they created was newsworthy. Here is a link where Ryan goes through 5 case studies of American Apparel.

Another troll/media manipulator Jimmy Kimmel created viral videos that went got picked up by mass media that were showing his “Twerk Fail” and “Wolf in Sochi” videos. All Jimmy does is take what already is trending and adds an unbelievable twist to them in order for people to evoke emotion and shares. Anyone can manipulate the media you just need to have the right piece of content and show it to the right people. If it’s newsworthy it will spread.

The written word used to be something that was trusted and valued because of how expensive it was to produce. The handwritten books of the past are no more and writing has become a commodity like information has in the digital age. You can either stay in the past or take advantage of the system to get your story out there. With reading Growth Hacker Marketing last week I can see similarities between media manipulators and growth hackers. Both have limited resources and spread their message/product to the masses using whatever means necessary. 

Overall this book is a decent read but a little too long with a lot of fluff in between. Concepts get repeated in different words that do drive home the point but a little unnecessary. There are a lot of interesting examples that are in the book that explain the concepts, which I found to be the most interesting parts of the book as I do love practicality. I would give this book 3.5 viral videos out of 5. 

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