"Trust Me I'm Lying" by Ryan Holiday

Summary:

Holiday's job as a marketer is to manipulate the media in order to promote his client’s products so that more people will buy them. The news, he says, “is created and driven by marketers, and that no one does anything to stop it. After much success in media manipulation, Holiday set out to expose the dark art of it is done.

 Author Ryan Holiday.

Author Ryan Holiday.

Since most news is now online, blogs and media sites aim to have as much page views as possible. The more traffic a website has, the more that site can charge advertisers, and thus the more money they can make. 

However this is a horrible incentive, Holiday points out. This model means that traffic is more important–and more profitable–than the truth of real news.

 

Unlike a traditional newspaper that is published every day, blogs can publish a story every minute. This means if they publish a breaking story first, they’re likely to get a large number of visitors. And since more visitors means more profit, blogs focus on publishing first, even if the story doesn’t have much information or the facts in the story haven’t been verified. 

The next problem is that “89 percent of journalists reported using blogs for their research for stories.” Meaning, if a blog has a breaking news story, it might be picked up by a journalist for Wired or Forbes, even if the story has yet to be confirmed. 

 

For his client’s book, Holiday set up posters and then graffitied it. He then submitted an anonymous tip to several blogs and a blog soon wrote a story on it. Then another site saw the blog’s article and wrote their own story on it. All of these stories were not news, but essentially free PR for the client’s book.   

Since many journalists are rarely in a position to witness or establish the truth, they are dependent on other sources, ones who likely have their own self-interests at heart. 

 

Holiday also notes that most of the time, the truth is boring. Truthful news is great, but since it is boring, it won’t be shared, and since it won’t be shared, it won’t get a lot of traffic AKA money. 

 

Thus, blogs tend to focus on the controversial news since anger is one of the most powerful predictors of what spreads online. Holiday used this knowledge to his advantage by having a pornstar pose with American Apparel clothing for an ad, even though she were nude and only wore socks. The ad made many people angry and was controversial, which resulted in more free publicity and sales for the company. 

Lessons:

 

1) Be Careful of Advertisements as Content

Blogs so desperately need material that I would send them screenshots of ads and say, ‘Here is an exclusive leak of our new controversial ad.’ The next day: ‘Exclusive! American Apparel’s Controversial New ad.’ The chatter about these advertisements always perplexed me: Don’t they know that generally companies have to pay to generate this kind of attention?
— Page 191

Since blogs publish their stories online, they have an infinite amount of space for stories. This results in a constant quest for the newest and latest story, even if the story is basically information about an advertisement. 

Bloggers also write posts such as “Top 20 Viral Ads” of the year. Read that again slowly. It’s an advertisement for a story about advertisements. 


Holiday used this knowledge to his advantage and “leaked" American Apparel ads to bloggers, giving his company free publicity instead of having to pay for online ads to get exposure. 

Companies often leak movie trailers, info about new products, or a song from an upcoming album to generate buzz and free publicity. Many celebrities often leak their nude photos or sex tapes to gain popularity and followers if there haven’t been any recent interesting stories about them.

As a reader, be careful of any story that has the word ‘leak’ in it.

 

2) You Get What You Pay For

A subscription model...offers necessary subsidies to the nuance that is lacking in the kind of stories that flourish in one-off distribution. Opposing views can now be included. Uncertainty can be acknowledged. Humanity can be allowed. Since articles don’t have to spread on their own, but rather as part of the unity...publishers do not need to exploit valence to drive single-use buyers. 
— Page 81

As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, or in this case, free news. 

 

Journalist and publishers need to make a living, this means they need to make money. Some companies, such as the New York Times, do this through a subscription model. The advantage of this is that people don’t buy the newspaper once, but rather but a collection of papers. Doing so reduces the need for clickbait headlines that one-off distribution publications require.  

The subscription model also provides a steady stream of revenue, which allows writers to publish stories with opposing views so that readers get opinions from both sides of the topic. 

 

The other revenue model is to make money from advertisers instead of readers. The downside of free news is that the publisher tries to get as many eyeballs as possible because they rely on stories of immediacy and impulsive, even if the story is distorted or not fully factual. If a story isn’t factual, it won’t be removed, but rather it will be updated. Thus, two stories are born out of a one. 

These publishers focus on news that will take people to an extreme, it will likely make readers angry or excited. It aims to create viral content and focuses on topics such as sex, scandals, betrayal, crime, and controversies. 

 

If no new stories are being written, they will publish almost anything even if it’s a company’s press release of a new product. They will write stories about ads, or articles on already existing stories. Often times, they will write an article about which products the reader should buy and have links to the products in the article. Thus making money from ads and affiliate links. 

Holiday points out that a subscription model isn’t perfect, but it is more factual and harder to manipulate than free news. 

 

3) Watch Out For ‘Possible’ News

No blog wants to be embarrassingly wrong, so instead of standing behind embarrassing stories resulting from their silly approach to journalism, blogs duck behind qualifiers: “We’re hearing…”; “I wonder…”; “Possibly…”; “Lots of buzz that…”; “Sites are reporting…”
— Page 170

All of the qualifiers described above are basically saying this story is possible, but the facts and evidence are yet to be found. Essentially, it is a story that may not even be true, also known as a rumor. 

Here’s an example of such a story that Holiday found:

After weeks of escalating buzz about a New York Times piece that would reveal a “bombshell” scandal about New York Governor David Paterson, Business Insider is reporting that the story will likely come out tomorrow and will be followed by the governor’s resignation. Though the nature of the revelation is still a mystery, reports are that this story is “much worse” than Paterson’s publicly acknowledged affair with a state employee.” - Page 170

 

He calls it Covering Your Ass 101. Every sentence talks about what might happen. Later on, it turned out the events in the story did not happen and the post was updated, essentially giving the blog two stories for the price of one. 

Readers should look for facts in stories, especially if it is a blog post. Avoid an article if it says rumors, lots of buzz, likely, or other qualifiers. Look for legitimate evidence, facts, or first-hand reports. 


Conclusion:

This is one of the rare books that almost anyone who reads it, will learn something new. I’d highly recommend it if you work in news, marketing, or consume a lot of online content. You'll find out just how easily blogs can be manipulated and learn what to look out for when reading blog posts. Holiday also teaches readers how they can use the dark art of manipulation for their own products and services. Having read multiple books by Ryan Holiday, I believe this one is his best book so far. 

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
 

If you’re interested in getting the book, click here or on the image below!

  • Book: “Trust Me, I’m Lying’ by Ryan Holiday
  • Pages: 352
  • For: People who want to understand how blogs & other media work, and how it affects our society
  • Lesson: Learn about the power of blogs, and how even established media companies can be manipulated by a single individual

 

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