Review: Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday

Cover!

Cover!

READ THIS BOOK! But seriously. Read it. I don’t believe I have read, or will read this year, such a thought provoking book. Trust Me, I’m Lying is touted as a ‘tell-all’, insider’s look, into the world of Public Relations and Marketing by someone who has worked for some of the biggest brands and largest celebrities in this country.  In reality, this book is really a condemnation of social media, the internet, blogging culture and modern journalism. And it’s none too nice. Holiday names names, exposes scandals, and generally points out the flaws in a culture that values clicks over quality.

I originally heard about this book because it was mentioned on a website (copyblogger.com) that I follow pretty religiously. The post that referenced Trust Me, I’m Lying talks about an idea called the ‘content cliff’ in which the amount and quality of content on the web will be so high that brands will no longer be able get their message heard over the noise. Essentially, the cost of content marketing will exceed the profits gained by it and the entire system will collapse on itself (this article by Mark Schaefer describes it more explicitly). The Copyblogger article argues that trust and authority need to be built within the audience through quality of content. That consumers will be able to sift through all the garbage and brands which are truly good at what they do will come out on top. This is something I’d like to believe is true.

I picked up a copy of Trust Me, I’m Lying hoping to pick up some tricks of the trade, and implement them so that I might see some higher traffic both here at A&A  and for my posts at AmazingStoriesMag.com which I contribute to occasionally. I would like to have a consistent quality of content in both places and over time build some semblance of authority in topics I enjoy writing about (mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy). However, having a few articles go viral wouldn’t be a bad thing to get me off the ground. If that required gaming the system a little, then perhaps it might be worth it.

creepy

creepy

After reading Holiday’s book, I’ve come to two conclusions:

A) I’m not in a position to enact any of the types of ‘plays’ he’d used to achieve his goals (and I’m not sure how he was able to get into those positions. He’s only 27!)

B) I don’t believe I could go through with them if I was in a position to do them.

Holiday posits a world in which reporting is done quickly and inaccurately, meaning there is a lot of room for manipulation. What is worse, is that there is almost no repercussions for the people advancing the system. If you’re reporting incorrect material, there is literally no consequence for you as a reporter as long as you’re getting enough page views. Unfortunately, the subjects of this kind of reporting are basically ruined forever.

Holiday goes on to show different situations in which he was able to exploit this culture for his own ends and those he worked for. His manipulations, while effective, do not seem to have nefarious intent. If American Apparel is able to sell a couple thousand more units of clothing because of some banned ads which were ‘leaked’ to the media, I don’t feel like many people were hurt in this transaction. However, Holiday points out that there are other instances in which entire careers have been made or ruined through the same kind of manipulation of the media.

I was a little disappointed at the end of the book. Holiday went to great lengths to describe how the media culture was broken, but then wrote almost nothing about how he believed we should go about fixing it. To me, it was something of a cop out. However, all things considered, Trust Me, I’m Lying is probably one of the most important books I’ve read this year. Puts a lot of things in to perspective.

Go forth and read!

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